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.
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.
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.”
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.”