The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Only 13 percent of people worldwide actually like going to work

It's a disturbing number, to say the least.

According to just-released data by Gallup, only 13 percent of employees are "engaged" in their jobs, or emotionally invested in their work and focused on helping their organizations improve.

The data, which are based on nationally representative polling samples in 2011 and 2012 from more than 140 countries, show that 63 percent are "not engaged"—or simply unmotivated and unlikely to exert extra effort—while the remaining 24 percent are "actively disengaged," or truly unhappy and unproductive.

While that's discouraging, it's actually a little better than the last time Gallup issued a global report. In data collected in 2009 and 2010, just 11 percent of workers reported being invested in their jobs, while 27 percent had actively checked out. The small improvement is due to an upswing in the global economy since those two recession years, when unemployment rates were even worse and when people were even more likely to settle for jobs they didn't like because options were so limited.

Unemployment rates may also explain the differences in worker satisfaction between regions, which is where the current report gets most interesting. However much U.S. workers complain about their jobs, the United States and Canada actually have the highest engagement rate in the world, with 29 percent of workers reporting they are invested in their work. Australia and New Zealand are a close second, at 24 percent.

Working conditions in countries or regions such as China (6 percent engagement), East Asia (also 6 percent) and South Asia (10 percent) make their low worker satisfaction levels not all that surprising. What is more remarkable are the ratios of happy to unhappy workers in Latin America and Western Europe. Twenty-one percent of workers in Latin America are engaged in their jobs, while just 14 percent of Western Europeans say they are. Gallup's report cites the "severe employment crises" in France, Ireland, Italy and Spain to explain the numbers, as well as a greater focus on building loyalty among workers in Latin America's more competitive talent market.

Also interesting: The report cites the concept of "wasta" (similar to the Western notion of "who you know" being a factor in who gets hired and who doesn't) as a reason the Middle East and North Africa have the highest levels of workers who are actively checked out of their jobs. These numbers are particularly high in Tunisia, Algeria and Syria.

While employee satisfaction might seem to be the least of many of these regions' concerns—who cares if people like their jobs when there's a civil war going on?—Gallup posits that disengaged workers don't just hold back the performance of a single company. They act as a major economic drain, with high costs for both developed and emerging economies, and should therefore be a priority.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

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