UK at work

snapshot of UK employees’ attitudes to work seems to suggest companies are
failing to address some of their basic grievances and risk losing skilled
staff. Complacent employers beware, findings by the Aon Loyalty Institute and
Personnel Today may shock. Jane Lewis reports

employers are homing in on the wrong priorities in the drive to attract and
retain talent, according to the Aon Loyalty Institute and Personnel Today’s annual
study of workplace commitment, UK @ Work 2001. The message is that companies
are still not listening to what their staff really want, with many ignoring
basic needs in favour of what might be termed the bells and whistles of company

the rush to prove their fashionable credentials as enlightened employers,
companies are concentrating too much on issues like work-life balance, says the
report. Many are so preoccupied with the minutiae of achieving the right
workplace utopia and dreaming up ever-more imaginative benefits, that they’ve
taken their eye off the main ball. Fundamental issues such as improving pay
rates, keeping job security strong and reducing stress, have been relegated to
the sidelines.

it is clear from the responses of the 1,507 employees canvassed – across age,
employment sector and position – that these basic needs remain their main
priority at work. And the failure to meet them could have some fairly drastic
consequences for employers. Certainly, the survey – which above all aims to
reveal the perspective of the employee – demonstrates surprising levels of
apathy, if not outright discontent, with companies. Only four out of 10 of the
people canvassed would recommend their organisation as the best place to work.
And over half give their company a "failing grade" when assessing
benefit and pay programme terms. Roughly the same percentage would happily swap
some of their fancy new benefits for more take-home pay. Loyalty, it seems, is
a cheap commodity. Two-thirds of those polled would quit their job without a
second thought for a pay rise of 10-20 per cent or less elsewhere.

picture painted by the survey will clearly worry employers – particularly given
the current economic backdrop of high employment rates and skills shortages,
which 70 per cent of companies say are causing them major headaches. It’s time
for employers to get back to basics, says Aon. Forget the fancy stuff and start
working on what really counts. "First companies must create organisations
in which employees are safe, secure and as stress free as possible," says
managing consultant, Craig Lydiate. "Then they must enhance this by
providing pay and benefits that are competitive and meet employee needs."

the survey shows a wide disparity between the levels of contentment shown by
different employee groups – men, on the whole, were chaffing at the bit far
more than women – Aon suggests that employers start evaluating the needs of
those most "at risk" of defecting. Then they must act quickly to put
in place the right plans to assuage these malcontents.

one needs reminding of the importance of becoming a properly responsive
employer. "Organisations that listen to their employees’ collective voice
will gain the information to manage human capital risks more effectively,"
says the survey. And what that means in practice is competitive advantage.
"By getting back to basics, organisations can attract and retain committed
employees and ensure their success in an uncertain future."

Investigating commitment

year’s survey builds on the Workforce Commitment Index developed by Aon last
year. The 2000 baseline index was created by combining six component questions
into a single measure with a possible score of 100. The nearer the score is to
100 – or even beyond – the higher level of commitment. In 2001 the overall
index fell slightly to 99 – "indicating very little change in overall
commitment". But that’s no reason for companies to rest on their laurels.

figure stands out in marked contrast to the much more positive 70 per cent who
rated their organisation’s products and services highly – indicating that while
UK workers are proud of what they produce, they are far less enamoured with the
environment in which they do it. And although the vast majority is not actively
looking to jump ship, they would be easily persuaded to do so for a slight pay
increase. Nearly two-thirds say they would move if offered a similar job with a
slightly higher salary.

levels of commitment vary widely according to different demographic and
geographical factors. Unsurprisingly, those organisations perceived to be on
the up (perhaps having undergone a recent expansion) can expect much higher
levels of commitment from staff than those engaged in downsizing. Insecurity is
clearly the most effective recipe for disloyalty. And size does count. While
organisations with a head count larger than 1,000 staff scored commitment
points above the 100 level, and small companies achieved a respectable 98,
those in the middle, the SMEs with a head count of between 500-1,000, scored
way below average on 94.

of the most optimistic findings for Britain as a society was that the much
put-upon workers in education, healthcare and the public sector as a whole,
continued to display the highest commitment levels of all. The lowest were to
be found in manufacturing, the service industries and transportation,
communications, and utilities – no doubt reflecting a greater sense of unease
with future prospects in these increasingly troubled sectors.

