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Help My Career: Workers are disengaged — but don’t blame remote work. The real cause lies elsewhere.

Worker disengagement is increasing no matter where a person does their job, whether that’s in the office, at home, or a hybrid of both.

And just because people are showing up to their job in person, it does not mean they are fully engaged when working.

These are some of the takeaways from a new Conference Board survey as the return-to-office debate continues.

Polling more than 1,600 people, mostly office workers, the researchers found:

• Decreasing engagement was equally prevalent no matter the work setting — 30% of remote workers, 31% of hybrid workers and 30% of completely in-office workers said they were less engaged now than six months ago.

• Even with growing disengagement, half said they were pouring in the same energy and 31% said they were putting in even more effort than six months ago. Fewer than two in 10 workers (18%) said they were putting less effort into the job.

• One concern gnawing at detached workers is disappointment with their company and maybe that’s tied to the C-Suite — not their home office. Some 52% said having a caring and empathetic leader was more important than before the pandemic.

The poll reinforces the view that a mix of in-office and at-home work is on the rise for the white-collar sector where workers want flexibility.

More than half of people (55%) said they have a hybrid schedule, up from 43% six months ago. People with fully remote work schedules declined from 48% to 31% over the same period, the data showed.

But it’s a challenge to the idea — possibly held by managers stricken with “productivity paranoia” — that in-person work settings could be the cure for flagging morale and engagement.

“‘For businesses to truly thrive, they should focus on improving employee engagement, no matter the employee’s work location or schedule.’”

— Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board

“For businesses to truly thrive, they should focus on improving employee engagement, no matter the employee’s work location or schedule,” said Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, a think tank and business membership organization.

“For workers who are remote or hybrid, this may mean being more intentional about making time for connection,” Ray added.

Work connection and purpose are big-picture questions for many people now. First came terms like the “great resignation” and “great reshuffle” to capture the job switching and career reassessment going on during the pandemic.

Later came the loaded phrase “quiet quitting” and a debate on whether the term meant workers were using just enough effort to avoid getting fired or striving for a better work-life balance.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a new guide to workplace mental health for workers and managers on Thursday. The framework is designed to turn workplaces into “engines of well-being for all workers” at a time when many people say their job is taking a mental health toll, he said.

But another question now is how the looming prospect of a recession could play into worker mood — and whether remote workers would be the first to go. The Conference Board survey suggests some people will stick where they are, even if they are not committed to their job.

Almost four in 10 people (37%) say their plans to stick at their job have decreased over the last six months. But the prospect of a recession is making 29% of workers less likely to leave and just 12% say they are actively planning their exit within the next six months.

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