One-third of executives fear low employee engagement will lead to a loss of talent

Almost one-third of executives fears low levels of employee engagement and trust could lead to the loss of key talent when the economy recovers, new research has revealed.

In the survey of 410 executives, by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 30% felt trust was either very low or low, and they expected to see resignations when the economic recovery became more certain.

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Matthew Parker, group managing director of Stepstone Solutions, talks about ways of addressing retention, trust and recruitment issues (5m20)

But the Companies at the Crossroads report revealed a disparity in views over staff engagement between business leaders and managers. While 38% of chief executives and directors felt levels of trust in their companies were high and staff were engaged, only 16% of managers felt the same way.

In total, 57% felt clearer communication was essential to rebuild employee trust, while 49% said it was important to create clear career paths for staff. Just over one-third (34%) cited improved training and mentoring as a key way to raise engagement levels.

But while HR chiefs insisted their engagement levels had held up during the recession and they were not yet seeing staff abandon their companies, they stressed that employers had to make sure they were communicating the right information to staff.

Speaking at a roundtable hosted by Stepstone Solutions to launch the survey, Luis Henrique Souza, vice-president of HR at glass manufacturer NSG Group, which cut 2,500 jobs last year, warned that there was a “disconnect” in the information communicated by companies and what staff wanted to know.

“Getting the global results for [staff] is secondary, they want to know what’s going to happen to me,” he said. “The key issue for us is to get our results and translate that into meaningful things for those on the shop floor.”

Experts on talent management

Matthew Parker, group managing director of Stepstone Solutions, said: “One of the best things a manager can do for a business is to develop talent. A great manager is someone that can bring people through the business to do different things and recognises the value of that.”

Luis Henrique Souza, vice-president of HR at NSG Group, said “Line managers are sometimes not so comfortable [with talent management] because there’s this issue about ‘am I going to lose my star?’. So we try to work with them to say the stars can really shine when on the move; if you keep a star there for five years, they will fade.”

But Samantha Rich, head of talent at Axa, believes that only 50% of managers currently recognised the need for them to engage in talent management. She said Axa was now investing heavily in management skills to ensure managers could play a greater role in identifying and developing key talent.

Last year, NSG Group (formerly Pilkingtons) trained 2,000 supervisors in how to communicate effectively with their workers, while also introducing a mentoring scheme as an engagement tool.

Samantha Rich, head of group attraction and talent – human resources, at insurance giant Axa UK, added: “[Employers] need to tailor information and make it relevant to the audience.”

She said steps by Axa to remove the jargon from its business communications to staff, making better use of the intranet and running chat forums, meant staff engagement at Axa dipped by only 5% last year from 80% to 75%, which was less than expected.

“We haven’t seen people leave in droves,” Rich said. “Our staff are very realistic and pragmatic so they are not using the recession as a stick to beat us with.”

The survey also revealed half of respondents plan to increase their recruitment this year. But the war for talent persists as 44% said they were finding it harder to recruit the talent they needed. Only 6% of executives surveyed plan to focus on graduate recruitment in 2010, compared with 50% the previous year.

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