A 2020 study shows that even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit, most high school students had negative feelings about school. Researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center found that nearly 75% of the 21,678 U.S. public and private high school students surveyed say they are “tired, stressed and bored” at school.
The study found that girls were slightly more negative than boys, but students across all demographics reported negative feelings. Researchers say this has important implications in the students’ performance and their overall health and well-being.
As school begins across the country this fall, some students are back in brick-and-mortar schools practicing social distancing while others are continuing remote learning from home. It’s too soon to tell the far-reaching effects of remote learning on students in 2020, but even after a few months in the spring, results from teacher surveys show students were less engaged during remote instruction than before the pandemic, and that engagement declined even further over the course of the semester.
But are these results really surprising? Not to me. It parallels adults’ disengagement at work.
Although employee engagement has been on the rise in recent years, Gallup reports that 13% of U.S. workers are “actively disengaged” and 52% are “not engaged.” That means they are not involved in, enthusiastic about or committed to their work and/or workplace. They simply show up to work, put in the minimal effort required and may always be on the lookout for a better offer.
This lack of engagement affects retention, productivity and profits. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report, teams with highly engaged members show 21% higher profitability than those with members who aren’t as engaged. These top teams also have 41% lower absenteeism and 59% lower turnover rates. The fact that engaged employees arrive to work every day ready to work hard and do a good job directly affects a company’s bottom line.
How To Cultivate Engagement
A survey by Peakon found that in addition to needing to feel adequately rewarded for their work, employees also value being able to have open discussions with managers about pay. When an employee feels heard in this way, they are more likely to stay on board, engaged and productive.
Besides talking openly about pay, effective leaders can take these steps to engage their employees:
• Form authentic connections and actually care about employees. Take the time to find out the underlying driver of the individual. Is it money, time off, feeling connected? Being able to understand what their ideal career path looks like and helping them get there is going the extra mile for your employees.
• Empower employees at all levels to make decisions and take action. Recognize when your employees have the capacity for decision making and help them learn to make the right decisions by asking Socratic questions and coaching them on answers.
• Make sure employees have the resources to do their jobs to the best of their ability. Support employees in any learning opportunity that allows them to level up in their leadership and competency. Fight for your employees to get the resources that they need. They’ll notice you went to bat for them, even if you happen to fail due to a lack of available resources in the company.
• Provide employees with opportunities to contribute directly to the organization and be recognized for it. Advocate for your employees’ success. Do a bit of hand-holding while you help them build their capacity. That might mean you critique a presentation before they give it to the higher-ups, but the employee receives all of the accolades for the ideas presented.
But What About The Kids?
So how can we help high schoolers become more engaged at school? I volunteer with the Few Initiative in Chicago, which helps inner-city teens become leaders in their community. This organization recognizes that habits begin at a young age and that those habits, whether good or bad, can impact the way these kids eventually show up in the world.
I work with ambassadors to help these teens develop a deep awareness of how their thoughts create moods, impact behavior and influence results. Basically, I’m helping train them to be resilient in life and to manage their moods in effective ways so they will be able to be a positive influence in their community one day.
I work with the teens together in four-hour sessions. At first, I was told that by the organization that there was no way these teens would be able to focus for that length of time. But my experience has been that if you are discussing or teaching a topic that is meaningful to them and doing it in a respectful way, kids can be deeply engaged.
The Phone Could Be Partly To Blame
I think the challenge for many students — and adult workers — and one of the reasons for high levels of disengagement is cellphone usage. Smartphones can be disrupting because they continually bombard you with stimulus. Eighty-nine percent of the college students in one sample reported feeling phantom phone vibrations, where they imagine their phone is calling them to attention when it hasn’t actually sent a notification.
When our brains are constantly being fed stimulus by our phones, it can be hard to focus in school and at work. Eighty-six percent of Americans say they are stressed out by constantly checking their email and social media accounts.
Researchers are just now starting to identify the negative effects of always being connected to technology. Some have even gone so far as to say that smartphone usage should become taboo, like smoking inside buildings. In his book The Hacking of the American Mind, professor and neuroendocrinologist Robert Lustig suggests setting boundaries around socially acceptable smartphone use to give our brains a break. He says his hope is that our society will eventually come to a point where you can’t pull out your cellphone in public.
Although I’m not quite sure we’ll ever get there, I believe that one step toward increasing engagement at both school and work is for individuals to have better focus. Both professionals and students can start by putting down their phones.
As a parent, you want your child to avoid making the same mistakes you may have made in your life. One of those biggest mistakes can be dissatisfaction with your career, and you want to do everything in your power to make sure that doesn’t happen to your child. My coaching team has developed a free resource to help you identify your child’s best career fit and to help avoid common parenting pitfalls.