Special Reports

What Kind of Worker Has Two Years of Pandemic Made You? There Are Three Types

Getty Images
  • More than 40% of workers describe themselves as "thriving" in the new work normal created by Covid-19.
  • Despite high levels of burnout reported among employees and greater stress due to understaffing issues amid a labor shortage and a demand boom, most workers do not say they are "struggling."
  • But those in between, the "coasters," may be a major threat to employer retention efforts during the Great Resignation if their job sentiment is not recognized.

A record number of Americans are quitting their jobs, and the hot labor market shows no signs of cooling. With so much churn in the labor force, workers at every job level and across industries have an unprecedented chance to mold their current job into their dream job — or leave and seek it elsewhere.

As the country continues to emerge from the pandemic, more than four in 10 workers in the U.S. (42%) say they are "thriving" at work, with about as many (39%) saying they are "coasting," according to the latest CNBC|Momentive Workforce Survey. The survey, conducted among more than 11,000 workers in the U.S. from October 18-25, finds just 15% of workers saying they are "struggling" at work these days. 

These numbers reflect an impressive jolt of optimism among a workforce that has been through a year and a half of challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic: first shutdowns and layoffs, then interminable days working from home. 

The reshuffling of jobs that began this summer is leading many workers to rethink their careers, especially those who feel disconnected with colleagues, underappreciated, or just plain burned out. Managers who can spot a struggling employee early or take steps to convert a coaster into a thriver will be in a better position as the "Great Resignation" rolls on

Thrivers, coasters, and strugglers comprise three distinct groups in the workforce. Thrivers are happiest with their jobs overall, the most connected with their colleagues, most loyal to their employers, and least likely to quit. Strugglers, on the other hand, have the lowest scores on all job satisfaction measures and in turn are the greatest threat of attrition in the near future. Coasters fall somewhere in the middle. 

The interrelated components of job satisfaction

In each new iteration of the CNBC|Momentive Workforce Survey, we calculate an index based on responses to five questions designed to represent workers satisfaction with their pay, their opportunities for advancement, recognition for their work, control over their job, and how much meaning they derive from their job. 

In these latest results, the Workforce Happiness Index remains steady at a score of 72/100, unchanged from April of this year and November of 2020. Thrivers have a score of 83, coasters have a score of 67, and strugglers have a score of 58. 

On nearly every question even tangentially related to job satisfaction, self-identified "thrivers" score higher than "coasters," who in turn score higher than "strugglers."

Almost every single person who says they are thriving at their current job finds their work to be very or somewhat meaningful, topping the 88% of coasters and 80% of strugglers who say the same. 

Even more drastically, 86% of thrivers say they are well paid, compared with 71% of coasters and 51% of strugglers; and 79% of thrivers say they have excellent or good opportunities for career advancement, compared with 54% of coasters and 39% of strugglers. 

Managers and HR teams should take note: all these factors are clearly interwoven in the full employee experience. Workers who score high on one measure are very likely to score high on all others, and there simply are no workers who consider themselves to be thriving while simultaneously feeling like they are underpaid, like their work doesn't have meaning, or like their contributions aren't valued by their colleagues. 

Thrivers aren't quitters

With record high attrition rates, managers and executives face increased pressure to retain high performing employees. These latest survey data indicate they might want to pay extra attention to who is participating in Zoom meetings and who is going the extra mile to welcome new team members, along with doing deep dives into data from employee engagement surveys to see how workers are truly feeling about their work. 

One-third of all workers (33%) say they've seriously considered quitting their jobs in the past three months, with that statistic rising to 39% among workers ages 18 to 34. 

Workers who consider themselves to be thriving are less than half as likely as coasters (18% vs. 40%) and three-times less apt than strugglers (62%) to say they've considered quitting. Thrivers are also less likely to say their teams are understaffed (45%) compared with coasters (52%) and especially with strugglers (71%).

More than half of thrivers (54%) say they feel more loyal to their company now than they did before the pandemic; that's more than twice the rate among coasters (24%) and three times that of strugglers (17%). Thrivers are also more likely to feel more connected with colleagues now than before than pandemic (47%), while just 21% of coasters and 18% of strugglers feel the same. 

Much like the happiness components above, these engagement-related metrics are clearly interrelated. Workers who are happy with their work, who have strong personal ties to their colleagues and a loyalty to their company will of course have an enduring commitment to their jobs. What's most surprising is how true that remains even after the significant challenges introduced by the pandemic.

Remote workers just as engaged as those who show up at the office

Though most workers (64%) have returned to the office full time, 16% say they are still working solely from home and 17% are splitting their time between the two locations. But according to the survey data, those who remain at home are no less motivated, engaged, and connected as those who've gone back to their daily commutes.

For the most part, remote, in-person, and hybrid workers are all about equally likely to self-identify as thrivers, coasters, and strugglers; about four in 10 of each group identify as thriving and coasting while significantly fewer say they are struggling.

Back in April of this year, many workers started to wonder whether the impending reopening of offices would create a dual class of workers: one group of ambitious colleagues who show up at their offices each day to get face time with the higher-ups, and the other group of less-driven workers who prefer to trade a fast track to promotion for the comforts of home. While that concern is still prevalent today, the data aren't bearing out the hypothesis, at least not yet: thriving, coasting, and struggling employees are evenly distributed between the office and the home office — and hybrid work, too. 

Wharton School professor Adam Grant made waves with a viral New York Times article naming "languishing" as "the dominant emotion of 2021." But as the pandemic eases, languishing has given way to — if not thriving — at least coasting into the end of the year more positively than it started for most in the workplace. 

To join the CNBC Workforce Executive Council, apply at cnbccouncils.com/wec.

Copyright CNBCs - CNBC
Contact Us