Employee Engagement at an All-time High in the United States

Posted on October 31, 2014 by Don MacPherson.

The percentage of fully engaged employees is at its highest level ever. This is according to Modern Survey’s Fall 2014 U.S. Workforce Study of Employee Engagement. Just three years ago, only 8% of the U.S. Workforce was “fully engaged.” Now that number is 16%.

The level of disengagement – those employees who commonly do the minimum to get by – has shrunk dramatically too. In March of 2013, nearly a third (32%) of the U.S. Workforce was “disengaged” compared to just 22% today.

Modern Survey has been measuring the state of employee engagement since 2007. Never have the results been as favorable as they are now. The study has revealed a great deal of other insights as well.

It Is a Kinetic Workplace

The good news is that engagement levels are higher than ever. The bad news, though, is that the percentage of people looking for a job at another company is higher than ever too. Engagement is often linked to high levels of retention, but that conventional wisdom is not holding true right now.

According to this recent study, 28% of all employees across the country are currently looking for work at another organization. Six months ago, that number was 25% and 18 months ago it was 23%.

Unemployment numbers have continually fallen. At just under 6%, it is a job seeker’s market unlike anything we have seen since 2007. Rather than having an ample pool of candidates dreaming about joining their organization, recruiters will need to get more aggressive in their hiring practices. That means stealing talent from other organizations. This applies to talent at all levels, not just high performers.

Expect turnover to increase despite the high levels of engagement.

Values Continue to Be Important

Having a set of clear values is a gateway to making engagement possible. This is truer than ever. The Modern Survey study found that employees who say their organizational values are “known and understood” are 51 times more likely to be fully engaged than an employee who responds that their organization does not have values that are known and understood. It is shocking! The reason for such an enormous ratio is that it is very challenging to have a fully engaged employee without values. Only 1 in 260 employees who responded their organization does not have values was “fully engaged.”

The Drivers of Engagement Are Cemented

What is driving engagement today is simple. People want safety and growth opportunities. The top driver of engagement is “belief in senior leadership.” The third strongest driver is “belief in the future of the organization.” Four years after the recession, employees still want to know they are being led by the right people and the organizations is headed in the right direction.

Beyond safety, employees want to improve their own prospects. “I can grow and develop at my organization” is the second strongest driver of engagement. The sixth strongest driver of engagement is “employees have advancement opportunities.” Growth and development will be especially important for high performing, high potential employees and younger employees.

Beyond safety and development opportunities, having a “sense of personal accomplishment” (the fourth strongest driver) and “commitment to exceptional customer service” (fifth strongest) are also important.

Sales Engagement

Another shocking finding from the study came from looking at engagement levels of employees involved in sales. Nearly a quarter (23%) of all sales employees are fully engaged. That is compared to just 13% of non-sales employees.

Despite having much higher levels of engagement, 42% of salespeople, compared to 24% of non-salespeople, either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they were actively looking for an opportunity at another organization. This is a stunning revelation that Modern Survey will continue to research.

Even though employee engagement is on the rise, the job market will continue to heat up as the labor pool continues to shrink. Organizations will need to continue to pay attention to the needs of all employees in order to fight off turnover that could prove to be debilitating.

Modern Survey conducts a study of U.S. Workforce engagement twice annually. To learn more about the Fall 2014 Study and access in-depth content, go to

8 responses to “Employee Engagement at an All-time High in the United States”

  1. James Harris says:

    So if engagement us up and the disengaged count is down, why are employees leaving? Is it simply for more money?

    • Don MacPherson Don MacPherson says:

      People are going to have a wide array of reasons for leaving and pay is one of them. A competitive compensation package is the fourth strongest driver of intent to stay behind “confidence in the company,” “growth and development,” and “personal accomplishment.” Bigger than pay though is simply opportunity. There are greater opportunities to find work elsewhere than since early 2008.

  2. Faith Bell says:

    I found this article to be fascinating as well as an eye opener.

    I do recall in your recent engagement webinar in October that in order for the dynamics for engagement to work, the engagement needs to begin with the top or upper level management.

    Could this be one of the the reasons employees test their marketability with other companies that appear to be more engaged than their current employer?

    • Don MacPherson Don MacPherson says:

      Faith, thanks for your comment. We think of engagement as having three critical components – the organization, leadership, and the individual employee. The organization makes engagement possible. They are the gateway. They do it by having an environment of trust, paying fairly, and having values that are known and understand. Next, leaders – both senior leaders and direct managers – drive engagement. Finally, individual employees choose whether or not to bring their best to work. They may or may not be aware they are making this choice, but they are choosing nonetheless.

      Employees are testing their marketability for a variety of reasons. The fact that it is a job seeker’s market is the main reason for the increase in people looking for their next company.

  3. Deb says:

    Hi Don,
    I would have been more surprised about Engaged employees looking for opportunities outside the company until I went to the HR People & Strategy Global conference last year that addressed the change in the workforce and what to expect as HR professionals in the future. The Millennials are going to make up the majority of the workforce in just a few years. In addition the Work Place will change drastically and not actually be a “place” you go. With traditional employee (full time and part time ) being replaced with the emerging freelance workforce, the transient more mobile global workforce goes from place to place (even if they don’t actually GO to a place of work). Thus, people are quite engaged in their work but not necessarily “Loyal” to any one organization. Opportunities, interest, or other reason takes the worker to new work.

    We will see how it plays out but the message to us as HR professionals was that the workforce may be engaged but not necessarily “loyal” to the company. Thus, retention in the same way we looked at it years ago, may not be the same type of predictor in years to come. I am not sure how to think about the freelancers being the main workforce in the future but I definitely see if happening more and more on the West coast.
    Just thought I would share what was shared with me.

  4. Velchal Sudhaker says:

    engagement could be looked from three levels IQ -EQ and SQ

    IQ level engagement is all but showy in nature- high degree of manipulation finding techniques and tools ……
    At EQ level is more kinaesthetic generating feelings attractions feel good factors This is more powerful than IQ based but still there is lots of make believe factors
    Real engagement should happen at SQ level a kind of
    naturalness in engagement that looks normal routine yet powerful — it an unity in diversity – it is allowing different styles and methods yet looking for an unity of purpose

    • Don MacPherson Don MacPherson says:

      Here is a definition from our friends at Wikipedia.

      Spiritual quotient (SQ) is described as a measure that looks at a person’s spiritual intelligence in the same way as intelligence quotient (IQ) looks at cognitive intelligence.

      We have all heard about the importance of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). However, The concept of Spiritual Quotient (SQ) is fast emerging as the next big thing.

  5. […] and take progress toward meaningful results.. Modern Survey research has repeatedly found that having opportunities for growth and development is a leading driver of employee engagement, especially among Gen Y […]

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