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Reengaging Unmotivated Employees

New research shows just how disengaged employees have become, but these strategies can make a big difference.

By Alexis Whyte

As some disengaged employees turn to quiet quitting, Qualtrics’ Employee Experience Benchmarks report captures shifting attitudes at work. According to the report, more employees than ever are feeling unmotivated at work. Employers need to understand the root cause to reverse these trends and reengage their workforce.

“The profoundness of the change that desk workers are experiencing when it comes to the topic of work cannot be overstated. Not only is where we work changing (no longer office-bound), but how we work is changing (digital-first), our expectations of our leadership teams is changing (show empathy, represent global communities), and the automated capability of our jobs is changing (generative AI),” says Sarah Marrs, director of employee experience strategy execution at Qualtrics. 

Key findings from the study show how disengagement among employees is impacting work and productivity. Understanding these factors is vital to creating a stronger workplace experience for employees. 

  • Employee disengagement is causing tangible decreases in labor productivity and business productivity. In 2022, productivity in the US declined at the fastest rate on record since 1947.
  • Employees are reluctant to do more in their positions. Employees were more willing to do more within their current positions before and during the pandemic, as 77% and 89% claimed they would do extra work. This percentage has since decreased, especially in Germany and Japan, where the percentage of motivated employees decreased by 12% and 10%, respectively.
  • Employees are turning to new positions to counter burnout. The Qualtrics EX Benchmark study showed that fewer employees plan to stay at their current organization long-term, especially if their trust in senior leadership has faltered. Burnout affects over one-third of employees.
  • Growth is evading employees. Thirty-nine percent of employees do not have a clear understanding of how to develop their careers within their organization and 25% don’t have opportunities for learning and development. Communicating clear steps for growth and ensuring accessible skills development can improve long-term engagement and retention.

While the Qualtrics benchmark report includes a myriad of reasons why employees are turning to quiet quitting, there are still other factors at play. Evolving workforces, attitudinal shifts, and declines in leadership trust can negatively impact employee motivation, too.

“With the constant swirl that workforces are experiencing, there’s many factors that have caused this decline and it’s difficult (or perhaps too soon) to point to any one,” Marrs explains. “There’s no doubt that transformational leaders can go a long way to motivating their employees and it seems there is a widening gulf between what employees are looking for and getting from leaders today. The leadership style needed for success today is very different to what it was pre-pandemic.”

Though companies may be struggling with declines in employee motivation, essentially, it is up to the organization to recommit and reengage employees. Reinforcing trust and confidence in leadership can counter symptoms of burnout. Marrs suggests the importance of listening to and acknowledging employee input when making organizational decisions, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it must be specifically integrated into business plans to positively affect employee engagement. To truly counter disengagement and declining motivation, employers need to understand what drives their workforce and pivot accordingly. Employees want to improve their relationship with their workplace, but they can’t do it alone. Fulfilling work, empathetic leadership, committing to organizational values, and providing clear growth paths can boost employee loyalty without directly impacting the bottom line.

“I also see many organizational leaders failing to really grasp the fact that today’s workforce is truly more values-driven, to an entirely different, more internalized extent,” Marrs says. “Employees are looking to be inspired and expect their employers to truly demonstrate that they have priorities and interests beyond commercial gain.”


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