The State of the American Worker

Three years after their world was turned upside down by a deadly pandemic, U.S. desk workers have emerged more resilient than ever. In this post, Brantlee Underhill shares the latest findings from PMI’s comprehensive 2023 Workplace Engagement Survey.

Written by Brantlee Underhill • 17 Apr 2023

Lady with glasses

What’s the state of the American desk worker in 2023?

It’s a fair question. Think about what the average desk worker has been through over the past few years. They’ve weathered the deadliest pandemic in modern history, which, by the way, also radically transformed where and how they work. They’ve struggled with rising inflation, strained supply lines, and various product shortages – another consequence of the global pandemic. And they’ve wrestled with the fall-out from rising social and political turmoil in the U.S. and around the world.

So, over the past few months, PMI set out to take the temperature of the U.S. worker and I found myself marveling at their resilience and their uncanny ability to snap back from adversity.

This is because there is much to feel good about in the survey findings. By and large, workers report experiencing positive feelings about their jobs on a regular basis. And many have settled in to the hybrid or virtual working arrangements that have evolved since the COVID crisis.

The picture isn’t entirely rosy, however. Workers report low levels of satisfaction in some key aspects of their jobs. And women and younger professionals are significantly less satisfied than their peers. We also discovered some notable gaps in the worker experience that, if filled, could substantially improve workers’ professional lives. Some of these gaps, in fact, could be addressed by membership in professional organizations like PMI.

Here, then, is a drill down into our 2023 Workplace Engagement Survey findings:

Top-Line Findings

Let’s start with the rosy. Not surprisingly, American workers most highly value a competitive salary (83 percent), fulfillment on the job (80 percent), a sense of providing value (79 percent), professional development (77 percent), and a sense of purpose (74 percent).

Fortunately, these are the very attributes where they derive significant satisfaction: providing value (77 percent), fulfillment (75 percent), purpose (70 percent), professional development (70 percent), and competitive salary (68 percent).

These attributes are so important that 55 percent of workers say they would be likely to leave their jobs if they were dissatisfied with their sense of fulfillment. Additionally, roughly half would be likely to leave if dissatisfied with professional development (52 percent) and providing value (50 percent).

All this is great, but what are workers least satisfied with?

  • Networking opportunities (65 percent)
  • Continuous education (64 percent)
  • Mentorship opportunities (63 percent)

Significantly, these are all areas of work life where professional organizations like PMI could play a role. Through membership and local chapters, project professionals can network with like-minded professionals, tap into regular training opportunities, and access seasoned professionals who might serve as mentors. Our survey found that most young professionals see value in having or becoming a mentor to someone outside their company.

Findings about Professional Memberships

Unfortunately, only 29 percent of workers say their companies offer reimbursement for professional association membership. Among those respondents, however, almost three-quarters are more satisfied (71 percent) and more willing to stay (70 percent) with their current jobs because of the reimbursement policy.

So, why aren’t more American workers members of professional organizations? Major issues among those who have never joined a professional organization include lack of awareness about relevant organizations (28 percent) and lack of time to devote to it (25 percent). Interestingly, many workers used to be members of professional organizations (36 percent), but no longer are either because they lack time to devote to it (32 percent) or because they changed professions (32 percent).

Findings about Women

Most workers report experiencing feelings of productivity (86 percent), optimism (71 percent), value (65 percent), or excitement (64 percent) about their jobs on a regular basis, i.e., at least once a week. That’s the good news. Men are more likely than women to feel valued at work at least once a week (72 percent vs. 61 percent) and are also significantly more likely to be satisfied than women in terms of job fulfillment and professional development.

Here, too, professional organizations like PMI could provide opportunities to help women feel more connected and fulfilled through different leadership and volunteering opportunities. PMI is partnering with Women of Project Management, a community dedicated to supporting and amplifying the voices of women and women of color in every specialty of project management.

Findings about Young Professionals

Young professionals (18-30-year-olds) report experiencing negative work-related emotions at significantly higher rates per week than the average worker, including feeling disconnected and unfulfilled.

And – similar to the average worker – more than half of young professionals are likely to leave their jobs due to dissatisfaction in fulfillment (59 percent), professional development (57 percent), and providing value (53 percent). Young professionals are also more likely than the average worker to leave a job if they’re dissatisfied with mentorship (53 percent vs. 42 percent) or networking opportunities (47 percent vs. 41 percent).

Given these negative sentiments, companies should look for ways to enhance their relationships with young employees. Helping them build skills outside the workplace and providing networking and mentorship opportunities, for example, would be highly valued.

Findings about Hybrid, In-Person, and Virtual Workers

All workers value fulfillment in their career, with most American workers finding peer connection, mentorship opportunities, and networking as important when it comes to a job. Not surprisingly, a sense of connection is important for in-person workers – they are more likely to leave a job than hybrid workers because of dissatisfaction in peer connection.

Virtual workers seem to be thriving, however. About half (49 percent) of virtual workers never or rarely feel disconnected at their jobs and 60 percent never or rarely feel lonely at their jobs. As well, in-person and hybrid workers are more likely to leave their current job due to dissatisfaction in mentorship opportunities.

In total, half of all workers believe a professional organization can help provide networking opportunities, almost half believe that professional organizations can help them with professional development (47 percent), and over a third believe that professional organizations can help with peer connection (38 percent). But more than a quarter of in-person workers who have never been a member of a professional organization struggle to find the time to join one (28 percent). And that’s why PMI now offers many virtual events and online connections – to make life easier for time-starved professionals.

Workplace engagement survey

The findings from PMI’s 2023 Workplace Engagement Survey paint a remarkable picture of today’s workers. They show that American workers have weathered the multiple storms of pandemic, inflation, and political turmoil better than we might have expected. And while areas of concern persist and must be addressed, our workers remain resilient and ready to take on the world in the coming years.

If you feel you need opportunities outside of work to be fully fulfilled, I encourage you to explore membership in a professional organization, regardless of your profession. For project professionals, take advantage of PMI’s 30-day membership free trial to see how the benefits can bring renewed energy and fulfillment in your work. 

Brantlee Underhill headshot

Brantlee Underhill
Chief Community Officer and Interim Managing Director, North America | PMI

Related Posts


Digital Transformation – and Implications for Project Leaders

Today we live in a digital first world, but successfully managing digital transformation is a challenge for project professionals.


Mastering Collaboration Within a Team

Mastering collaboration within a team is more than an attitude; it’s a skill that you can foster and develop to deliver more successful projects.

Pierre and Alan

Reimagining Culture to Drive Business Results

PMI President and CEO, Pierre Le Manh, and Fortune Media CEO, Alan Murray, discuss strategies for reimagining workplace culture to drive success.