Employee engagement: employers getting it wrong

UK employee engagement remains critically low because employers are “barking up the wrong tree” and focusing on the wrong things, according to new research published today.

The Training Foundation’s White Paper on employee engagement said while employee engagement is the number-one issue for employers, most have been getting it wrong when it comes to engagement strategies.

The White Paper comes after the introduction earlier this year of employee engagement and best practice information from The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), following David Macleod’s report to the government, Engaging for Success review, which called for a national debate on the importance of staff engagement.

The White Paper states the major influence on an employee’s engagement is the relationship with the immediate manager, reflected in the day-to-day workplace climate, but less than 20% of managers have received training in how to engage with, and bring out the best in, their people.

It adds there is a proven correlation between engagement and organisational performance, but said to tackle employee engagement, employers need to undertake a fundamental review of the traditional model for managing people in the workplace. To do this, the White Paper highlights three ‘rules of engagement’ that employers should follow:

  • Rule 1: Engagement is founded on trust. The paper reports: “Managers who are inclined to be cynical of others’ motives, or overly controlling, often find it difficult to fully trust others. This inhibits trust, engagement and performance. A vicious circle develops.”
  • Rule 2: Engagement is driven by emotions. Recent discoveries from brain sciences and genetics, supported by research by occupational psychologists, have identified six key drivers of engagement, which, if addressed, can significantly improve employee engagement.
  • Rule 3: Engagement is 20% culture, 80% climate. So employees are less concerned with the culture of the company, the values of the workplace, charismatic leaders and pay (although those things are importance) and much more concerned with the atmosphere of the workplace.

Nick Mitchell, author of the White Paper and chief executive of The Training Foundation, said: “An engaged workforce is a huge competitive advantage; disengaged workers impose enormous financial costs, resist needed change, and inhibit customer advocacy. Finding a solution to any problem requires first making an accurate diagnosis, and the evidence suggests employers are generally barking up the wrong tree; it is the way people are treated in the workplace that is the critical factor.”

The strategies proposed in the White Paper were endorsed by Macleod, who said: “The White Paper offers some thought-provoking insights to employers, well worth considering in the light of their current engagement strategies.”

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