Remote workers are treating their jobs like gig-work, and it’s turning them into the most disconnected employees

 Remote workers feel less connected to their company’s purpose now than they have since pre-pandemic. But they still don’t want to come into the office.

Per a new Gallup survey of nearly 9,000 U.S. workers with remote-capable jobs, just 28% of those who work remotely feel connected to their company’s mission—a 4% drop from last year. Nearly one-third (33%) of workers who go to the office every day say they’re feeling connected, however; not a huge difference. 

The lack of a common mission and purpose between onsite and remote employees can be detrimental to overall performance, wrote Jim Harter, Gallup’s chief workplace scientist and the report’s author. “Many employees’ relationships with their employers are becoming increasingly ‘gig-like’ and less loyal, which has possible implications on customer and employee retention, productivity, and quality of work.” In other words, there’s little impetus to go above and beyond if you aren’t aligned with or in support of a company’s mission. 

Fully onsite employees reported the greatest gains in engagement, specifically in categories like knowing what’s expected of them, having the materials and equipment to carry out their work, and having the opportunity to do what they do best every day. 

The best chance of carrying that success over to the remote workers will be “exceptional managers,” Harter wrote. Namely, managers who communicate. In a previous study from May, Gallup determined that managers should have at least one meaningful conversation—15 to 30 minutes long—per week with each worker. This chat should touch on recognition, collaboration, goals, priorities, and the worker’s current strengths.

But the secret sauce, as ever, seems to be a hybrid plan. The workers who go in some days per week reported the highest connection to company purpose; 35% of them told Gallup they felt their jobs were important. 

Even if they’re not feeling connected, remote workers aren’t too concerned about it. Thirty percent of U.S. workers with remote-capable jobs work fully at home, Gallup found a number that has stayed consistent year over year. (It’s anyone’s guess whether this year’s Labor Day return-to-office mandates will have any impact on office attendance—it sure hasn’t the past three years.) 

While still generally low, engagement on the whole is ticking back up; 34% of all U.S. employees said they’re engaged at work, up from last year’s 32%. Plus, the share of actively disengaged employees declined from 18% last year to 16% this year, Gallup found.

While Gallup finds remote workers to be more tuned out than their in-office counterparts, other data suggests it’s not quite so clear cut. A December 2022 study from University of Texas professor Andrew Brodsky and product manager at software firm Vyopta Mike Tolliver found that remote workers are actually more engaged, meeting more often and for longer than in-office workers. Their data, they wrote, suggested “that the increase of meetings was at least in part due to an increase in engagement rather than fully an increasing need to pretend to be working.” 

Then again, meetings aren’t everything—much less a bulletproof indicator of engagement or empowerment. And per Gallup’s reporting from earlier this year, stress is correlated with engagement—and the American workforce’s stress levels are at record highs. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, released in June, found that 44% of employees feel “a lot of” stress. In 2019, just 38% said the same. Actively disengaged workers reported 26% more stress than engaged employees, Gallup found. 

Across the globe, fully remote and hybrid workers were likelier to experience high stress than fully in-person workers—despite reporting greater rates of engagement. As Fortune’s Chloe Berger put it, “It’s hard to feel checked into a job and engaged when you’re largely unhappy.”

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