Aug 27, 2023 - Economy

Remote workers' connection to companies' missions hits record low

Data: Gallup; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Gallup; Chart: Axios Visuals

Fully remote workers are especially disconnected from their workplaces' "mission and purpose," according to a new Gallup survey released Thursday.

Why it matters: The results adds to a slew of signs in the post-pandemic era — including viral trends like "quiet quitting" to "bare minimum Mondays" — that highlight the growing distance between workers and their employers.

  • Despite a push by some employers to get workers back in the office, a recent Flex Index report found that the portion of U.S. companies requiring full-time in-office work has been decreasing in 2023.

State of play As of mid-2023, 34% of U.S. workers overall feel engaged at work, up two percentage points from last year, the survey found.

  • Fully remote workers reported higher levels of engagement than their in-office colleagues, but Gallup said its "most worrying finding" was a drop in the connection that fully remote workers feel to their workplace's mission and purpose.
  • Only 28% of fully remote workers strongly agreed that they felt connected to their workplace's mission and purpose — a record low.
  • By comparison, 35% of hybrid and 33% of on-site workers felt their companies' missions made them feel their work is important.

Between the lines: The contrast between remote workers being more engaged at work but less connected to the workplace mission is a "difference between teams and managers and executive leadership," Brian Elliott, an executive advisor on the future of work, told Axios.

  • Remote workers can feel very connected with their teams, with whom they have regular meetings, without the same level of engagement with the broader company mission, Elliott said.
  • It makes a difference whether the remote workers are employed at companies that are mandating returns to the office, he noted.

The big picture: "If the mission and purpose of your organization is making the world better in some way, shape, or form," Elliott said, but the company has mandated a return-to-office, "what you're really doing is you're signaling to remote workers that they are second-class citizens."

  • Workers who are parents or caregivers, have disabilities, or are people of color often want or need more workplace flexibility. So, return-to-office mandates can signal that executives will award opportunities and promotions to other workers who comply, Elliott said.
  • Yet regardless of whether workers are hybrid, remote or in office, "we're talking about numbers that are sitting below 40%," Elliott said.
  • Companies should be more focused on increasing employee engagement overall. "The starting point is trust, autonomy. That's actually what's going to drive their engagement to your purpose," he added.

The bottom line: Employers who, spooked by talk of "quiet quitting," push workers to return to office, risk creating a "doom loop" since those policies signal a lack of trust in workers, Elliott said.

  • "If you don't trust them, they actually are going to work less hard for you, because a lack of trust is not something that creates a lot of loyalty or a lot of inspiration to go the extra mile," Elliott said.
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