Recent evidence presented to the Engage for Success task-force, securing high employee engagement is the top priority for UK business – ahead of containing costs – and 90% of UK business leaders say engagement impacts on business success, although 75% have no engagement plan or strategy.
The CIPD finds engagement levels reflect organisation size, falling from 58% in micro businesses to 35% in large organisations. Engagement levels in SMEs are somewhere between these two and they may be concerned about how to develop effective engagement, how much it might cost, even 'fear of losing control' or feeling "the risk of listening is you may hear things you don’t want to hear".
Engagement issues generally arise when companies reach around 20 employees - 'too many people to take to the pub at once'. Engagement issues may also reappear when the organisation reaches around 50 staff.
A major concern for UK employers wishing to improve engagement is uncertainty about how to enable the conditions for engagement to flourish; not helped by 'disengaging practices' which act as barriers, including ‘territorial’ and ‘comfort-zone’ issues.
Poor leadership and management play their part, often based on outmoded views that the only motivator of people is pay: as one survey reported, only 3% of UK employees thought managers treated them as key parts of an organisation, and no fewer than 60% felt they were treated as just another organisational asset to be managed .
"one of the biggest barriers to increasing employee involvement is middle management buy-in"
Engage for Success founder and co-author of Engaging for Success David MacLeod pulls no punches. "This joint and consequential failure of leadership and management is the main cause of poor employee engagement," he writes, referring to "unwillingness to talk the talk and truly relinquish command and control styles of leadership in favour of a relationship based on mutuality".
One of the biggest barriers to increasing employee involvement is middle management buy-in probably because performance measurements for middle managers are often based on team outcomes rather than employee morale.
Engagement expert John Oliver goes further. “Ninety-nine percent of failure to engage staff is down to management behaviour,” he says, noting that the introduction of management by objectives and KPIs changed the way people think about good management.
This raises the uncomfortable but unavoidable question of whether middle managers have the competencies to increase employee involvement and engagement, and underlines the need to ensure that organisational commitment to communication and participation is reflected in performance measurements and line manager training.
For while there are no quick-fix, silver bullet, one-size-fits-all solutions, it is clear that fully engaged leadership and managers are the crucial ingredient for successful employee engagement.
Tellingly, research shows that UK organisations spends less per manager on management development than any other European country, and that 80% of the variation in engagement levels is down to line managers , reminding us that people join organisations but leave managers.
You will find more insight and advice on current trends in employee engagement in Randstad's Workpocket HR Guide.
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