Unhappy Workers Cost US Firms $1.9 Trillion

 Disgruntled employees cost US companies an estimated $1.9 trillion in lost productivity last year, according to research from Gallup that puts a price tag on workplace unhappiness.

That eye-popping figure stems from more Americans feeling detached from their employers in the aftermath of the pandemic. A measure of engagement from Gallup’s surveys had been steadily rising for a decade but peaked in 2020. The disruption of the past few years reduced satisfaction in the workplace, with more employees saying they don’t clearly know what’s expected of them — a symptom that reduces engagement.

The stakes are high for companies because an engaged workforce increases productivity and that helps boost sales and profit. Connecting better with staff also increases worker retention.

Having motivated employees is linked to “a lot of different outcomes that are important to organizations,” said Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace practice.

The research paints a bleak picture of America’s workforce. Only one-third of respondents said they are engaged at their jobs, while half are giving minimum effort — what has been dubbed “quiet quitting.”

Gallup calculated the cost of reduced productivity by estimating the dollar value impact of an employee being unengaged and then extrapolating that for the working population. The overall hit to the global economy totaled an estimated $8.8 trillion, the company said.

Harter, an author of several books on management, cautioned companies to see that engaging workers goes beyond “doing nice things for people.” Employees want to “feel like what they do at work connects to something bigger than themselves.”

To remedy this, Harter suggested individual weekly check-ins and guidance on how to work with their coworkers. When employees are told how to collaborate with one another, role clarity rises to about 80% from less than 50%. This kind of strategy is especially needed for younger workers because they are much more likely to switch jobs in search of a more fulfilling work-life balance.

“There’s definitely an expectation among the new workforce to have more of a coaching-manager type who really thinks about their development,” Harter said. “They’re demanding work to improve their life, not just to be a separate thing.”

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