Close to one in five workers has fully checked out on the job, and employees’ sense that they’re being treated fairly has plummeted, according to two new surveys that paint a dismal picture of the American workplace.

The share of US employees engaged at work as measured by Gallup declined for the second straight year to just 32%, with 18% actively disengaged, making for the worst ratio between the two measures since 2013. Fewer than half of workers now trust their organization to give them a fair shake, down to 46% from 54% last year, according to a separate survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. The discontent, while widespread, was most acute among younger workers, women and those managing multiple teams across remote and on-site schedules. 

“The most disturbing part to me is the growing separation between employees and employers, especially among young people,” Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace practice, said in an interview. The detachment has reached a level where “people might just feel like a gig worker.”

The findings come amid an unsettled environment for American workers. While the labor market remains strong overall, evidenced by Walmart Inc.’s decision to boost wages, blue-chip employers in finance, technology and real estate have cut thousands of jobs in recent months — and more layoffs could come as the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes hit the economy. There are still ample  job openings, but not all of them promise the remote flexibility or cushy perks that employers dangled a year ago in order to get applicants in the door. A slower business environment could also mean cutbacks in training and development opportunities, which help keep workers committed.

Both reports also addressed the ongoing debate over the value of returning to the office. Gallup’s poll found the largest decline in engagement among workers in jobs that could be remote but who were currently working fully on site. Exclusively remote workers, though, were also less satisfied, Gallup found. One possible reason for that, Harter said, is a lack of clarity from the leaders of organizations about what is expected from workers, regardless of whether they’re in the office or working from home. The SHRM study, meanwhile, found that remote workers were both happier but also more likely to be looking for another job, which illustrates the benefits and potential drawbacks of those arrangements.

The urgency behind getting workers back to the office also faded, with about 35% of human-resources professionals agreeing that bringing more of the workforce back to in-person work was a priority for this year, a 13-percentage-point drop from 2022, the SHRM data showed.

Not all measures of employee sentiment are so downbeat; More than eight in ten people in a November poll from job site Indeed Inc. said they’re happy at work most of the time.

Gallup found project managers to be among the most discontent workers compared with before the pandemic when looking across different levels of organizations. One reason: Hybrid work, which significantly raises the degree of difficulty of managing complex work projects, according to both Gallup and a separate study from consulting firm Resources Connection Inc.

“People are having a tough time with coordination, and deciding when to be together on site is incredibly important,” Harter said. “Which job has the most responsibility for coordination? It’s project managers.”

Another root of dissatisfaction may be coming from current employees upset that newer workers are getting higher pay, said Mark Smith, director of HR thought leadership at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Lots of people who changed jobs got this bonus for changing jobs,” Smith said. “If you stayed in your job, chances are you took a step backward in terms of pay relative to new hires, but also relative to inflation.”