Employee engagement has fluctuated throughout the pandemic and shift to remote work, during the great resignation, and now amid the return to offices.
Today, more than half of U.S. workers feel totally disengaged from their jobs and are experiencing “boreout,” according to a new report from video conferencing provider Owl Labs, which surveyed over 2,000 full-time U.S. based workers in June.
It’s different from burnout, which became widespread over the last few years and in part led many to quit their jobs and find new roles. Burnout is characterized by being overstimulated by one’s work, while today’s boreout is characterized by feeling under-stimulated by one’s work.
Recent data also helps illustrate the boreout issue: More than 70% of workers worldwide said they are still waiting for their employers to give them a reason to do more than just show up, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce 2023 report, published in June.
Such employees “may be physically present or logged into their computer, but they don’t know what to do or why it matters. They also don’t have any supportive bonds with their coworkers, boss or their organization,” that report said.
“The pandemic fundamentally altered our workplace dynamics really overnight, and it led many employees to deeply reflect on both the meaning of their work and how their work fits into the full picture of their lives,” said Jennifer Dulski, CEO and founder of Rising Team, a hybrid workforce platform.
“So they came away with a different appreciation and a higher bar than they had before for what kind of work they find truly meaningful,” Dulski said.
When employees aren’t engaged, enthusiastic and energized by their work, “it’s of course not good for all of the outcomes that organizations are trying to achieve,” said Caitlin Duffy, HR research director at Gartner.
Employers have noticed and made attempts to better engage employees, for example taking steps to shift their culture and better communicate their mission and values to help employees connect, Duffy said. They’ve also tried to better promote professional development opportunities to staff.
Most disengaged employees though “just want their organizations to fix things that are hard for them,” she said. They want their employers to improve inefficient processes and remove work frictions that “make things harder, make things more exhausting, make things more difficult to get their work done,” she said.
One such work friction for many is the return to office. Even if that return is on a part-time hybrid basis rather than five days a week, it still requires uprooting stablized routines.
At the same time, “a lot of employees are saying that they give a lot of feedback, but they just don’t believe the organization is going to take action. So there’s almost a sense of futility,” she said.
The clumsy and ongoing transitions from remote to hybrid work are one such challenge making many employees’ jobs harder, adding commute time and additional logistics for them to handle on top of their already expected work output.
“Whereas companies are trying to get employees back to the office, workers are clearly restless and not feeling engaged with their jobs. This isn’t a great combination for employers’ return to office plans,” said Owl Labs CEO Frank Weishaupt.
RTO mandates can also make employees feel less valued, less trusted and less autonomous, which all impact how engaged they feel to their job and the organization they work for,” Dulski said.