Get Your Degree, Get a Job, and Stop Caring?

A recent Gallup Poll found that higher education attainment in the United States is not related to workplace engagement. In fact, employed workers with a college or graduate degree are slightly less engaged at work than those with high-school diplomas.

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report states that only 30% of American employees are engaged at work. The study was broken down by two factors, education and industry, and the data was based on the results of surveys taken by over 150,000 employed American adults.

Applicants could choose from one of three options: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. Engaged meant that employees were enthusiastic and involved, while not engaged employees were satisfied but not emotionally connected with their work. Actively disengaged employees were those who jeopardized the performance of their team and work.

The first section of the report evaluated the relationship between workplace engagement and education. It showed that employees with higher degrees were only slightly less engaged than those with just diplomas. This section of the report was based on factors such as productivity, customer service, quality, retention, safety, and profit.

The second section focused on how occupation type and engagement are related. Regardless of the education level, Americans are more likely to be engaged if they are in a managerial position. Professional and sales workers were also more likely to be engaged, while manufacturing and transportation workers were much less satisfied with their job and less engaged.

So why does more education actually equate to less engagement? The answer is not clear, but there are many hypotheses.

It may be related to the fact that about half of college or high degree graduates work at jobs that do not require a degree. After so many years of school, student loans, and hard work, it can be discouraging to graduates when they is unable to find a job that utilizes their skills. Many end up in workplaces that do not require any college degree.

Economic hardships may also play a role. During bad times many college and post-doctorate graduates will settle for lower ranked jobs because they are hesitant about the job market, hiring, and keeping a steady paycheck.

Although the reasons are unclear, it is important to figure out why college-educated Americans are less engaged in their work. It is critical in progressing the United States’ economy as well as its education system, both of which need clear improvement. Last year the United States ranked 17th in the world’s developed nations education ranking. And although the United States’ economy has been recovering, many American workers are still struggling.

Understanding why higher educated employees are less engaged in their work will help us improve The United States' education system, economy, and most important, quality of life.