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Employee Engagement: The Holy Grail

Posted by Mathew French

30 October 2014

Employee engagement has long been the Holy Grail for creating a thriving and successful organisation. Now, and increasingly so in the future of work, the need to build a highly engaged workforce will become more important than ever. Gallup’s most recent ‘State Of The Global Workforce’ report, provides the most in depth assessment and insights available, regarding the state of employee engagement worldwide.

At the very least, the results might shock you. Hopefully, they will also provide not only HR Professionals, but each and every person in employment, with new inspiration about how to approach engagement. What the Gallup report implies, is that engagement is not just important in the context of making work and workplaces better for others, especially to those in Leadership and Management positions. It also draws attention to the need for each and every one of us to take responsibility for ourselves.

The Gallup report is also infused with a calling for Leaders, Managers and the HR Function, to step beyond the idea that what happens at work is just about work. The 'either / or' mindset which permeates so many aspects of our lives is being called into question. Never before has it been so necessary to embrace a 'both / and' worldview in the context of dissolving the separation between the way we work and they way we conduct our private lives. High levels of engagement at work have far reaching effects and benefits across every aspect of our lives, ultimately making the world a better, happier and much more prosperous place for us all to live.

Over the coming weeks, we will unpack the essentials contained in Gallup’s deep understanding of employee engagement. From the current state of play and the consequences of a distinct lack of engagement, right through to the enormous expansion of human potential possible from a fully engaged workforce, we will break down the key areas of Gallup’s research and provide you with a distillation of their wisdom and statistically backed advice.

Gallup has conducted decades of research with hundreds of organisations and more than 25 million employees. This has enabled them to develop an unparalleled understanding of what the world’s strongest organisations do differently and how engagement affects productivity and employee wellbeing in any workplace.

This week's blog provides you with an overview of the headline statistics about the prevailing norms in the global workforce, which paints a pretty dire picture. The good thing about that though, is that the only way really is up. If you are willing to take the bull by the horns and really focus on putting engagement to the top of your prority list, then your organisation can harness the power of engagement to create and maintain competitive advantage.

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  1. Currently, only 13% of employees across 142 countries worldwide are engaged in their jobs; that is, only an average of 13% of the employees you're paying every month, are emotionally invested in, and focused on creating value for your organisations every day that they show up at their desk.
  2. Those who are negative and potentially hostile to your organisation, continue to outnumber engaged employees at a rate of nearly 2-1 globally.
  3. Organisations in Gallup’s Q12 Client Database with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-2011 experienced 147% higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition in 2011-2012. In contrast, those with an average of 2.6 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee, experienced 2% lower EPS compared with their competition during that same time period.
  4. In Australia and New Zealand, 24% of employees are engaged, while 60% are not engaged and 16% are actively disengaged. The resulting ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees, a ratio of 1.5-to-1, is one of the highest among all global regions and similar to results from the U.S. and Canada (1.6-to-1).
  5. In Australia and New Zealand, only 19% of employees in leadership positions are engaged in their jobs. Low engagement among managers is troubling for any organisation, as Gallup has found that they play the most significant role in influencing engagement among their direct reports, creating a flow on effect that can permeate your entire organisation.
  6. Organisations worldwide that maximise employees’ motivation and enthusiasm for their work are in turn helping to stimulate job creation post GFC. Globally, 44% of engaged employees say their employers are hiring people and expanding the size of their workforces
. Only 34% of those who are not engaged and 25% of actively disengaged employees say the same. This relationship is consistent across all global regions.
  7. Poor hiring and management practices significantly hinder the ability of your organisation's growth and engagement levels.
  8. Worldwide, engaged employees regard their lives more highly and experience more positive emotions.
  9. In East Asia, engaged workers are about half as likely to have experienced stress the previous day as their actively disengaged peers. Prior research offers some evidence that those in East Asian societies are less likely to draw on social support in stressful situations. Consequently, workplace factors, and good managers in particular, may make more of a difference in helping to ensure that employees feel free to ask for help to manage stress more effectively.
  10. Education is often associated with higher engagement levels, if employees can find jobs that make use of their specific knowledge and talents.

If those statistics aren't enough to jolt you into a heightened level of awareness about the importance of engagement, then perhaps this will seal the deal for you.

Active disengagement in the global workforce is an immense drain on economies throughout the world. Gallup estimates, for example, that in the United States, active disengagement costs US$450 billion to $550 billion per year. In Germany, that figure ranges from €112 billion to €138 billion per year (US$151 billion to $186 billion). In the United Kingdom, actively disengaged employees cost the country between £52 billion and £70 billion (US$83 billion and $112 billion) per year. 

Those figures are staggering, however, they are purely economic in nature. When you add to that, the impact on both mental and physical health that a lack of engagement precipitates, then the results of this 'lack' on the wellbeing of the entire human population, are almost beyond comprehension in statistical terms. One just has to look at the levels of depression in modern society to know that there is something definitively rotten in Denmark. It's possible that the considerable lack of engagement and connection people feel in relation to what they do and where they do it, for most of the waking hours in the day, a majority of the days in every week, has A LOT to do with it.

The question, at least in the context of engagement, revolves around the responsibility of organisations to provide employees with the opportunity to fulfil their needs, express their talents and make a contribution in a way that makes people feel good about themselves. This should apply from the person who takes out the garbage all the way up to the CEO. I will leave the HR Professionals out there to ponder this information as part of your continuing search for the Holy Grail of employee engagement.

Next week we will dive more deeply into Gallup's research and provide a better understanding of their definitions of engaged, not engaged and actively disengaged and how this impacts organisational success.

Credit: The image used in this blog is taken from Galllup's State Of The Global Workforce Report 2013.

Topics: Employee Engagement

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