College grads are less ‘engaged’ at work

Engagement by Education Level

College-educated Americans aren’t as engaged and challenged at work as less-educated workers, a new Gallup survey finds. That’s true for all ages and professions. Those with “some college” or a degree were less likely to say that “at work I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”

Gallup’s employee engagement index categorizes workers as engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged. Engaged employees are involved in and enthusiastic about their work. Those who are not engaged are satisfied with their workplaces, but are not emotionally connected to them — and these employees are less likely to put in discretionary effort. Those workers categorized as actively disengaged are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace, and they jeopardize the performance of their teams.

A majority of college graduates are unengaged — going through the motions — but only 16.7 percent are actively disengaged malcontents, according to Gallup. Not surprisingly, graduates with a managerial or executive job are the most engaged workers.

Many college graduates never took the time to “think carefully about they actually like to do” and what they’re best at, speculates Brandon Busteed, who runs Gallup Education. Then there are “too few jobs for college grads in general, or too many degrees misaligned with the jobs available in the workplace.” In short, the demand for film, theater, anthropology and sociology majors is limited.

At the very least, we have a lot of college graduates getting jobs that don’t put their best talents and skills to work because of a big disconnect between degrees conferred and the jobs available today. At worst, we have a college system that is not helping students accomplish the most fundamental need — getting them closer to what they do best.

Half of recent graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree, according to a 2012 Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll.

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  1. Following the link, one finds managers being encouraged to find ways to increase the engagement level of these “highly-educated” (college grads) employees. The problem is that a college degree no longer means that grads are highly educated; many lack the ability to write a coherent paragraph. In other words, many can neither write grammatically correct English nor think clearly (see the JJ post on writing=thinking).

  2. One problem is that 80-90% of ANY job is scutwork– stuff you’d rather not be doing, but have to for the purposes of record keeping, dealing with coworkers, or making HR happy.

    Who can be ‘actively engaged’ when filling out forms, or emailing with dense coworkers who don’t seem to be able to work without hand holding, or sitting through meetings only marginally related to their jobs? The modern office ‘team’ environment is not conducive to engagement.

    I’m much more engaged now that I freelance from home– because 75% of what I do is work, and only 25% is paperwork (like dealing with the IRS or invoicing or bookkeeping or applying for new contracts.)

    If I was in an office, I couldn’t just sit down and work. I’d have to listen to Jill complain about her husband and Mike tell me about his son’s soccer team and attend diversity workshops and read through emails that only tangentially related to my specific duties.

    Why would ANYONE be engaged in the typical office environment?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      I work as a consultant or freelance and my engagement level is very high. I don’t take jobs I don’t want to do and don’t work with or for people I don’t want to. But, I’m fortunate in that my financial situations allows me this freedom. The most mundane thing I do is billing.

    • Also increasingly the environment for those of us in academia. More paperwork, more forms, more handholding of BOTH students and colleagues, more administrators breathing down our necks. More having to justify every time a student earns an F, more dealing with problem people.

      Sadly, I don’t think leaving and going to industry or an office would result in improved conditions.

  3. Did they address the current economic/employment climate and its effect on job engagement? I bet it’s pretty difficult to be engaged if you’re worried about being laid off. A lot of college grads who actually love the content of the job are rendered unhappy by the knowledge that no matter how good a job they do, they could be let go at any time for no particular reason. Or, of course, by other Dilbertesque situations that have little to do with the work that needs doing, and everything to do with the job environment.

  4. Well, but an education allows you to be “engaged” outside of work, if you have any time and energy left over.

    It’s good to have an interesting job, but it’s just as good (if not better) to have a job that doesn’t take over your whole life, so that you can pursue your interests on your own, without having to answer to anyone.

    I have enjoyed less-than-engaging jobs that had a clear (and reasonable) beginning and end. They offered routine and stable salary, and, when I left at the end of the day, my time was my own. I could learn languages, write poetry, write computer programs, play music, you name it. (I would do only one or two of those things at a time–but it was the “boring” jobs, usually, that made room for them.)

    Teaching is in some ways the most “engaging” of jobs–it draws on everything you have–yet it it leaves little room for independent study and projects, the very things that can sustain it.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Sorry to be disagreeable. Whether or not one is “educated” doesn’t dictate any level of engagement outsides of work. We all know people with little to no formal education who are curious, read, and self-taught on any number of subjects.

      • I wasn’t saying that a person can’t be “engaged” outside of work without formal education. I was simply stating that (good) formal education can lay the foundation for such engagement. Yes, some do lay their own foundations; some, including myself, have combined formal and informal study throughout their lives.

      • I think it’s more that, if you DO have things to engage you outside of work and take the Roman view of Leisure rather than the modern American view, you don;t need your job to be engaging. You just need it to put food on the table and a roof over your head.

        I see this a lot in my grandparent’s generation (WW2 veterans and their wives.) A lot of them worked in really dull jobs during the day, but came home and tinkered and read the Britannica Great Books and listened to opera and went to lectures and created and invented and gardened and DID stuff.

        Now, leisure seems to be defined as ‘TV time.” And if your free time is the television, you really do need work to be entertaining and engaging. Maybe the key is to rekindle the idea of ‘otium’ in our youth?

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    When I was in the Army, part of an efficiency report was “attention to detail”. Because the littlest stuff could mess you up most bodaciously.
    That was why attention to detail was considered so important, and possibly why it was more engaging its practitioners than some sillyvilian scut work. You have two hundred guys on the rifle range firing in orders of, say, twenty, and everybody needs his safety on when he leaves the firing position. Every time. Hour after hour. Year after year. Screw up just once…. Still, details, the boring, repetitive, inane details can mess you up.
    So I guess one question is whether a person can be good at detail and be “engaged” in that part of his work. And does not being engaged in the detail part mean not engaged in his job?

  6. Claire Boston says:

    By ‘not being engaged’, I think many of these young college grads mean ‘not being entertained’. They graduate from college, and then expect to start at the top with a CEO-level salary, and get bored and move back home when that doesn’t happen.

    If you want to have the fun jobs at the top (and it’s debatable how much ‘fun’ it really is), then you have to put in the time learning the basics and doing the boring stuff. Because the ‘boring stuff’ is often where it makes the difference as to whether the business succeeds or fails.