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The Engagement Crisis in The American Workforce

Today’s companies have been through a lot lately. First, there was the COVID-19 pandemic which cost thousands of human lives and was the main culprit why so many companies went out of business, many for good. Those that remained were forced to adopt new ways of working. Digital disruption anyone? Then came the ‘quiet quitting’ movement. This is the concept spreading virally on social media that millions of people are not going above and beyond at work and just meeting their job description -- could get worse. This is a problem because most jobs today require some level of extra effort to collaborate with coworkers and meet customer needs, either virtually or in person. Today, it’s all about worker engagement, or lack thereof.

Today, we have an ENGAGEMENT CRISIS.

The reasons for it are a bit complex. One, there appears to be a lack of loyalty among employees, and the younger the employee, the lower loyalty there is. When employees see their colleagues being laid off, they begin to sense that they may be next on the chopping block. Second, those employees left behind are typically required to “do more with less,” leaving many stressed. Lastly, now that many organizations are returning to the office, workers who’ve enjoyed and excelled at remote work have all but forgotten how to work in the office. These employees may require a reintroduction to workplace etiquette. After testing the 4-day work week some employers will keep offering it as employees proved to be just as effective.

Throughout Europe and Asia return-to-office rates in Paris and Tokyo have climbed to over 75%, while the U.S. often sits around half.

Fortunately, the solution is ridiculously simple: provide excellent content and programs on leadership development through corporate learning & development initiatives.

A few random thoughts on the problem…

  1. Companies assume younger employees have basic hard skills like accounting, strategy, and finance and are actively engaged… where is the focus on the soft skills like emotional intelligence, resilience, and creating high performance teams.

  2. Unless learning content is relevant and immediately applicable it evaporates within days… yet much of corporate learning and development programs are not immediately (or ever) relevant and applicable.

  3. You can be incredibly smart and develop the best learning content ever… if you aren’t creating an ideal learning environment in alignment with how people learn and engage, it is completely pointless.

The main reason why we have an engagement crisis in today’s workforce? Our loyalty isn’t to our school/organization/company, it’s to ourselves and the people/things that matter to us at that moment. We are engaged and perform at a high level ONLY IF it matters to us.

From the Great Recession (layoffs) of 2008 to Quiet Quitting in 2022 to today’s Employee Engagement Crisis, organizations need to quit expecting their people to be blindly loyal to them like it’s 1975 and start providing them excellent LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT opportunities. Invest in them and help them see how your organization can be a vehicle for THEM to achieve what THEY want.

Dr. Mark Robinson is the Director for the School of Business at Washington University of Science and Technology. Comments to the author can be sent to: He is an alumnus from Exxon Mobil and Deloitte.

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