Engaging for success in the UK economy

Engaging for Success; an innovative UK program

By Rachel Miller

What is the cost of disengaged employees to a department, brand or a nation?

A voluntary movement in the United Kingdom has brought employee engagement into sharp focus with the revelation that disengagement loses the UK billions of pounds annually.

This month, leaders from 44 of the most recognisable private, public and charitable organisations signed an open letter to The Times newspaper. Among the chief executive officers calling for the nation to deliver £26 billion GDP growth are Marc Bolland, Marks & Spencer; Justin King, Sainsbury’s; Ronan Dunne, O2; and chairs Win Bischoff, Lloyds Banking Group; and Richard Baker, Virgin Active.

The leaders said the growth is possible, by better engaging employees at work to tackle the employee engagement deficit (Kenexa, 2011). Reasons cited were that organisations with high engagement levels outperform their low engagement counterparts in both private industry and in the public service. Engaged organisations also report lower staff absence and staff turnover, plus fewer accidents. All are linked to increased employee well being.

Leaders cited that two-thirds of UK workers surveyed feel they have “more to offer” at work, meaning the nation is missing out on the full capability of 20 million workers, as they are not actively engaged.

Engage for Success

The Engage for Success initiative was first launched by Prime Minister Cameron in March 2011.

At a CEO breakfast at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in London, England on 12 November 2012, the nationwide Engage for Success task force presented evidence about the effectiveness of employee engagement.

To date, more than 1,000 individuals from hundreds of organisations have contributed more than £1million in time, expertise and resources, helping to bring the aims of the movement to life in the form of a task force.

This is an independent, voluntary group of leaders, managers, trade unionists, engagement practitioners and experts who are backing the importance of employee engagement. It is committed to the idea that there is a better way to enable personal and organisational growth—and ultimately growth for Great Britain—by releasing more of the capability and potential of people at work.

I have been involved with the guru group of this same task force, advising on the use of social media to promote the activities. I have been struck by the enthusiasm and dedication of the movement.

MacLeod report

The Engage for Success movement builds upon the publication of Engaging for Success, a report to the UK government in 2009 (also known as the MacLeod report).

This publication was released when the UK was in the grip of the global recession. However, as Right Honourable Lord Mandelson, then secretary of state for business, innovation and skills said,

“This is a timely report, setting out for the first time the evidence that underpins what we all know intuitively, which is that only organisations that truly engage and inspire their employees produce world-class levels of innovation, productivity and performance.”

“Britain’s economic recovery and its competitive strengths in a global economy will be built on strong, innovative companies and confident employees; there has never been a more important time to think about employee engagement.”

Key learnings from the report included recognition that employee engagement is the difference that makes the difference. It could make all the difference as the UK faced the realities of globalised competition, and of the millions of graduates—and even more skilled and committed workers—that China, India and other economies are producing each year.

The report also highlighted examples of leaders realising their companies knew more about their customers and other stakeholders than their own employees.

Spreading the ideas

In 2010, the UK’s Coalition Government asked the report’s authors, David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, to further spread the ideas in their report by ensuring a wider national awareness of and results from the importance of engagement.

MacLeod and Clarke have been regular speakers at PR conferences over the past few years, seeking feedback from communication professionals and updating them on what the task force was discussing.

Support for the Engage for Success movement has been ramping up among the communication community and work streams were established. The resulting development was the formation of various sub-groups, to continue the conversations started by the MacLeod report and culminate to a point when information could be consolidated and presented.

The evidence

On 12 November 2012, a report entitled Employee Engagement—the Evidence was published. It was written by Professor Bruce Rayton from the University of Bath School of Management, and Tanith Dodge and Gillian D’Analese from Marks & Spencer plus the Engage for Success “nailing the evidence” sub-group.

It provides an indisputable link between employee engagement and bottom-line business performance.

This has long been the gap for internal communication professionals and people interested in employee engagement: having data at hand to assist in conducting informed discussions in workplaces. The lack of data was coupled with a general scepticism as to the relevance of the topic, particularly in a low-growth economy.

