Investing in an engaged workforce starts to pay off

Employee engagement goes to the heart of the employer-employee relationship. At its best it enables people to be the best they can be as involved, respected, and valued contributors to their organisation’s success.

According to the CIPD’s Spring 2015 Employee Outlook, job satisfaction levels rose by 5% over the past year, while engagement levels were up 1% over the same period. However, the neither-engaged-nor- disengaged remained the largest group in the survey at 59%. Those who believed they achieved the right balance between work and their home lives increased by 3% to 62%: testimony, perhaps, to the emphasis placed on the importance of employee engagement in recent years.

Other research shows that companies with the highest engagement scores averaged 18% higher productivity, while engaged teams reported making fewer errors and reduced downtime.

It’s a virtuous circle: engaged employees know their work affects their organisation’s goals and priorities in an environment that reinforces their values and beliefs. They know what’s expected of them (and why) and feel connected with other staff and parts of the organisation.

It’s known that higher levels of employee engagement lead to more innovative work behaviour: engaged employees are much more likely to search out new methods or techniques and transform innovative ideas into useful applications and cost savings. New ways of working that rely on discretionary effort willingly given (e.g. innovation, collaboration, joint problem solving) cannot thrive in environments where employee abilities are not valued or trusted.

Statistics have consistently shown that only around one third of UK employees are engaged: according to Employee Outlook 39% of private sector employees are engaged, 35% in the public sector. The national level of disengaged employees across all sectors is slightly down to 3%. Although employees appear to be more loyal to their job than generally thought: just 15% of staff choose to change jobs in 2014, while 20% are planning to leave in 2015, according to the 2015 Randstad Award report (the annual employer branding survey). Lack of engagement was one factor: a quarter of those who left did so because they weren’t interested in the job. On the upside, of those who decided to stay with their employer, 29% said that their interest in the job was a deciding factor.

CIPD finds engagement levels reflect organisation size, from a high of 55% in micro businesses through 43% in medium to 36% in large businesses. Engagement levels in ‘small businesses’ at 48% are above average. Engagement issues generally arise when companies reach around 20 employees, or ‘too many people to take to the pub at once’, and may also appear when an organisation reaches around 50 staff.

Expectations of the line manager

Recognising that line managers are crucial in employee engagement, Employee Outlook researchers asked employees what behaviours they considered important for their immediate supervisors. The top five were: being treated fairly; being open and honest; making sure they have the resources to do the job; being supportive when they have a problem; and making clear of what’s expected of them.