Few employees 'engaged' in their jobs, poll finds

According to a survey by Gallup, most Germans feel 'disengaged' from their jobs. The international study, published in December 2003 was widely discussed in the German media in January and February 2004, but its significance was played down by employers' representatives.

The findings of an international Gallup Organisation 'employee engagement index', published in December 2003, were widely debated in the German media during early 2004. Since 2001, the index has examined, on an annual basis, the levels of employee engagement in their work in several countries, including Germany. The research is part of a long-term international study by the US-based Gallup on emotional attachment to work as a measure of job satisfaction and productivity.

The German branch of the Gallup market research and consulting group, Gallup GmbH, interviewed 2,100 working Germans in the summer of 2003. According to the survey, only 12% of German workers have a strong emotional attachment to their jobs and their workplace; in other words, only 12% are 'truly engaged' in their work. Approximately 1.5 times as many workers (18%) are 'actively disengaged', or fundamentally disconnected, from their jobs. Psychologically at least, they have already 'quit' according to Gallup. Some 70% of employees are classified by the survey as 'not engaged'; these employees are either not psychologically committed to their roles or just 'work to rule', according to Gallup. Gallup estimates the value of lost productivity in 2003 caused by job dissatisfaction - resulting, for example, from lost working days and employee turnover - to be up to EUR 260 billion in Germany. According to the director of Gallup Germany, Gerald Wood, these estimated costs for employers result, in particular, from the fact that most of those workers who are unhappy and less productive in their jobs than their more contented colleagues tend to stay with their companies in Germany. 'So basically by having a labour force that is less productive, you end up with lesser profitability,' Mr. Wood told DW-World.de (Deutsche Welle).

Gallup also conducted similar studies on employee engagement in a number of other countries worldwide, and engagement levels among German workers lag behind those of workers in several of these countries. According to the results for 2003, US workers lead the way in job satisfaction, with 27% of participants in the USA responding that they feel a strong attachment to their jobs. Other leading nations in terms of the percentage of people with very high job satisfaction include Canada (24%), the UK (20%) and Australia (19%). A country with a smaller proportion of people than in Germany expressing a strong engagement with their work is Japan (9%). In France, the percentage of actively engaged employees is similar to that in Germany (12%).

The research by Gallup also found important differences in engagement levels between women and men in Germany (this gender difference generally exists in other countries as well). A key finding is that female employees have a higher level of active engagement (14%) and of active disengagement (20%) than do men (10% and 15% respectively). Furthermore, employees in the south of Germany (14%) tend to be more motivated than in the rest of the country. In mid- and northern Germany, the percentage is 12%; in eastern German states, the figure is generally around the 10% mark.

Amongst the suggestions made by Gallup Germany to German companies is that they should improve the working relationships between employees and their line managers in order to increase employees’ happiness in their jobs, and, as a result, enhance workers’ productivity. Moreover, Gallup encourages German managers to be more generous in their praise of their staff, since it found a reluctance to give positive feedback in Germany. Additionally, the researchers suggest fostering flatter hierarchies in German companies, as this seems to be a characteristic of countries with higher percentages of satisfied workers.

Rainer Schmidt-Rudloff, a representative of the Confederation of German Employers’ Federations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA), criticised the Gallup study for methodological reasons. The BDA representative cast doubts on the survey’s main finding that most Germans feel disengaged from their job. He argued, for example, that the 'middle' category of employees characterised as 'not engaged' cannot really be regarded as employees who are not psychologically committed to their roles in Germany. Rather, the differing percentages in this middle category also depend on cultural differences between countries that lead to different answers to the Gallup questionnaire: 'The Gallup survey not only measures the extent of engagement, but also the willingness and ability of employees to express criticism.' The commentary by Mr Schmidt-Rudloff argues that this the willingness and ability to criticise might exist more strongly in Germany than it does, for example, in the USA; this may then distort the results. Therefore, according to this criticism, the validity of the poll is doubtful.

According to Daniel Friedrich, a regional representative of the German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall), it can be concluded from the Gallup study that employers should, in crises, signal to employees their desire to overcome their difficulties jointly with their employees, 'instead of making decisions without their involvement or against them'.

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