Analysis of the evidence

  • Only around one-third of UK employees say they are actively engaged at work, placing the UK ninth in engagement levels amongst the world’s 12 largest economies (Kenexa, 2009)1. This represents some 20 million workers who are not delivering their full capability (i.e., realising their potential at work)
  • In a Populus survey (2012), 64 per cent of people said they have more to offer in skills and talent than they are currently demonstrating or being asked to demonstrate at work 2.
  • Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reveals that, on an output per worker basis, UK productivity was 20 percentage points lower than the rest of the G7 industrialised nations in 20113.
  • Even in turbulent economic times, organisations with high-engagement levels outperformed the total stock market index, and posted total shareholder returns that were higher than average in 20104.

Prime Minister David Cameron stated,

Engage for Success is a movement that I helped launch last year to get UK workers more involved in the decision making of their companies and feel more passionate about their work. The publication of new evidence is an important step in achieving this and helping Britain to compete in the global race. With only one-third of UK workers saying they feel engaged, I encourage all companies to get involved in this important initiative.”

New resources

This month a new website was launched to equip employers and employees with a range of case studies, tools and resources including a short film.

To find out more about the Engage for Success task force, follow the Twitter account @engage4success and the hashtag #e4s. There is also a Facebook account and LinkedIn Group.

I have published two overviews of Engage for Success events in London; CEO breakfast on 12 November and practitioner event on 26 November, via Storify.

The road ahead

In the coming weeks and months, a series of events are planned across the UK, helping communication practitioners to share knowledge and continue to encourage good practice.

Feedback from businesses over the past few weeks has been encouraging and communication professionals have taken to social media to demonstrate support in various ways, including adding twibbons and promoting the task force and contents on the new Engage for Success website.

I believe the new site has a broader appeal beyond the UK, as it has information that is applicable and relevant for anyone interested in employee engagement, regardless of location or communication role.

Thank you to PR Conversations for expressing an interest in this initiative and the invitation to share information about Engage for Success in a guest post. Should there be further developments applicable to a global audience, I will happily produce a later guest post.


1 As published in Wiley, J, W., Herman, A., Kowske, B. (2012) “Developing and Validating a Global Model of Employee Engagement,” in Handbook of Employee Engagement: Perspectives, Issues, Research and Practice, ed. S.L. Albrecht, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited

2 Populus survey of 2,049 GB adults, online, between 26- 28 October 2012, of whom 1,111 were employed either full- or part-time.

3 Office for National Statistics, International Comparisons of Productivity, First Estimates for 2011 (2012)

4 Aon Hewitt study, 2010, Global employee engagement trends


Rachel Miller is an internal communication and social media strategist based in London. She began her career as a journalist and has worked in internal communication, both in-house and agency side, for global companies across the financial, automotive, healthcare and railway sectors. She regularly speaks and writes about internal communication and social media.

Rachel (under her maiden name, Allen) was named in PR Week UK’s Top 29 under 29 professional communicators. This year she contributed a chapter to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ best-selling book Share This: The social media handbook for PR Professionals (Wiley) on “Employee engagement: how social media are changing internal communication.”

Read her blog and find Rachel on Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Storify and Google+.


Please follow our blog:

18 Replies to “Engaging for success in the UK economy

  1. This post is very exciting and interesting.

    Certainly it is an excellent example of what could be done in many other countries to raise the level of awareness of employee committment simply by adopting a same set of generic principles.

    In this case:

    a) it is important for management to ensure that their employees be committed and satisfied in their acitvities;

    b) it is important that methods, channels, contents and modes of communication-with (and not -to) and amongst employees be established, incentivated and promoted by an ad hoc professional function whose role is to ensure alignment and coherence amongst the many internal, boundary and external voices that occupy the real/digital space constituted by the overall narrative and reporting action of the organization.

    The validity of these generic principles exists only-and-if theiroperational implementation listens to and adequately considers the ‘specific applications’ -i.e. the institutional/legal, economic, political, socio-cultural,active citizenship and media infrastructures that apply in a specific terittory.

  2. Great to see so many points of view being shared and discussions sparked.

    Paul – Engage for Success does outline what it means when referencing employee engagement. If you’d like to find out more, you’ll find a wealth of info via their website, including the language overview here: http://www.engageforsuccess.org/about/what-is-employee-engagement/

    It goes further to also define an engaged employee: ‘An engaged employee experiences a blend of job satisfaction, organisational commitment, job involvement and feelings of empowerment. It is a concept that is greater than the sum of its parts’

    Sean – I think your question of whether employee can just be productive rather than engaged is a thought-provoking one.

