Employee Engagement: We’re Doing it All Wrong

  • Stuart Rhys Thomas
  • blog
  • 2nd September 2018
  • 0 Comment

Facts are facts.

“Organisations are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on employee engagement programs, yet their scores on engagement surveys remain abysmally low. How is that possible?” (1)

Research (2) shows engagement levels in Europe have flatlined – stuck between 58% and 60% since 2014 making it the lowest scoring region in the world. In the UK, engagement fell 3 points last year representing the largest decline in the 29 biggest global economies.

And it is not good news for UK Plc in terms of productivity, either. “The UK have now fallen to 17th position – and even more alarming is evidence that productivity has dropped a staggering 7% over the past 12 months. (3)

They can’t all be right, can they?

We’re spending millions of pounds a year to create more engaging workplaces, yet the facts say ‘we’ – UK Plc – is no closer to cracking employee engagement. Why?

Three reasons.

Firstly, too many conflicting models of employee engagement.

Gallup, Deloitte, Best Companies, Great Place to Work, Aon, Engage for Success… the models are limitless. Organisations that have identified the model of employee engagement. Not all can be right meaning most are not.

Secondly, silver-bullet thinking. There is no single solution an organisation can ‘fire’ to transform their workplace into a more engaging one. It needs persistence, consistency and time.

Thirdly, we’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. The employee engagement dial hasn’t moved. Productivity ditto. Sometimes results come from the simplest solution like the Russian pencil story. Or the ‘e-commerce site’ that made $300 million thanks to one simple change. (4)

What is the ‘right thing?’

Brilliant communication.

In 2014, we reversed 5 years of declining engagement scores for one company. From an annual 3% decline stretching back to 2009, our internal communication plan increased their score by 9% in just 12 months. And an 8% increase the year after, too.

Or the global leader whose personal engagement score increased 30% using a communication plan created with him, over 2 days in a hotel lobby in Frankfurt.

Research shows the same results, too.

“Our results show that internal communication should be recognized as an underlying influence of employee engagement (Karanges et al., 2015).

This implies that internal communication strategies, when effectively applied, help organisations to create and sustain high levels of employee engagement, which leads to higher levels of performance.”

Complex and confusing

The various models of employee engagement refer to communication but none none put it front-and-centre. Here’s what some of the models say.

Consistent 2-way communication is key to finding out what enables and motivates employees’ performance, and to making the vital transition towards high-engagement, high-performance cultures.

Engage for Success (5)

“Across the 40 countries in the study, the following appear as the top 10 drivers of engagement globally:

  • The leadership of my company has communicated a vision of the future that motivates me.
  • I feel that I am part of a team.
  • My company values my contribution.
  • I believe my company has an outstanding future.
  • I trust the leadership of my company.
  • My ideas and suggestions count.
  • My manager is an outstanding leader.
  • My job makes good use of my talents/skills and abilities.
  • My manager provides me with timely and helpful feedback.
  • I receive the information and communication I need to do my job effectively.

IBM (6)

The final and perhaps most important element in the irresistible organization is leadership. Our research suggests that four leadership practices most directly impact employee engagement.

The first is to develop and communicate a strong sense of purpose. Our research shows that “mission-driven” companies have 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of retention, and they tend to be first or second in their market segment.

Deloitte (7)

Brilliant Communication = a More Engaged Workforce.

Conflicting models. Silver bullet thinking. Focusing on the ‘wrong’ thing. Flatlined engagement scores. Declining UK productivity. Facts are facts. We’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. Is it time to put communication front-and-centre and take a step in the right direction?



Say something!