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Strategies and tactics for tackling employee engagement

April 18, 2024

According to the headlines, UK PLC is in the middle of an employee engagement crisis.

This is certainly the picture painted by the State of the Global Workforce report, compiled by workplace consulting and research firm Gallup in 2023, which revealed that just 10% of employees report feeling engaged at work.

The figure makes the UK workforce one of the least engaged in Europe, ranking 33rd out of the 38 nations surveyed. At the top of the chart is Romania with a 35% engagement rate.

A simple but key question in light of this statistic is ‘why?’. What is contributing to this problem and what, if anything, can be done about it?

A clear definition of engagement

A good starting point is to consider what the term ‘engagement’ really means. While it sounds simple enough, it is actually a relatively complex notion that is often interpreted in different ways. It is only by arriving at a clear definition, however, that the underlying issues can begin to be addressed and improvement can be delivered.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) acknowledges there is a lack of common understanding when it comes to employee engagement, citing the fact that more than 50 definitions were highlighted in the government-commissioned review into the subject conducted by David MacLeod in 2009.

The CIPD does clarify, however, that engagement should be regarded as “a psychological state experienced by employees” and, as such, should be differentiated from behaviour or concepts such as job satisfaction.

Pointing to the definition created by the Utrecht University group of occupational psychologists, it says engagement among employees can be gauged as a measure of their vigour, dedication and absorption in work.

An alternative perspective

To approach the issue from the other side, disengaged employees would show very little of these qualities. Rather, they are likely to feel unmotivated, frustrated, stressed or even angry at work. And if they are not inclined to change their circumstances they can be prone to ‘quiet quitting’ – a form of silent protest that involves fulfilling only the bare minimum of your requirements and responsibilities.

It is not difficult to see how disengagement can be damaging to the health and wellbeing of the employee in question. At the same time, it can have a clear impact on productivity – for the individual but also, potentially, their team, department or the company as a whole.

To flip things back again, when engagement levels are high, both employee and employer stand to benefit. For the employee, engagement can be associated with a greater sense of motivation, purpose and happiness, which can lead to higher levels of performance. Achieving this state can, in turn, go hand-in-hand with opportunities for professional development and career advancement.

Influence on the business

For employers, as well as supporting employee performance, studies have shown that aspects of employee engagement can also have a positive impact on metrics such as customer satisfaction, innovation and health and safety as well as encouraging staff loyalty and retention – factors that can all contribute to a company’s development and success.

Achieving the panacea of 100% engagement across your entire workforce might not be a realistic goal, but there are certainly levers that employers can pull to improve levels.

Engage for Success, the employee engagement movement co-founded by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, says that while many elements go into a successful strategy, there are four key enablers.

These are:

  • Strategic Narrative
    A compelling and authentic vision of the organisation’s direction delivered by empowering, visible leaders.
  • Engaging Managers
    Leaders who treat people as individuals, encouraging and enabling them to perform in their role.
  • Employee Voice
    Involving people throughout the organisation by listening to their views, experiences and ideas as part of an ongoing conversation.
  • Organisational Integrity
    Ensuring organisational values and promises are reflected in day-to-day behaviours, helping build trust and buy-in among staff.

Beyond these four ‘pillars’, another factor that can influence engagement is the level of connection among colleagues. In the wake of the pandemic, this has been made more difficult for many businesses by the introduction of hybrid working models and increased levels of remote working, but strengthening connections among workers can help build trust and galvanise teams towards collective goals.

The value of benefits

Appreciation and recognition are also important contributors to engagement. Hunter Ka’imi, who became a figurehead for the quiet quitting movement, highlighted this point in a TikTok video, where he then talked about the frustration triggered by putting in effort “for a job that does not care about me as a person”.

As such, rewards programmes and employee benefits can play an important role. From flexible working and financial wellbeing to pensions and group protection, there are a variety of ways for employers to indicate their appreciation of employees.

While they are unlikely to solve an issue as complex as engagement in isolation, amid challenging economic conditions such mechanisms can become even more valuable as a means of supporting employees and encouraging them to adopt – and maintain – an engaged mindset.



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