    Thanks all for having your say, Rachel

  3. Hi,

    I like the post and as a member of the movement thank you for spreading the word.

    Picking up on Paul’s point about CSR being corrosive – I think it can be where it is done without integrity or true intent. But I don’t think it is corrosive in and of itself. The example you gave of the bank rings true but there are examples where it is done in alignment with company values and is seen as genuine it can make a difference. The company I work for as an example does a lot within the local community, allowing time off to support local schools, supports local football clubs and the theatre, we also host annual festivals that the whole community is invited to. This makes me proud to work there. I know that the people in and who run the company genuinely care about our community and its in.

    In terms of the global economy those of us involved in the movement do believe that engagement has an important role to play. We live in a different context and culture than the BRIC countries, I am not saying better, but certainly different. No one is saying that taking employee engagement seriously and taking actions to create environments that are conducive to its existence is the ONLY thing we need to survive in a challenging new world economy. Not to mention the fact that many of the organisations leading our economy are global and are based in many parts of the world including BRIC. Its a very interconnected world these days and this cannot be ignored.

    No one said this was easy but we have to do what we can – employee engagement is something we can have a positive influence on – and it should be for the benefit not only of the organsation but of the individual as well. Enhancing their wellbeing too.

    Thats my pennysworth anyway!


  4. Heather,

    If Steve Jobs stoked Apple’s current problems it was because he ran out of ideas – endless product iterations are not innovations no matter how hard Apple pretends otherwise (but I find the accusations against Apple in China to be bogus; as do many others who have examined the issue closely).

    Agreed, you didn’t mention superiority or backwardness; but your comparative description of the working conditions in China illustrates my point. In contrast, I maintain: corporate responsibility is the product of progress and success, not the cause…it’s coming; but life and progress is a tough business. Meanwhile, we in Europe better get real and cut the patronizing mental health therapy crap….and start talking to employees like adults (instead of victims) instead.

    1. Absolutely agree Paul with your concluding statements. I think corporate responsibility does need a push from government, activists, consumers, local communities and employees – but this is fuelled by progress and success. Also with you on treating employees as adults – that’s what I meant by respect. Thanks.

  5. Heather,

    We live in a globalised economy: the content of most work is the same the whole world over. China is a super-power and the productive hub of the world. It is the heartland of innovation; including railways, windmills, solar, nuclear, and much more. Just look at China’s R&D numbers and at its research paper output; it now sets the pace on development at the cutting edge of the world’s division of labour. So, you are living in the past, I say, by pitting our superiority over their backwardness. If anything, it is we in Europe who are going backwards; losing our work ethic and will to innovate and take risks. That’s why our working conditions – including pay and benefits – are falling all the time.

    Apple was the most successful company on the planet for the last few decades under Steve Jobs: he loathed the therapy culture (his approach was top-down) and yet he excited/inspired his staff and customers through his leadership. Today, it’s ironic that as Apple runs out of innovative steam and leadership, it is increasingly advocating CSR and “new age” waffle about “engagement” to manage its creeping decline.

    If British firms want to inspire/motivate their staff, they could start by reinvesting their massive cash surpluses in innovation and R&D. They should also stop preaching austerity and setting low-expectations and waffling on about how our happiness/mental health is more important than increasing our productivity and bottom line performance. They should also stop patronizing their staff by waffling on about “empowerment” , because the powerlessness most people feel comes from our society’s lack of zip and prospects for a better future; that’s why Edelman’s trust survey results are so counter-intutive.

    For sure, words such as “motivated” and “engaged” and “connection” and “holistic” are motherhood and apple pie stuff (statements of the blindingly obvious) and therefore rendered pretty much meaningless in the hands of merchants of spin.

