How The 'Great Disconnection' is Damaging Workplace Culture

Naturally, remote working has decreased the amount of interaction between staff and leaders, and now, employees are beginning to feel disengaged from their company and their work. What started as an attempt to boost employee wellness in the workplace, has in turn sparked a big problem for companies worldwide: employee disconnect. This “Great Disconnection” is not only costing the global community billions, but negatively impacting employees’ personal selves as well. Some findings show that:

  • 53% of US professionals feel disengaged from work
  • Almost half (45%) of employees find workplace ‘unrecognisable’
  • There’s need for a greater focus on employee wellbeing
  • Recruiters’ fear ‘Disengagement Crisis’ as US economic forecast looks bleak

What’s driving this ‘Disengagement Crises’ in the workplace?

An alarming 53% of employees in the US reportedly feel disengaged from their workplace – amidst companies struggling to form a post-pandemic work culture which is fit for a hybrid world.

According to findings from a Robert Walters poll, white-collar workers in the US are facing a ‘Disengagement Crisis’ with almost half of white-collar workers claiming that their workplace has become unrecognisable in the past 12 months. The poll also found the main drivers of employee disengagement to be:

  • A high staff turnover – 52%
  • Less people coming into the office – 50%
  • A subsequent decline in team social gatherings – 47%

Alongside the above, a gloomy economic outlook of 35% is causing employees to disconnect from the workplace, investing less of their personal selves, and opting to simply ‘get their head down’ and ‘the work done.’

Chris Hickey, CEO of Robert Walters North America, shares his thoughts in worklife around the findings, “I was somewhat surprised to see the findings from our research – especially given the investment made by employers into workplace culture over the past 3-5 years, as well as the more recent focus on luring workers back into the office.

“What is apparent here is the traditional tactics used to build a lively, inclusive, and social workplace culture are simply not cutting it. The hybrid-working world and subsequent decline in office attendance is having a detrimental impact on employee engagement and companies must act fast to keep employees engaged and attract the best professionals.”

High Price to Pay

Gallup found that disengaged employees around the world are costing the global community $7.8 trillion due to lost productivity, absenteeism, and workflow disruption. However, while many employers are taking a step in the right direction through developing ‘return-to-office’ policies and plans, 66% are doing so with no input from their employees. This is the tip of what Future Forum’s recent report termed the ‘executive-employee disconnect’.

75% of executives told Future Forum they want to work from the office 3-5 days a week, whereas only a third (34%) of less senior employees wanted the same. Such severe difference of opinion about working must be acknowledged by executives. If they focus on developing ‘post-pandemic’ policies with very limited employee input, they risk losing further scores of their workforce to disconnection.

The ‘executive-employee disconnect’ further feeds into issues around employee wellbeing: fewer than 1 in 4 US professionals in 2022 feel their employers care about their wellbeing according to Gallup's recent findings. Employers who show a lack of understanding and awareness when it comes to the wellbeing of their employees are going to find those employees far more likely to disconnect both their workload and workplace. 

Counter-offers Rife

As the US jobs market remains largely robust employers are still nervous about losing employees and offering disengaged employees pay hikes to retain them.

Annual wage increases of +4.8% in the US this year have surpassed earlier predictions. A survey by Pearl Meyer found a quarter of employers offering wage increases over +6% in attempts to retain staff. Despite such wage increases employers cannot keep up with the soaring rate of inflation.

Chris adds, “Despite many employers raising wages to increase engagement and retention, this really is a short-term remedy especially as inflation and the cost-of-living continue to climb."

“Much greater focus needs to be given to the wider topic of employee engagement - which should no longer be considered as a ‘buzz word’ or an intangible, immeasurable HR concept that is a ‘nice to have’.

“Developing an engaged workforce where engagement is workplace ritual rather than a tick-box for employers is of paramount importance. Employee engagement is a key driver of motivation, commitment, and productivity in the workplace – in a business sense employers need to appreciate that it really does impact the bottom line.”

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