By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a numbers by Gallup, less than a third of Americans (29%) are engaged in their work. That leaves almost three quarters who are not engaged (52%) or actively disengaged (19%). Engaged employees are “enthusiastic about their work and contributing to their organizations in a positive manner.” According to Gallup, these numbers have been relatively steady throughout the year.

Interestingly, Gallup’s writers Nikki Blacksmith and Jim Harter mentioned that engaged employees were more than twice as likely as actively disengaged employees to report that their company was hiring. Blacksmith and Harter believe that engaged employees tend to lead to more innovation and job creation, and noted, “Increasing the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. could spur a significant amount of job growth, as detailed in Gallup’s latest book, The Coming Jobs War.”

In fact, recent research out of the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics reveals that the number of individuals who are leaving their jobs without being fired is increasing – in October, nearly 1.1 million simply quit their jobs, and ERE pointed out, that’s the highest amount in a decade, and even sharply higher than voluntary quits in September.

Increasing Numbers of Job Leavers

Most of the “job-leavers” polled said they are simply leaving their jobs without anything lined up. ERE’s John Zappe writes, “Included in the count are workers who took buyouts, some who quit ahead of a dismissal, and others who may be taking time off before starting a new job. The bulk, however, are those who decided to leave a job without having another lined up.”

Zappe points out Blessing White’s recent research, which showed that last year 13% of North American workers said they planned to leave their job in the next year – more than twice as many who said the same in 2008. Yet the engagement levels between this year and 2008 are about the same.

The reason, he continued, is possibly that employees don’t see a path to advancement. He writes:

“Why did workers want to leave? The BlessingWhite survey found 28 percent of North Americans cited lack of career opportunities. That was also an area where the TNS Employee Insights survey saw a decline from 2006. In the 2010 survey, worker satisfaction with career opportunities within their current company had declined 14.3 percent; 48 percent said they were satisfied in the most recent survey.”

It’s possible that companies have scaled back so much during the recession that employees simply do not see a way forward, or they do not feel supported in their ambition to reach the top. It is telling that, according to Gallup, the most engaged respondents were those over the age of 65 (44%), who likely have reached the top of their professional careers.

More Statistics

Following workers over 65, the next engaged group, at 32%, were those between the ages of 18 and 29. Workers between 30 and 64 were the least engaged at 28%. Females tended to be slightly more engaged than males overall (33% versus 27%) and workers with the least amount of education (had the highest level of engagement at 34%.  Only 27-28% of workers with other levels of education were engaged.

Blacksmith and Harter wrote:

“Because jobs are more complex and require employees to have higher levels of skills and knowledge, business should be concerned that the more highly educated workers are less engaged. The less engaged employees are with their work and their organization, the more likely they are to leave to an organization. Turnover can be costly, and turnover in professional roles, such as nurses or engineers, is more costly than turnover in entry-level or front-line roles.”

Because the most educated employees are also the most likely to leave their current jobs, professional firms should be the most concerned about the risk of attrition. Why are these employees feeling the least supported or feeling their paths to advancement are so stunted that they are considering leaving their organizations altogether?

By investing in solutions to these problems, companies can work to retain highly educated, high performing individuals who would otherwise seek a successful career elsewhere.