Tackling the UK’s engagement issues


Workers are the lifeblood of small businesses, so it will have come as worrying news to many business owners that a growing number of employees are disengaged.

A recent survey by market research company ORC International highlighted that employee engagement in the UK has sharply declined in recent months, which could seriously hamper the nation’s ongoing efforts to grow the economy.

The results showed that fewer than half of UK workers feel engaged, marking an eight percentage point drop compared to last year. When compared to other countries, the UK was firmly near the bottom of the league table in terms of employee engagement, only performing better than Japan and Hong Kong.

So what exactly is causing employees to feel disengaged and de-motivated?

Employee appreciation appears to be lacking in many workplaces, with fewer than 50% of workers feeling valued, while poor management is causing problems for some businesses, with just 40% of workers feeling that their boss motivates and inspires them.

Perhaps one of the most worrying findings from the report was that only 37% of workers feel they are encouraged to be innovative in the workplace; a drop of 10% in the past 12 months. Small businesses in particular need their employees to be coming up with innovative and creative ideas and ways of working which can help them grow and develop.

Kate Pritchard, head of employee research at ORC International, said: “UK companies need to take a hard look at the impact low engagement scores have on their business performance.

“Encouraging innovative ideas, creative thinking and providing an environment where employees feel that managers act in their best interest are just some aspects to improving engagement which ultimately have a positive effect on overall business outcomes and client satisfaction.”

These latest findings from ORC come after a study by the Work Foundation highlighted that increasing investment in employee engagement strategies, such as participation in business development and career progression, could help companies increase their profits by as much as £2,700 per employee per year, meaning it is certainly worth sitting down and coming up with some ways to better engage your employees.

But where should you start?

The first thing you should do when trying to engage your employees is actually sit down and speak to them. Rather than trying to second guess what would help them rediscover their passion for their job, and your company, ask them.

After all, every small business is different, and issues that are plaguing staff at one firm may not be affecting your workers in the slightest. Typical factors which affect engagement levels include a lack of clarity regarding job roles, no clear career progression routes, lack of feedback on performance and barriers which are preventing people from doing their job properly, i.e. a lack of appropriate equipment, but there’s no point investing heavily in one of these areas only to find out that the problems are actually rooted elsewhere.

Once you have spoken to your employees, it is important that you are seen to be acting on the feedback and suggestions they give. Obviously you won’t be able to fix every problem and some changes will take longer than others to implement. Designing a career development path through the company, for example, is likely to be a lengthy process. But it is important to keep staff updated about what plans are afoot and when they are likely to see changes, otherwise you could risk them becoming more disengaged.

You may also want to focus on a few ‘quick wins’ which you can get started with straight away. For example, if your workers feel underappreciated, make sure you are handing out praise for jobs well done, whether it’s with an informal pat on the back, a mention in the company newsletter or an Employee of the Month prize. None of these require you to invest much time or effort, but could yield big rewards.

Finally, it’s important to remember that boosting employee engagement is an ongoing process. It can take a long time for workers to reach optimum engagement levels and once they are there, it’s important you keep putting in the effort to maintain it.

Posted by the Secret Businessman