LaGree and Olsen publish research about the "great discontent" and strategies that lead to employee empowerment

March 25, 2024

Today’s workplace experience has been significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, new expectations for how, where and when employees work, and the onslaught of layoffs in 2023. These disruptions led to a phenomenon called the “Great Discontent” where employees are dissatisfied with their jobs, see limited opportunities for career growth and are actively looking for new roles.

To study this issue, Danielle LaGree and Katie Olsen, faculty in the A.Q. Miller School of Media and Communication, issued a survey that measured the perceptions and experiences of full-time workers in the U.S. across a variety of industries and workplace arrangements (hybrid, in-office, and fully-remote).

“This research is important because employee expectations of their leaders and the workplace have drastically shifted, especially among Gen Z who want to be supported as they continue to hone their skills and develop their career paths, and among millennials establishing themselves as organizational leaders” LaGree said. “Additionally, we understand the pivotal role of the internal communications function as a means for developing culture and enhancing employee engagement and loyalty.”

Study findings emphasize the need for leaders to prioritize developing ‘employability culture,’ which means that organizations invest in upskilling and reskilling their employees to be more adaptable to changing organizational demands and equips them to contribute to the organization cross-functionally. This helps employees to assume leadership positions long-term, ensuring successful career growth at their current place of employment. Survey data revealed that participants who experienced employability culture in their workplaces were also more optimistic about their career growth, were more engaged at work and more loyal to their organizations.

Data also revealed that middle managers and supervisors are an untapped resource for employee empowerment. Managers and supervisors should be encouraged and receive the support needed to develop leadership empowerment behaviors, which leads to an increase job satisfaction among members of their team. Managers who exhibit these behaviors do the following: (1) They help their team understand how their work is making a meaningful contribution to organizational growth and vision achievement; (2) They encourage self-directed decision-making and provide information and resources necessary to make these decisions; and (3) They coach their teams for creative and innovative problem-solving.

The article, “Combatting the ‘great discontent’: The impact of employability culture and leadership empowerment on career growth, loyalty and satisfaction,” was published in Corporate Communications: An International Journal and featured in a special issue on the shifting role of internal communication in an age of turbulence. The full manuscript is available through the K-State Research Exchange at

“This study is an extension of our research program that addresses organizational communication and leadership strategies aimed to support employees’ career growth and paths to promotion,” Olsen said. “This topic is especially pertinent in today’s workplace environment where leaders must proactively build a robust talent pipeline to encourage employee retention and advancement.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with Alec Tefertiller and Rosalynn Vasquez, assistant professors in the Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University.