Just 15% of employees are engaged. The rest lose $7 trillion in productivity

29 May 2018 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

An alarmingly small minority of just 15% of employees worldwide feel engaged in their work. Leading analytics and performance management consultancy Gallup estimates the global costs of unproductivity at a staggering $7 trillion and advises firms on how best to reclaim lost profit.

Employee engagement and workplace productivity are inextricably linked. Studies repeatedly confirm that employees who are absorbed in and enthusiastic about their work perform better and create more value for their organisation. Yet extensive new analysis from Gallup – renowned for its pioneering research methodology – reveals engaged employees to be in the minority.

Gallup’s ‘State of the Global Workforce’ report is an exhaustive breakdown of data accrued from employees across 155 countries. Researchers found that, globally, just 15%, or slightly over a sixth, of workers were actively engaged in their jobs. This figure varies considerably across countries and regions, but never exceeds 40%. The cost to the global economy in lost productivity? Estimated at $7 trillion annually by the experts. 

Strikingly, the percentage of employees who are not merely disengaged but decidedly discouraged by their role is higher – at 18% – than those who are excited by it. Outside the extremes of antipathetic and enthusiastic workers live the majority of the global workforce (67%) who are simply not engaged. “They are not your worst performers,” explain the authors, “but they are indifferent to your organisation. They give you their time, but not their best effort nor their best ideas.”

One pattern identified in the 215-page report is that employees in routinised roles, typically in manufacturing and production, tend to be less engaged. But considerable differences across regions that transcend industries and roles suggest that managerial philosophies and workplace cultures play a compelling part in driving employee engagement.

Just 15% of the global workforce feel engaged in their jobs

Western societies

A notable contrast is between North America and Western Europe – two of the world’s wealthiest and most developed regions which share similar employment statistics, working patterns and standards of living. Employee engagement across the US and Canada stands at 31%, the highest of any region, while in Western Europe the figure is below the global average at just 10%. 

Gallup – whose best practice clients enjoy employee engagement levels of 70% – attributes this vast Atlantic gulf to an American managerial culture that embraces individuality. Even within Western Europe there is a marked North/South divide, with engagement reaching a peak of 17% in Norway, where employees enjoy more flexibility, and plummeting to below 10% in France, Italy and Spain, where company cultures are more rigid.

The lowest engagement levels are in East Asia. Notoriously overworked, just 6% of employees in China and Japan feel engaged in their daily routine. In South Korea and Taiwan the figure is 7%, while in Hong Kong it falls to 5%. Gallup found that East Asian workers were the least likely to like what they do each day. The report cites a “collectivist mentality” that pushes individual needs aside as the chief culprit behind the region’s woeful lack of engagement. 

In Australia/New Zealand, 14% of workers consider themselves motivated and productive. Interestingly the region’s workforce rate their lives as a whole very favourably, giving themselves a healthy 7.4 out of 10 for life quality – the highest of any region. But, as Gallup notes, something is rotten in the workplace Down Under if high life satisfaction is undercut by low engagement levels. 

Engaged workforce bolsters productivity

Engagement translates to productivity. Gallup’s own global employee engagement database records that organisations in the top quartile for engagement are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile. A global leader in using analytics and behavioural science to drive performance improvement, Gallup is keenly aware of how much profit is being flushed down the sink by poor managerial practices.

Keeping up with rapid technological change, empowering employees, adapting to expectations, and enhancing workplace cultures are just some of the strategies Gallup consider in advising organisations on how to reclaim at least some of the $7 trillion lost each year. Though engagement levels of 100% might be unrealistic, the consulting firm’s own results with clients show that figures surpassing 70% are far from unachievable.