If you’re looking for a strong work output and company-wide productivity—and who isn’t?—you’ll need motivated workers. Forcing them back to work is unlikely to get you them.
The Employee Motivation & Commitment Index, a monthly report by the ADP Research Institute, looks at engagement, resilience and connection among workers, and they are really bad this summer. Frankly, scores in all of those areas dropped to their lowest point since June 2022, coming down off a peak in December 2022, which ADP’s researchers chalked up at the time to a year of “robust pay growth, strong hiring, and the rise of remote work.”
If you’re a manager, this should set off alarm bells, because unmotivated workers can directly wallop company performance. Indeed, workers whose motivation and commitment scores were high demonstrated a higher work output and lower intent to quit, ADP found.
When ADP sorted highly motivated and committed workers along gender and age lines, they found that men are reporting being much more motivated and committed during their peak working-age years than women.
Most likely, that’s because women—especially since the pandemic—have been disproportionately burdened with caretaking obligations, which has made a sizable dent in their ability to grow at work, although female labor force participation has actually surpassed 2019 levels, implying that hybrid work arrangements are boosting female participation, if not engagement.
But managers beware: The pandemic—particularly the rapid, disorganized nationwide shift to fully remote work—unearthed a crisis of belonging for many employees, who still report feeling isolated from their job and their closest coworkers.
For anyone following the return-to-office wars and alternating malaise and tension between workers and their leaders, the findings should come as little surprise. Whether it’s the push-and-pull over remote work, lack of pay transparency and cost-of-living adjustments, or simply the slow adjustment to a new and often befuddling set of professional norms, most workers reported feeling checked-out and disincentivized.
The discontent has been building for a while now. A recent Gallup survey found that among nearly 9,000 U.S. workers with remote-capable jobs, only 28% of those who work remotely felt connected to their company’s mission—a 4% year-over-year drop. Even among fully in-person workers, just one-third (33%) feel connected, so remote work can’t take all the blame. However, it remains an easy culprit as bosses scour the terrain for something, anything, to explain a drop in productivity. (To be sure, remote work has been associated with decreased work output over the long term.)
Motivation and recognition are much likelier to produce strong results and bolster connections than anything else, recent research from Workhuman found. In fact, employers who made a point to freely give their workers due recognition reported a 9% productivity jump, a 22% decrease in safety incidents, and a 22% decrease in absenteeism, Fortune’s Amber Burton reported. Attrition rates also improved.
“You should feel like [your] organization sees and appreciates your unique capabilities. Like, ‘My special sauce belongs here,’” Meisha-ann Martin, Workhuman’s senior director of people analytics and research, told Burton of meaningful acknowledgement.
After all, “the primary reason people join and stay in a company or organization is not that they want to earn more money and reach a high level of status (although they enjoy both), but because they want to belong,” Anthony Silard, an associate professor of leadership and the director of the Center for Sustainable Leadership at Luiss Business School in Rome, wrote for Fortune last year. “The deepest intrinsic desire they wish to fulfill at work is to feel included, accepted, appreciated, and valued by a social group that, in their eyes, is worth belonging to.”
There’s still good news in the August installment of the ADP engagement report: A healthy 40% of workers are highly productive, ADP’s research found. (Each report surveys about 2,500 workers.) The largest share of highly motivated and committed workers is in the information and technology sector, while morale is lowest in transportation and warehousing.
You can guess which of those industries is more amenable to flexible work.
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