We are in an economic phase where companies are going through a process of deciding and implementing rules about on-site attendance versus remote work. It is surprising how this is impacting employee engagement and employee disengagement. Employee engagement is a measure of involvement in the workplace and enthusiasm about work. Disengagement is characterized by being unhappy about work and resentful that needs are not being met. Disengaged people do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their jobs.

Disengagement on the rise

According to a recent poll by ADP, 64% of respondents said they would consider looking for a new job if required to return to the office full time. A 2020 Gallup poll revealed worker engagement as the highest ever at 40%. This means that at that time 60% of workers were between neutral and negative about the activities they spend a third of their lives doing! In a recent poll of 15,000 US workers, a third of those polled were engaged. Both Gallup and ADP identified stress at work as a reason many workers feel disengaged. Nearly 67% said they experienced stress at work at least weekly, up from 62% pre-pandemic. A Gallup poll indicated that workers who reported declines in engagement cited a lack of clarity about expectations from managers, not feeling connected to the company mission or purpose, little or no recognition of hard work, and receiving little career development as key reasons for their disengagement.

The impact of artificial intelligence

The automation of jobs across the board from cashiers to brain surgeons will pick up quickly in the near future. Here are some provoking thoughts to consider:

  • AI, machine learning, and smart automation will drive 70% of GDP growth over the next decade.
  • By 2030, AI will contribute an estimated $15.7 trillion to the global economy, more than the current output of China and India combined.
  • 62% of business leaders are putting plans in place to succeed in a world filled with smart automation and connected machines – 16% are already investing and performing strongly.
  • According to Tech Monitor, AI in call centers could save businesses $80bn with A.I. effectively replacing one in three humans in the next decade.

In this new “Machine Economy”, Micah Horner claims that organizations will increasingly use these smart technologies to automate tasks, streamline operations, make better decisions, deliver superior customer experiences, and quickly gain market share over traditional players.

Reshoring will add impetus to automation

The rise in the cost of labor in the US caused jobs to leave the US on a massive scale. This is a key contributor to the reported hallowing out of the US middle class. It’s obvious that bringing jobs back in an environment where the labor costs are 10 to 20 times what they are abroad will result in inflationary pressures that will be addressed by automation.

The question is, will gross domestic product grow faster than the labor replacement rate caused by automation? Up until now, the valid argument has been that technological innovation causes our labor force to migrate upwards. Now, the fact is that automation is invading even highly skilled jobs.


I’ve been working professionally for five decades. In writing this article, I have thought back upon how I felt about the many different jobs I had. Given I was one of those people that was not born with a passion to pursue something I could make a career of, I have to admit that much of my attitude about work for much of my career would not put me at the high end of the engaged scale. I don’t recall ever talking to anyone about how I felt about my job.

Being a member of the silent generation, our focus was on providing for our family and not necessarily being really happy about what we did to accomplish that goal. In watching how my two children have behaved at work and at home, I respect their shift in time priorities away from work and toward their children. That shift was prompted in part by COVID, which created an environment in which they had to be a parent and a teacher for a significant period of time. I hope that their efforts in developing their children will produce adults that are able to thrive in what I feel is a very uncertain job environment. Dystopian dramas like the movie “Ready Player One” quite frankly scare the hell out of me.

If you have thoughts about labor in the brave new world, I’d love to hear about them. Send me a message at john@grillos.net.

John Grillos
Connect with me on LinkedIn

Leave a Reply