    1. Paul – as usual, there are aspects of what you say that I agree with. However, I never mentioned anything about superiority or backwardness. I don’t think I’m being judgemental in advocating some basic safety regulations for those employed in the world’s most appalling working conditions; notably in the mines, factories and other ‘hard industries’. Yes, China may have some people at the leading edge – and I’ve met some pretty bright and inspiring young Chinese PR students. But the dirty work of the world is also being done by poorly paid, poorly protected people in China and other ‘productive’ countries. Growth off the backs of such employees may in your opinion reflect a declining work ethic in the UK and elsewhere, but that doesn’t excuse the appalling exploitation of other human beings.

      It is interesting that Steve Jobs seemed to turn a blind eye to such working conditions whilst offering glitzy offices for his US employees. His leadership was inspirational to some – which I’d stated, but not a universal role model to be worshipped. Maybe indeed, he was sowing the seeds of the current Apple problems.

      Personally, I don’t think most employees need the wacky offices and all the nonsense that is often touted in “Employer of the Year” awards. To reflect on the past, these employers often remind me of the ‘benevolent’ Victorians who offered housing and other benefits in return for controlling the moral and physical ‘well being’ of their employees.

      I also agree that work ethic and a willingness to innovate and take risks is often lacking. Sean indicates that respect is a key factor here. For me, this isn’t a fluffy PR term, but reflects what has been lost. All too often organizations espouse motivation/engagement/connection/etc, but don’t show any basic respect for their employees. They say they are ‘their greatest asset’ but you are ever more vulnerable to losing your job – no matter how hard you work or the loyalty you show. It is hard to feel connected to employers when the psychological contract that is promised turns out to be meaningless. I don’t agree with Sean that pride in work and a commitment to being responsible is in short supply – but the talents of workers are often not realised as they are treated as head count, etc.

      Indeed, I loathe the management speak of human resources with its outsourcing and downsizing and lack of commitment to employees as much as the fluffy talk which is equally meaningless. It isn’t only the merchants of spin who are capable of such doublespeak.

  6. Rachel – a very interesting case study here. The question of engagement is, “in service of what?” If all engagement comes to mean is more work per person-hour, then it will have productivity impact but won’t last. It is the nature of the work and the employee’s connection to it that create long term value. In many cases, that connection is not easy to determine – not everyone gets to do their optimal vocation. People have differing motivations for work – as a means to an end, a personal calling, a desire for lucre, to name a few. The sense of caring about your work, taking pride in it and relishing the effort does seem to be in short supply, so much so that it’s rare and refreshing when encountered. These are the engaged – liking their work, their supervisors and colleagues, not especially because of personal friendship, but professional respect.

    The key to engaged employees — those who display pride and a serious work ethic — is respect. In so many cases, respect has broken down as the compact between worker and business owner has frayed. The transfer of risk from institution to individual, the stack-ranking of stakeholders elevating shareholders and customers above employees (though the Herb Kellahers of the world reversed that pyramid), the desire to reward jerks who got results…

    It’s true that the Millennial generation says it desires a different type and frame for work than their parents and older siblings did — a more humanistic, more balanced work-life, and a great sense of societal purpose. But so did my older sibs – the 60’s ethic is not so distant to some of us!

    Work can be rewarding – even fun. But will everyone feel the connection to their employer because they answer “yes” to “I have a best friend at work” ? Not to pick on Gallup, but really.

    Returning to my top question – why must employees be engaged? Can they just be productive? Could we pay them to better balance safety, quality and production? Do we merely want more work out of them?

  7. Rachel,

    if employee engagement is as important as ‘Engaging for Success’ maintains on page 5: “where a production line or the goods on a supermarket shelf are much the same the world over, employee engagement is the difference that makes the difference”. Please explain how comes the BRICs are booming and have done so for decades while we have stagnated or gone into reverse. I mean please explain this in terms of productivity, economic growth and development and even – if the Edelman trust survey is to be trusted – when it comes to trust in government, business and the media (China comes top on all of them and other BRICs score top too).