the higher up staff are in an organisation, the greater their sense of buy-in.
While executives scored a whopping 112 on the commitment stakes, manual
labourers repaid their comparatively lowly status with a nonchalant 90.8.

survey shows that issues like age, gender and geographical location can also
have a big effect on how employees see their companies. If companies are after
a really loyal workforce, they need to be in either Wales (104.5), or to the
East Midlands (104.1). Predictably enough, London-based workers are some of the
least reliable in terms of overall commitment. But the real flibbertigibbets
are to be found in Yorkshire and Humberside (93.3). When it comes to staying
power, the group most at risk of defection is males under 30 who have already
been with the company between six and 10 years. If this group makes up the bulk
of your workforce, start worrying.

Workplace practices

really drives the commitment of your employees and how good is your
organisation at matching these needs? To assess this, Aon and Personnel Today
identified five conditions or factors which impact on commitment – safety and
security (physical and psychological); rewards (remuneration and benefits);
affiliation (the extent to which employees feel "part of the team");
growth (the opportunities for learning and gaining experience) and finally
work-life balance.

a high percentage (70-80 per cent) scored their companies well in terms of
ensuring job security and a safe environment in which to work, companies fell
down when it came to managing stress levels. In fact nearly 40 per cent of
those canvassed reported "they had problems" with this over the past
year, with most citing overwork, long hours and poor management as underlying

other words, nearly half of UK employees feel they are not being adequately
recompensed for their labours. And between 26 and 29 per cent claimed their
benefits’ packages are below both their expectations and what they and their
families needed. Given that the overwhelming majority believe that a good
package is an important factor preventing them from looking for a job
elsewhere, this rising groundswell of discontent is clearly significant.

it is equally clear that employers frequently get the wrong end of the stick
when it comes to assessing the right balance of pay and benefits. Over half of
respondents would rather forgo some of their current benefits in exchange for
more pay.

good news for employers is that internal company division over pay is not a
real issue – most people surveyed believed they were fairly paid compared to
others in their organisations. But a larger number remained convinced that the
grass is nonetheless greener elsewhere. Nearly a third believe the same job
would pay more in a different company.

part of something larger than oneself has been understood as part of human
psychology for decades," states the survey. "UK employees want to be
part of a team. They want to have input in making changes." But although a
high percentage (83 per cent) are convinced their organisation trusts them to
do what is right for the company, nearly half feel they hadn’t had the
opportunity to prove themselves in a change situation. Another tranche of
respondents (nearly a third) claimed their organisation wasn’t doing enough to
encourage a sense of company spirit and pride. The overall picture appears to
be one of frustration – employees feel they are neither sufficiently inspired,
nor empowered to work for the good of the company.

personal gripes about lack of action, the survey showed most employees think
their companies are heading in the right direction – embracing change and
communicating and managing it effectively.

more reassuringly, a high percentage (85 per cent) are impressed with their
management’s commitment to continuously improve products and services. But once
again, this rosy picture of successful company life begins to fade when
employees start considering their personal growth opportunities. Nearly
one-third report their expectations aren’t being met, and a similar number
claim they are not being well enough informed about opportunities for
development within the company.

hard work many companies have put in to help employees strike the right
work-life balance appears to be paying off – in part. In fact, respondents are
split on this point. Just as many claim their management’s attitude to their
personal concerns falls below expectations. What is clear, says the survey, is
that a little more give and take is needed. "Committed employees are
willing to ‘go the extra mile’ for their organisation. Employers must
understand that committed employees still need to manage their personal
lives." The majority of respondents are much more positive about the day-to-day
help they got from their peers with over 83 per cent claiming they enjoy good
support "as a person, not just as a worker".


workers are only moderately committed to their workplaces, despite the fact
that most think their organisation is performing well. At the root of the
problem is their poor perception about what they are getting out of companies
as individuals. Many clearly think they should be paid more, and a large number
believe their talents remain unexploited – both in terms of developing new
skills and progressing within the company. The fact that so many complained of
a lack of spirit and pride in their companies is equally damaging.

concludes the survey, the solution lies in a return to first priorities. Unless
the basic needs of employees are met, "further investment in the areas of
work-life balance and strategic organisational development will not achieve the
expected return on investment." So it’s back to basics, then.

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