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The war for engagement is driving the Great Resignation

The conventional wisdom that more people across the board are more likely than ever to leave their jobs is wrong, according to extensive polling by Gallup

What is true: Self-identified disengaged workers are ditching jobs faster than ever, the data reveals. 

Why it matters: Engagement, not pay or perks, is the leading indicator — and chief reason — for the record turnover many companies are experiencing today.

  • Happy employees are no more likely to leave their gigs than pre-pandemic, Gallup found — basically 40% were open to leaving before the virus hit, and basically the same rate are today.

Engagement — the difference-maker for staying or going — is harder than ever.

  • Employees are burnt out and bummed by work-from-home mandates. And they're isolated — scattered around the country and world in apartments, houses and cottages.
  • This double whammy makes running a business and keeping talent difficult in a strong economy. 

The numbers show how important engagement is to keeping employees from quitting.

  • If you offer, on average, a 20% increase even to someone who is completely engaged in their job, they will look at that particular job. But again, that's not necessarily who's moving right now.
  • Among those that are actively disengaged in their job, 75% are actively looking for new work. They're actually making this move because any increase in pay — and sometimes even a pay cut for a change of scenery — will cause them to leave that job.

This won't get any easier. Big banks and others still fantasize about employees returning to the office for good. But very few want to, and studies show many workers are willing to take big cuts to avoid returning to a physical office daily, says Jon Clifton, global managing partner at Gallup.

  • Gallup found only 30% want to come back full time.

Companies doing the best tend to have a higher purpose than mere profit, first-rate internal communications on a weekly cadence, and a culture with a heavy emphasis on diversity, inclusion and transparency.

  • "Employees expect you to say something, expect you to believe in something, and expect you to have and drive purpose," Lisa Osborne Ross, U.S. CEO of Edelman, told Axios. "This is an employee-driven environment."
  • Brad Burns, chief communications officer at Salesforce, said his company has added 20,000 people who have never seen the inside of an office. "The past is gone and we are operating the way we will be operating for a very long, long time," he said.

Go deeper: Watch the "Executive Edge: Navigate the Great Resignation" discussion here.

The article above originally appeared on Axios.com on September 9, 2021.