    I believe that we can detect the weaknesses in your proposed strategy in the following revealing quote from “Engaging for Success”, which highlights a mentality that no really successful company or country (think Apple under Steve Jobs or China today) would celebrate:

    “Dame Carol told us, ‘If I could wave a magic wand, the one thing I would do is to improve the relationship between line managers and employees […] health and well-being is not just a medical issue. The nature and characteristics of the jobs that employees are required to do in terms of satisfaction, reward and esteem and a degree of control in the task, are vitally important to them. The line manager has a key role. Good line management can promote better health and well-being and improved performance.” The Government’s response to the review ‘Improving Health and Work: Changing Lives’”

    This is a therapy recipe for mental health purposes in corporate settings (and a poor one at that) not a an insight into business success. And in that sense it (the ideas behind “engaging for Success”) shares much in common with the motivation behind CSR.

    And perhaps I missed it: but do you define “engaged”?

    1. Paul,

      I think you are comparing apples and oranges. In developing countries, employees are likely to be undertaking routine, low value work, where consideration of their welfare is low, and their expectations even lower, since this employed work delivers greater satisfaction than either none at all or trying to make ends meet in rural communities.

      As seems to be the case already in some of the BRIC countries, social and employee expectations are increasing with greater affluence. At a basic level (open to criticism of course), we could refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

      Given the recent terrible fire in the factory in Pakistan and other poor working conditions in China, it would seem these countries are in need of some of the pressures of improving life for employees at the basic safety level initially.

      Like it or not, in the UK and similar cultures, people tend to focus beyond their basic survival/safety or financial exchange relationship and have expectations that work delivers more than enough money for survival. Even when the job is mundane and poorly paid, it isn’t surprising in such cultures that employees would like a say in their work; to be kept informed and that this might prove motivational.

      This relates to the concept of a psychological contract rather than just an economic one. There are unwritten expectations that we would like to be fulfilled. In my experience, even the basics of communicating efficiently and treating employees with respect is rare (based on my own career and the feedback from contact with many organizations on a global basis). So I wouldn’t be surprised that organizations getting this right might benefit.

      Of course, you could refer to when England was the leading world economy in 1900 – high economic returns for employers who really didn’t care a hoot about their employees. Although the work was often dangerous and even undertaken by young children, some money was better than starving on the streets or in the countryside where landowners exploited them.

      Your reference to Apple is equally misleading. The likes of Jobs may have their quirks as leaders, but I believe they recognise the value of motivating the employees they feel are most critical to the organization. I’ve worked for bosses like that – and if you are seen as valuable assets, you most certainly do feel engaged and motivated.

  8. Hi Paul

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my article.

    There are many words that are used to define what organisations are striving to achieve, ‘buzzwords’ if you will. However, what is important is the essence behind them. It is crucial there’s a shared understanding of what those terms mean, and what the company is striving for, or they could be deemed ‘meaningless’ if devoid of context.

    It’s interesting you mention CSR, as that’s not what Engage for Success is about. I advocate making smart language choices based on the culture of an organisation and as you say, it is more than just a communication challenge. A fact echoed by having business leaders involved in the movement.

    Whether you label engagement as discretionary effort, retention, or any other chosen name, I think your point about the need to rediscover work ethic and putting pride back hits the nail on the head. That’s exactly what Engage for Success aims to achieve, and in doing so, equip business leaders to have tools and knowledge to hand.


  9. Engagement equals success; including bottom line and performance? So, how does that apply to China? To begin to answer that question we need to dig beneath the surface. One problem we should probe is the corrosive impact of CSR, which denigrates what work is for. I went to an event on CSR recently where I learned (from PR leaders) that bank staff are more motivated working for others for free (pro bono) than working in their banks. This sentiment, to find an inspiring purpose from going to work by doing things unrelated or near-related but non-commercial, it was argued, should be encouraged because it instills pride in what banks (read any company) contribute to society. They sold it as form of therapy for demoralized staff. They added that such CSR initiatives also acted as an advert for the bank’s social contribution (which seemingly has little to do with banking) to society. That’s good PR? I say not because it reduces what the purpose/value/importance of what work/business is about.

    Until Western PR pros can confidently promote the core value and purpose of work, business, profit, progress and innovation (all of which takes place in the workplace) China’s way will retain its edge over ours. Hence, this is much more than a communication challenge centred on almost meaningless buzzwords such as “engagement”, “empowerment”. It suggest instead that we need to rediscover the work ethic and to put the pride back into working for corporations by promoting their core social purposes, or whatever it is they exist to fulfill on behalf of society.

Comments are closed.