MacLeod Review struggles to engage senior HR professionals

The government-commissioned MacLeod Review of employee engagement has been met with a lukewarm reception from senior HR figures, who are critical of its lack of practical measures.

While HR directors said the report, published last week, will have a limited impact on how they engage staff, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) described the report as “the best thing that’s happened to HR for years”.

The review, commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, calls for a national campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of an engaged workforce, and for businesses, the government and trade groups to work together to help share best practice.

Last year, research by performance management consultancy Gallup put the cost of disengaged workers to the UK economy between £59.4bn and £64.7bn.

Jonathan Cawthra, group resources director of housing association Affinity Sutton, told Personnel Today: “I am not holding my breath that this report will make a difference.”

He said: “I didn’t perceive the need for a report on this. A high-level review [of employee engagement] is not particularly useful. I don’t think there are many companies that are not aware of employee engagement and its importance.”

Marriott Hotels HR director, Jan Marshall, added that for many larger companies like hers, extensive work on employee engagement was already under way, and the report would not make much difference to their practices.

HR professionals were also concerned at the lack of practical advice included in the report to help any employers who did need support with engaging their staff.

Paul Sweetman, director of the employee engagement practice at business services firm Fishburn Hedges, said the report “leaves employers needing more”.

“[The report] is short on the clear, practical support that employers need to respond to the imperative it lays down. The irony is that it’s not likely to tell employers anything they don’t already know,” he said. “The case for ‘what’ and ‘why’ has been well-made in this document: it’s time to look at the ‘how’.”

HR directors added that detailed frameworks of engagement programmes, advice on ways of measuring engagement, and checklists to help employers know when they were on track would have been useful and inspired HR professionals to try new ideas.

But Mike Emmott, employee relations adviser at the CIPD, said: “It’s not a legitimate complaint to say the report doesn’t tell us what to do. It’s not an instruction book or toolkit; that was never the intention. The proposals create a network within which more attention can be paid at a national level to engagement. It’s not a one-shot strategy, but it will work.”

David MacLeod has worked at the Cabinet Office as a senior adviser of change and performance and for HR consultancy Towers Perrin.

MacLeod’s recommendations:

  • National campaign on engagement.
  • Senior sponsor group to raise awareness.
  • Support for employers, including case studies and coaching advice made available from March 2010.
  • Existing government resources including Acas, UKCES and Sector Skills Councils should be aligned to provide better support in developing skills needed for engagement.

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