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Employee frustrations impact productivity and worker retention, Gallup says

Thu, Jun 15, 2023 1:47pmGrey Clock 3 min

More and more Americans aren’t feeling great at work.

Half of workers aren’t engaged on the job, putting in minimal effort to get by, according to research by Gallup released Tuesday. Employee engagement in the U.S. declined for the second year in a row. There is also a growing share of the workforce that is disengaged, or resentful that their needs aren’t being met. In some cases, these workers are disgruntled over low pay and long hours, or they have lost trust in their employers.

“Employers are just not as in touch with employees,” said Jim Harter, chief workplace scientist at Gallup and lead author on the report. Some of the recent shift in attitude stems from workers having unclear expectations from their managers.

Workers’ frustrations have been building since 2021, after Gallup-measured U.S. worker-engagement levels hit their highest level on record in 2020. In the spring and summer of 2020, as Covid-19 spread and there was social unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, executives at many companies had town halls and listening sessions with employees, communicating organisational mission and keeping workplace relationships strong.

This year, more companies are trying to bring workers back to offices as bosses fret about worker productivity and loyalty.

Gallup surveyed more than 60,000 people in the U.S. to compile the report, which has tracked Americans’ sentiment about their jobs since 2000, and says engaged workers are more productive and tend to stay at their jobs for longer.

“If you feel like your employer isn’t giving you what you need to do your work, you’re going to be much less loyal—and looking for other work,” said Harter.

The remote work divide

Gallup’s findings come amid backlash from workers, many of whom have recently stepped up protests against in-office requirements as companies change pandemic-era policies.

Workers at insurer Farmers Group called to unionise, and some pledged to quit after a new chief executive said he would require most workers to be in-office three days a week. workers demonstrated at lunch recently against a hybrid-work policy with three days in the office a week.

An employee’s relationship with a direct boss is more important to engagement than where people work, said Harter. One way to build these connections is for managers to have meaningful conversations with their employees, preferably at least once a week.

Working on trust

Many employees see shifts away from flexible schedules and remote work options as a signal that executives don’t trust them to do their jobs outside of the office. Others say benefits to remote work they experienced during the pandemic, including more time with family and cutting back commutes, are now critical to their happiness.

The employers making more in-office work a requirement are, in part, motivated by trying to bolster workers’ loyalty, which they correlate with longer retention, said Katy George, a senior partner and chief people officer at McKinsey & Co.

Kyle Pflueger, 34 years old, was hired in 2020 to work remotely as a product manager. He met his co-workers in person just a few times over the years and never felt fully connected to his work or colleagues, but as the breadwinner for his family, he needed the pay, retirement benefits and health insurance.

Pflueger left his full-time job this month to focus on his independent projects.

“I wasn’t feeling particularly happy with the work that I was doing,” he said. He now works full time for himself, building and maintaining websites for businesses.

Looking for less stress

Workers also said they were more stressed this year than last, according to Gallup’s survey. American workers are among the most stressed, tied with workers in Canada and parts of East Asia.

Workplace stressors include low salaries, long hours and a lack of opportunity for advancement, according to an October report from the U.S. Surgeon General. The report also warned that workplace stress can be bad for mental health, disrupt sleep and raise one’s vulnerability to infection.

Michele Spilberg Hart, who directs marketing for a Boston-area health nonprofit, said that she has told her staff to take time off when they aren’t feeling well mentally or physically. Their work isn’t life-or-death, and taking breaks can help people come back with more energy and better ideas, she said.

“They cannot do good work and be healthy if they’re not taking care of themselves first,” she said. “If you don’t take care of yourself, nobody else will.”


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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”