May 23, 2019

Myth #3 – Only Low-Wage Jobs Experience Low Engagement

This is part 4 of our series titled, America’s Engagement Epidemic.

Here are parts 12 and 3 in case you missed them.

 

In our post titled,  “Myth #1 – It’s all the Millennials fault”, we discussed the fact that Millennials are the most highly educated generation to date. To discuss myth #3, we need to take a broader look at the level of educational attainment and how it affects the composition of the entire US workforce.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “The U.S. labor force has become increasingly educated over the last 24 years. From 1992 to 2016, the share of the labor force made up of people with a bachelor’s degree and an advanced degree (including master’s, professional, and doctoral degrees) has grown consistently, rising by 7% and 5% respectively.”

Below is a breakdown of the composition of the workforce in 2016 according to educational attainment:

Over the past 24 years, the largest decrease has been those entering the workforce without a high school diploma. The next question worth asking is, what is the relationship between educational attainment and wage-earning potential?

While there are certainly outliers to these statistics, the general rule of thumb is the higher the educational attainment, the larger the earning potential for that individual.

Next, let’s look at the relationship between educational attainment and the type of work and position.

This data shows us that those with higher levels of educational attainment, the more opportunity for that individual to enter into management and professional services, and those with lower levels of education enter into entry-level positions within service, sales or natural resource management, construction or maintenance.

Taken as a whole, this data tells a story.  A story that most of the time, the higher the educational attainment, the higher the level of position within the organization, and the higher the level of earning potential.

But does this trend also ring true when we look at engagement across these same workers? Do those with higher education, and higher paying positions experience higher engagement?

The answer is no.

Some might assume this line of thinking.  “If I was an executive within a Fortune 500 company, wouldn’t I have higher levels of engagement within my job as compared to someone who is working at an entry-level position within fast-food?”

While this logic seems sound, this is a myth that we need to dispel.

The data is clear that those with lower levels of educational attainment are actually experiencing higher levels of engagement in their work than those with Masters, Doctorate or Postgraduate education. This seems counterintuitive and speaks to the need for us to realize that there are deeper forces at work.

So what is happening here? Here are a few factors that may impact these statistics:

1. Isolation  – One major factor in creating a highly engaged workforce is to make sure that employees have opportunities for personal and professional growth and that someone is discussing their performance with them on a regular basis. As an employee moves into managerial and higher levels of leadership, many times these opportunities for mentorship, growth, and conversations about their performance lessen. This can cause an individual to become isolated professionally, thus causing lower levels of engagement.

2. Disconnection from the Mission – Another factor in creating a highly engaged workforce is to make sure that each person’s work is connected to the mission of the organization. For many organizations, the practical work of serving clients and creating a product is connected to the mission of the organization.  As an employee moves into managerial and higher levels of leadership, many times they cease to be directly involved with creating the product or delivering the service that the organization offers. This can cause an individual to become disconnected from the larger mission of the organization, thus causing lower levels of engagement.

3. Loneliness – Having a best friend at work, and colleagues who express care is a major factor in creating an engaged workforce. A common occurrence for managers and senior leaders is that they become separated from certain key relationships within the organization. This can be due to lack of time, separation of duties or a sense of superiority. This can cause individuals to become disconnected relationally from the team at large, thus causing lower levels of engagement

It is clear that if we are going to truly understand the challenge of engagement in the workforce, we are going to have to look much deeper than generational differences, stop point fingers at our HR departments, and stop simply expecting that lower-wage workers within our organizations are less engaged in their work.


Join us next week to discuss our fourth myth about America’s Engagement Epidemic.

If you want to discuss these ideas in more detail, reach out for a conversation!