Workers are doing plenty of post-pandemic soul-searching

Employees are feeling less loyalty to — and more angst about — their jobs.

(Photo: Business Wire) Employees are growing increasingly uneasy about where they are working.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted people to give more of themselves to their work in the spring of 2020, but over time, especially in the past year, workers have decided to focus more on what they want or need.

That’s evident in employee surveys analyzed by Energage, which gathers feedback from workers nationwide, year-round.

It’s been a year of reflection, starting in mid-2021.

“People were asking, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing with my life?’” said Lisa Black, director of data science at Energage.

Data collected from more than 2 million employees shows people are less engaged in their work compared with a year ago. Engagement looks at a combination of factors: motivation, loyalty to the workplace and how likely people are to recommend their workplace to others. Some examples:

Employee engagement through the second quarter of 2022 (measured January through June of this year) was 61%, continuing a slump seen in the last half of 2021.

Employee engagement dropped to 62.9% for all of 2021 compared with 65.3% in 2020. Engagement peaked at 70.6% in April 2020.

Employee engagement bottomed out at 60.3% in September-October 2021 before rising to 62.8% in December, then slipping again through the second quarter of this year.

Employees showed a steady decline in loyalty — that is, those who say they were not looking for work elsewhere — throughout 2021. By year’s end, it picked up slightly, ending at 66.8%. One year earlier, it was at 71.7%. Loyalty peaked at 74.4% in April 2020. It hovered around 64% through the second quarter of this year.

For the second half of 2021 versus the second half of 2020, employee loyalty dropped the most of all factors surveyed. That trend continued into 2022. Of all factors Energage measures, loyalty fell the most in the first half of 2022 versus the first half of 2021, down 3.3 percentage points.

In addition to loyalty, employee sentiment was down for benefits, direction and execution in the second quarter vs. a year earlier.

Referral — employees who say they would recommend their workplace to others — peaked at 88.6% in April 2020 and bottomed out at 81.8% in September 2021. Like loyalty, it showed a steady decline throughout 2021 but picked up at the end of the year. It has remained around 84% during the first half of 2022.

Employee motivation in 2021 declined, too. Measuring 86.5% in December 2020, it went on a steady slide through September 2021, dipping to 83.3%, before rising in the last quarter of that year. It has remained around 84% during the first half of 2022.

The data shows how the past two years have been a roller-coaster ride for people’s relationship with work.

The first half of 2020 reflected uncertainty in the job market, when the pandemic hit and some companies started layoffs. It was risky to look elsewhere, and people wanted psychological safety.

“People were happy to have a job,” Black said. “The workplace is something predictable.”

In 2021, many employees decided that if their employers were calling them back to the office, they didn’t want to commute anymore, or they didn’t want to give up the flexibility of working from home, Black said. Those who enjoyed flexibility became used to it.

This doesn’t mean people gave up on their jobs in 2021. It just means they were less positive about their employment when compared to the first wave of the pandemic. Employee engagement in 2021 was greater than in 2015 to 2019.

One area that employees were more positive about in 2021 was inclusiveness. Employees felt more included in what was going on (even if they weren’t necessarily happy about it).

People are more mindful, empathetic and trying harder to make sure voices are heard, Black said. There’s also a greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We’ve figured out,” she said, “how to work better together.”

Still, although inclusiveness was up, employees said they felt slightly less clued-in than before. Black’s takeaway: Two-way communication still needs some work.

“Just because you are included,” she said, “doesn’t mean you’re informed.”

Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is a survey partner for Top Workplaces.