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The last few Gallup State of the American Workplace reports tell us quite a bit about how employees experience their work and the organizations that employ them. Their research is rigorous, comprehensive, and based on large survey populations. It turns out, the reports also have a great deal to say about the freelance revolution. Here are some of the facts and trends I found particularly interesting, with thanks in part to Lighthouse.
Employee engagement is up slightly but still deeply worrisome. Remember how engagement is defined: an employee’s willingness to give discretionary time or effort; it’s not just a “feel good” measure. Operationally it means making that extra call on a customer, ensuring the package is delivered, taking the extra shift when the team is on deadline, or coming in early to help out on particularly busy days. Here’s what the most recent report said:
“The percentage of “engaged” workers in the U.S. — those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace — is now 34%. The percentage who are “actively disengaged” — workers who have miserable work experiences — is now at its lowest level (13%) … The remaining 53% of workers are in the “not engaged” category. They may be generally satisfied but are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace; they will usually show up to work and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.”
In short, only a third of employees are satisfied with their work and employer.
Employees are frustrated with their company leaders. A second key driver of employee disengagement is the lack of confidence about the company’s future. This is the job of leadership, and the Gallup data suggest that leaders need to significantly pick up their game:
- Only 22% of employees strongly agree that their leadership has a clear direction for the organization.
- Only 15% strongly agree that company leaders make them enthusiastic about the future.
- Only 13% of employees agree that their leaders communicates effectively with the organization. In fact, 69% of managers and leaders are uncomfortable communicating with employees in general.
Employees continue to see their managers as part of the problem. In an executive summary to Gallup’s State of the American Manager, Gallup researchers wrote:
“The majority of managers working in the U.S. today are wrong for their role. That’s not to say these people don’t have talent. On the contrary, their talent probably made them quite successful in their previous, non-managerial role. But the talent that makes someone a great salesperson, accountant or engineer is not the same talent that makes him or her a great manager. In fact, Gallup has found that only 10% of working people possess the talent to be a great manager. Companies use outdated notions of succession to put people in these roles. These organizations overlook talent, and when they do, they lose. They spend needless time and energy trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Their managers are not engaged — or worse, are actively disengaged — and through their impact, Gallup estimates that these managers cost the U.S. economy $319 billion to $398 billion annually.”
Gallup reports that a low percentage of managers are themselves engaged, making it difficult for their employees to be engaged. In a study of over 2500 U.S. managers, just 35% of managers were engaged, while 51% are not engaged and 14% are actively disengaged. Gender is also an interesting factor in managerial engagement. Gallup finds that 41% of female managers are engaged at work, compared with 35% of male managers. In fact, female managers of every working-age generation are more engaged than their male counterparts.
The agile company is still more fluff than reality. In the hyper-competitive global economy, fast and smart is essential. But, are companies rising to the level of agility required to perform well and attract top talent? According to a recent Gallup report:
“One of the most powerful advantages of agile companies is their ability to give employees a sense of optimism about the organization’s capacity to survive – and thrive – amid disruptive marketplace conditions. Agile companies understand the importance of tapping employees’ ingenuity to develop novel approaches to emerging business challenges.”
Gallup’s findings? Agility is still very much a work in progress. In surveys of European companies located in the U.K., France, Spain and Germany, less than 15% of companies met Gallup’s definition of agile.
A recent HBR survey found similar data on a global basis, but with a twist. They reported:
“Around four-fifths of survey respondents say they’re using agile in some form in all of the principal business functions. Significantly, three-quarters say they are embracing agile ways of working among different groups and departments. However, it’s one thing to say you are “doing agile”; it’s another to ensure it is implemented broadly, deeply, and consistently across the organization. Respondents were asked to rate their usage of agile across these three dimensions on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest. Less than a fifth of firms gave themselves the top rating in achieving the breadth (13 percent), depth (13 percent), or consistency (18 percent) of use needed to unleash its full potential.”
Not surprisingly, given these trends:
Employees are more open than ever to a new situation. Retention has never been more of a concern to U.S. employers. So it should. With a strengthening economy, Gallup reports that employees are thinking more and more like freelancers, and anticipating their next move: “A record 47% of the workforce says now is a good time to find a quality job, and more than half of employees (51%) are actively looking for new jobs or watching for openings.” A recent Deloitte study reinforces this trend, finding that 44% of millenials expect to have left their organization for another opportunity within two years.
Freelance work arrangements are on the rise. There have been a variety of efforts to size the freelance workforce in the U.S. It’s a difficult estimate for a wide variety of reasons – not least of which is that many non-U.S. located freelancers are regularly doing work for U.S. companies on a remote basis. But, despite the difficulty of precise measurement there is one indisputable fact: freelancing is large and growing. Gallup’s research findings were substantially similar to the Upwork report, Freelancing in America 2018, finding that:
“Twenty nine percent of U.S. workers have an alternative work arrangement as their primary job — including one in four full-time workers (24%) and half of part-time workers (49%). Further, when we include workers who have any connection with gig work — including those who work multiple jobs — that proportion is 36%. This means that more than one in three workers today have some type of job in the gig economy.”
Taken together, these data send a clear message: viva la freelance revolution!
July 1, 2019 at 07:53AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs