Almost a decade after the onset of the Great Recession, the world economy continues to struggle. The global gross domestic product has puttered along at under 3% growth since 2012, well below historical norms. Widespread joblessness — particularly among young people — has led to social and political strife in many areas. Since 2015, economic frustrations have likely contributed to a rise in nationalism and growing resentment toward immigrants, particularly in the U.S. and Europe.
The resulting social and political volatility is not just a government issue. These conditions dampen business development as skittish investors weigh increased risk. To achieve productivity gains while avoiding the instability that disrupts sustainable growth, governments and businesses alike need to place new focus on the resources and strategies they use to develop and empower their citizens and workforces. Broad-based strategies for human capital development give more individuals a stake in the success of their employer or their country, boosting their motivation and reducing the potential for conflict.
For governments, the goal is to expand the availability of high-quality jobs and the number of residents qualified to take them. Gallup’s global surveys from 2014 to 2016 indicate that 32% of working-age adults across 155 countries are employed full time for an employer — an important measure of the availability of good jobs.
However, Gallup’s workplace analytics identify immense room for productivity gains among those employees. Worldwide, the percentage of adults who work full time for an employer and are engaged at work — they are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace — is just 15%. That low percentage of engaged employees is a barrier to creating high-performing cultures. It implies a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of our global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.
Why is the global proportion of employees who are engaged in their work so low? There are many potential reasons — but resistance to change is a common underlying theme in Gallup’s research and experience. In particular, organizations and institutions have often been slow to adapt to the rapid changes produced by the spread of information technology, the globalization of markets for products and labor, the rise of the gig economy, and younger workers’ unique expectations. Business and political leaders must recognize when traditional patterns in management practices, education or gender roles, for example, become roadblocks to workers’ motivation and productivity, and when selectively disrupting tradition will help clear a path to greater prosperity and transformed company cultures.