Employee engagement has fallen while working from home

18 July 2021 Consultancy.com.au 3 min. read

A new study commissioned by global software firm Achievers has shown faltering engagement among employees who work from home – and a lack of awareness from the higher ups.

Achievers’ Asia Pacific arm commissioned Australian market insights company StollzNow Research to survey over 1,500 employees across Australia and Singapore – for an overview of how organisations in the region are faring more than a year into a novel work paradigm. 

Virtual working began as an emergency response in early 2020, although the benefits that it brought for employers (cost savings, etc.) and employees (flexibility, etc.) pushed many to consider working from home on a permanent basis – at least for some days a week, in what has come to be known as the hybrid model.

While working from home, was there a change in engagement with the workplace

That said, a chief drawback of the virtual working model even last year was that employees felt isolated and disengaged – contributing to a host of mental health problems while affecting quality of work. Achievers’ study probed organisations on engagement levels today, and not much has improved. 

More than 35% of employees in Australia feel less engaged while working from home – compared to less than 25% who feel more engaged. The rest were ambivalent towards the paradigm shift. Disengagement in Singapore was even higher: nearly 50% feel less engaged compared to only 12% on the flipside.

One explanation is the lack of facetime – as phrased by Achievers’ Melbourne-based APAC managing director Matt Seadon. “Remote and hybrid working were mainstays across the region through much of 2020, and it can be theorised that alignment between managers and employees took an entirely understandable hit due to the lack of face-to-face interactions.”

I feel engaged in my overall work experience

Not only has this affected employee engagement levels, it also appears to have put managers out of touch with their employees’ feelings – even in conventional work settings. The researchers questioned both cohorts, and found a clear perception disconnect. 

In Australia, 72% of employees feel engaged with their overall work experience (virtual and otherwise) – compared to nearly 90% that the management feel are engaged. A similar (albeit smaller) divide is visible in Singapore – where 77% of employees actually feel engaged compared to 84% from the managers’ perspective. 

While engagement perceptions differ by industry, there is some amount of disconnect across the board in both markets. “Managers are misreading engagement levels across organisations by some pretty significant multipliers,” said Seadon.

Industry-wise breakdown of the engagement disconnect

“As a manager, you may think you’re doing a good job, but our research is demonstrating that there’s a disconnect between what you think and what your employees are feeling.”

And this can have dire consequences: from poor motivation, satisfaction and ultimately low productivity; to a lack of coherent corporate culture and objectives. Outcomes range from smaller manifestations in absenteeism and a tense environment to business-critical impacts on revenue and turnover.

According to Seadon, management needs to take control. “The disconnect validates the need to better measure engagement, improve voice-of-employee and get real actionable insights about your team that you can recognise and appropriately reward.”