New Survey- More Education Means More On-the-Job Engagement, But Also More Stress

NEW YORK, June 8, 2011 – As the workforce emerges from the recession, and we move from an assembly-line economy to a knowledge-and-creative economy, the highest educated employees are experiencing increased stress levels and a challenge managing the work life balance. These findings on the state of engagement of U.S employees were released today by GfK Custom Research North America, from the GfK U.S. Employee Engagement Benchmark 2011 Survey, an annual survey of over 5,000 employees, and part of the GfK Global Employee Engagement Survey that was conducted among over 30,000 employees in 29 countries.

GfK’s survey revealed that, in North America, employees with a PhD were the most engaged (38 percent highly engaged), while those employees who had less than a high school education were the least engaged with their jobs (only 25 percent highly engaged). However, those same employees with a PhD -- which include the "knowledge workers" and "creative class" on whom companies depend -- reported the highest levels of pressure about job security (30 percent), having the resources to do their jobs effectively (30 percent), stress at work (29 percent), and struggling to maintain a work-life balance (33 percent). In addition, thirty percent frequently worry about the pressure to work long hours. 

The same pattern is found when comparing employees with master's degrees to those with less education, except that even more of those with a master's degree frequently worry about stress (39 percent) and their work-life balance (25 percent).  

"Greater education opens the door to more opportunities in the job market, but with that comes higher levels of responsibility and pressure to deliver results,” said Thomas Hartley, vice president of GfK Customer Loyalty and Employee Engagement. "Engaged employees are a companies’ most valuable asset, and addressing the pressures that more educated employees face is crucial to keeping them engaged and not seeking employment elsewhere.”   

Age and industry also play a significant role in the level of engagement. GfK’s survey found that engagement increases with age. Employees ages 60 years and over are the most engaged (35 percent highly engaged), while the youngest members of the workforce, employees ages 18 – 29, were the least engaged (24 percent highly engaged). 

During recessions, employees are far less likely to change jobs, while employers tend to lessen their investments in employee training and development in an effort to keep overhead lower.  When recession ends, job mobility increases and companies lose talented employees who have become disengaged with their company. 

Additional findings from the survey:

  •      In a new twist, voluntary turnover is rising in professional and business services despite high engagement. The reason appears to be fallout from decisions made by employees in this knowledge-intensive sector during the recession.  Fully 45 percent of employees in professional and business services report that they were forced to change life plans during the recession.  Job changes may be their way of allowing them to negotiate changes that bring their life back on track.

  •        The top five industries with engaged employees were construction (41 percent highly engaged), professional & business services (34 percent), information technology (33 percent) and public utilities (32 percent).

  •       Disengagement is highest in the retail sector (40 percent neutral or disengaged), followed by real estate (38 percent), public administration (38 percent), education (32 percent) and manufacturing (31 percent).  Disengagement is correlated with voluntary turnover (employees leaving their jobs even when the company would like them to stay).

  •      Managers are more engaged (35 percent highly engaged) than people with no managerial responsibilities (21 percent highly engaged), but those who manage other managers have the highest level of engagement (60 percent highly engaged).

  •    Employees of small companies are far more engaged (37 percent highly engaged) than those at large companies (23 percent highly engaged).

"As the economy continues to improve and their staff begins to look at other job opportunities, it’s important for smaller companies to keep the values and policies in place that lead to higher engagement," said Hartley. "Engaged employees are far less likely to weigh their options and seek employment elsewhere, which ultimately translates to higher profits for companies that don’t need to invest in recruiting and training new employees.”

The GfK U.S. Employee Engagement Benchmark 2011 Survey

The GfK U.S. Employee Engagement Benchmark 2011 Survey was conducted from February 16 to March 31, 2011, by GfK Custom Research North America. This online survey is based on interviews with 5,012 employed adults age 18 or older sampled from GfK’s national online panel. The data were weighted to reflect the demographic composition (industry, gender, age) of the U.S. workforce using targets provide by the International Labor Organization.  This survey is part of a multi-national survey that includes 29 countries worldwide.

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