US workers report “innovation disconnect” between executive and junior-level staff: new EY survey

New York, 10 April 2018

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  • Junior-level employees do not feel as empowered as senior executives to be innovative in their work
  • Only 26 percent of entry-level employees believe their company fosters a culture of innovation, compared to more than half of senior executives
  • Nearly all senior executives believe their company provides a channel through which to introduce new ideas, compared with only 55 percent of entry-level employees

A new external survey released today by Ernst & Young LLP (EY) reveals a growing chasm between how senior-level and junior-level employees view their ability to be innovative at the organization in which they work, with only 54 percent of entry-level people saying that new ideas are celebrated internally, compared with 91 percent of senior executives. Interestingly, the disparity was most prevalent by organizational level as opposed to age or generational breakdown.

The survey, which was conducted by ORC International, polled more than 1,000 workers to gauge sentiment around their ability to innovate in their jobs at a time when companies are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of digital disruption and how best to foster a workplace that will help futureproof their organizations.

“In this transformative and disruptive period, enabled by technology-led data analytics, organizations need to nourish and celebrate potentially game-changing ideas while protecting them from being stifled by bureaucracy or silenced through a culture that may have an ‘innovation-disconnect’,” said Michael J. Inserra, EY Americas Deputy Managing Partner. “These findings tell us that companies must be more proactive in engaging all of their people in the innovation conversation. However, the work doesn’t end there. In addition to communication, organizations need systems where new concepts can be analyzed and tested – and ultimately implemented – so that today’s ideas can become tomorrow’s competitive advantage in the market. This includes an acknowledgement that failure is a significant ingredient in the process.”

The disconnect is further highlighted by the finding that only one quarter (26 percent) of entry-level employees believe that their company fosters a culture of innovation, compared to more than half (57 percent) of senior executives. Additionally, nearly all (96 percent) of senior executives believe their company provides a channel through which to introduce new ideas, compared to only half (55 percent) of those that are entry-level.

Key finding: Employees and their bosses have different views on innovation

According to the survey, 98 percent of senior executives said they believe that their employers are adapting to address the rapid pace of disruption currently impacting businesses, while 73 percent of entry-level employees agree. And while it is generally accepted that the ability to fail is a necessary ingredient for innovation, only 25 percent of entry-level employees said their organizations were tolerant of failure, compared to nearly half (44 percent) of senior executives.

Key finding: Innovation is now a key factor in the escalating war for talent

With all factors such as pay, benefits and level of seniority being equal, EY’s survey found that a majority of all respondents (69 percent) would leave their current position for a similar role at an organization that is recognized as a leader in innovation, signaling that a company’s brand recognition around innovation is key to attracting and retaining high-caliber talent in today’s competitive job market.

“We’re constantly looking at how to prepare for the talent needs of today and tomorrow,” said Carolyn Slaski, EY Americas Vice Chair of Talent. “This survey is a clear indicator that people value companies where innovative thinking and ideas are valued, which is why we are rethinking our traditional workforce model, seeking the diverse talent we need to target future-focused capabilities. Equally important is continuing to invest in our people by fast-tracking the support of emerging skill-sets, with new opportunities for learning and growing.”

Key finding: Employees believe innovation is changing the outside world, but not their jobs

While there is an ongoing dialogue in the market about the workforce implications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics process automation (RPA), less than one-fifth of respondents view innovation as a threat to their individual job stability, and only six percent cited it as a major threat.

“As the workforce contends with the continual impact of new technology, one cannot overstate the importance of human–machine interaction,” said Inserra. “We see tremendous opportunity for technology to augment people’s capabilities; however, our survey suggests that people may need to more fully consider how technology may change individual job functions.”

Key finding: The recipe for an innovative workplace and workers

The survey also explored key characteristics of innovative employees and workplaces. Promoting a healthy work/life balance ranked first among actions employers could take to foster innovation (28 percent), followed by creating an inclusive culture that values good ideas from all employees (22 percent). Respondents also said the top three characteristics of an innovative employee are creativity, confidence and being an analytical/problem solver.

Respondents were asked to identify where employees think organizations should prioritize investments in this space. More than one-third (35 percent) think organizations should invest in skills training and continuous learning for new and emerging technologies, while 23 percent believe companies should focus on internal communications programs that will promote creative, fresh thinking among teams. An additional 19 percent would like to see an investment in culture and employee experience.


EY’s survey was conducted by ORC International, a consultative research partner, and includes a sample size of 1,021 U.S. Americans, 18 years of age and older who are employed full or part-time. The survey was conducted in February 2018.

To determine employment level, respondents were asked to identify the option (senior executive, mid-level executive, associate team member/staff, entry level) that best describes their current position. Respondents are weighted by age, sex, geographic region, race and education to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total US population, and the raw data is weighted by a custom designed program which automatically develops a weighting factor for each respondent. Survey analysis was conducted by EY and Prosek Partners.

EY was the sponsor of this survey. The results herein do not reflect the opinions of EY. No EY employees were specifically surveyed unless they were part of the random sample of survey recipients.

About EY

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This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young LLP, a member of the global EY organization that provides services to clients in the US.