HUMAN RESOURCES / JUN. 23, 2014
version 3, draft 3

Employee Engagement Has Increased Through Recession

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According to a research by the specialist body IPA (formerly the Involvement and Participation Association) employee engagement in the UK seems to have increased in recent years, despite tough conditions during the recession. The study was based on the analysis of the Workplace Employment Relations Study 2011, the largest survey of its kind in the UK.

The results of the research show that there is a link between employee engagement and organizational success. At organisations with higher levels of engagement, managers were likely to be more positive about both their labour productivity and financial performance.

The 4 enablers of engagement

A primary task for the researchers was to examine the four enablers of engagement which according to MacLeod and Clarke, are factors that were “commonly agreed to lie behind successful engagement approaches”. Employee perception towards all of four enablers of engagement – strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and integrity – had markedly improved since 2004.

Compared to 2004, employees demonstrated a greater organisational commitment, they were more willing to put in discretionary effort and they got a greater sense of achievement from their job.

Gaps in engagement between groups of employees

The findings of the study pointed to large disparities in engagement by industry and by sector. Public sector employees for instance were found to be less engaged than those working in the private or third sectors. It also seems that the size of the organisation also matters with regards to the level of engagement. Employees in large organisations scored lower both on the enablers and on organizational commitment than their counterparts in smaller organisations.

Interestingly, women were far more engaged than men. Also, older employees appeared to be less engaged (as they reach pension age). Most importantly though, disabled employees were considerably less engaged than their co-workers.

As far as ethnicity is concerned, there were no significant variations in terms of engagement level among ethnic groups. There were some small but significant differences when it came to organisational commitment with white employees (3.90) scoring lower than Asian/Asian British (4.08) and Black/Black British (4.06).

In terms of sexual orientation, employees who identified as gay or lesbian were found to be relatively more engaged (3.60) than those identified as heterosexual (3.52), but the differences were not significant. Employees who identified as bisexual scored significantly lower (3.10) when it comes to engagement and averaged lower on organisational commitment than heterosexual (3.92) and gay or lesbian employees (3.97).    

On top of this, the way employers engage employees is critical. Organisations which set regular meetings between frontline employees and senior managers see their employees being able to raise their voice and meaningfully contribute to the organisation. This is particularly the case where a significant proportion of the meeting is given over to staff.

ACAS chair Sir Brendan Barber said: “This research shows that employee engagement can reap benefits to both organisations and employees. Some people may believe that engagement is just about employees ‘going the extra mile’, but it is much more”.

Sir Barber also added that: “It is also about involving workers in the operation of their organisation, hearing their views and giving them a true voice. Allowing employees to have their say and taking account of their views not only makes good business sense, but is crucial to developing an engaged and involved workforce. I firmly believe that it has to happen if Britain is to secure its economic future”.

All in all, the study confirmed that there has been some progress in terms of employee engagement across the turbulent period of the recession which caused a major turmoil in the labour market. However, there were significant variations across sectors, employee groups, etc. It also emerged that employers’ approach to engagement matters, as levels of employee voice are higher in organisation that promote meetings between employees and senior managers. Most importantly though, in organisations with higher scores on the enablers of engagement, employers were more likely to be positive about both labour productivity and financial performance.  

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