Employee engagement is falling and how you can combat it

Employee engagement is falling and how you can combat it
5 minutes read

Like any problem, falling employee engagement is solvable. According to recent research by Gallup, only 1 in 10 of UK workers reports feeling ‘engaged’ at work. Yes, that means that 9 in 10 are not engaged, motivated or giving their best. Some of these are feeling disconnected, some are quiet quitting and some are keeping their hands down when projects come up. The more startling fact is that the US reports around 1/3 of workers feeling engaged at work – clearly well ahead of the UK. So, today we discuss why employee engagement is falling and how you can combat it.


Employee Engagement

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), sees employee engagement as “a combination of commitment to the organisation, its values and a willingness to help colleagues”. However, it should be noted that there are between 50-100 known definitions of the term. This lack of consensus means that it is a relatively broad term to refer to the psychological state of staff. The good news is that there is a little more agreement on the positives of good employee engagement.

For example, most attributes relate to happier, healthier and more motivated people. Furthermore, these attributes tend to correlate with better business performance. Some of the benefits may include higher productivity, better collaboration and greater efficiency. It also contributes to higher staff retention, better customer experience, safety and quality outcomes.

Interestingly, though Gallup reports only 1 in 10 of UK workers engaged at work, the ONS found that 7 in 10 were satisfied with their main job. This again highlights the potential for differences in the definitions of employee engagement. How can 7 times as many people be satisfied with their primary employment than engaged at work?


Employee Experience

Here at Think Beyond, we don’t fully agree with employee engagement as a metric. Similar to measuring customer satisfaction – a measure after multiple interactions with various touchpoints of an organisation – employee engagement happens after the fact. Typically, surveys happen 1-4 times per year – though we have seen an average of 2 times per annum. That gives a 6-month period of experiences to assess in a short survey. As we have previously defined, Employee Experience includes all facets of the proposition that you present to your people. It starts when they first hear about your brand and it ends when you no longer work there. In summary, there are a lot of interactions, systems, processes, places, people, policies and benefits to consider.

Some argue that productivity is hamstrung by quiet quitters, with sick leave and doing the bare minimum increasing. Estimates of the number of these hidden low productivity workers range from 20-40% of the workforce. The latest UK productivity figures for January to March 2024 show that output per hour worked has only increased by just under 1% since before the pandemic. It is unclear exactly what is causing this phenomenon, though we believe that one factor is management. Additionally, we know that record employment is lowering pressure on managers and the next generation are not so eager to take their place.

So, how do we combat sliding employee engagement?


How to combat falling employee engagement

First things first, there is no single silver bullet to give UK businesses high employee engagement. There are a multitude of reasons for it and it will vary by organisation, location, vocation and individual. What we do know is that there is sufficient evidence of causality – that happy, healthy and motivated workforces perform better. We also know that they tend to have less sick leave, higher productivity, better mental health and higher commitment.

Here are 3 things that you can do to combat falling employee engagement:

  1. Make employee wellbeing and motivation one of your strategic goals;
  2. Benchmark your employee experience against other organisations;
  3. Promote a culture of fairness, inclusivity and transparency.

If you target and measure your organisation on its people, you can start to improve it. Since we all tend to think that the grass is greener on the other side, it makes sense to peek over the fence. Also, since around 1 in 6 adults in the UK feels unfairly treated by society, it is important to sense check your workplace culture.


Creating good jobs and organisational capability

We have previously talked about the need to create jobs that people actually want to do. Believe it or not, not every job was hand-crafted by a manager to an optimal state. Most jobs are a compromise between systems, processes and capabilities within the organisation. Some are intensive because of poor systems and inefficient processes. Similarly, some are demoralising because nobody notices how hard you are working and you can’t see the impact you are having. We also know that not every organisation manages to build, develop and maintain internal capabilities.

Sometimes, the motivation for rapid growth, the need to invest elsewhere or deliver increasing profits means that capability falls behind. A lack of investment in systems, neglect of processes and a lack of ability to hire top talent all hold back employee engagement. So, if your instinct is to push people harder, overlook business problems as trivial and make bold changes without ensuring that the business is scalable, it simply stores up future issues. Low employee engagement is not irreparable, but the deeper the problems, the longer it will take.


Concluding on employee engagement

The various definitions of employee engagement refer to a psychological state of employees. It should come as no surprise that happy, content, healthy, calm and motivated staff make better decisions, innovate more and are more committed. It is also linked to a 20-30% improvement in pre-tax profit on average. What perhaps grates with many senior leaders is that the effort requires ‘root and branch’ transformation.

Ultimately, for every business that has quirky meeting pods, chill-out zones with bean bags and modern, slick systems, another has a drab workspace, long hours and systems creaking at the seams. New research suggests that about 1/3 of UK staff are looking to change job and almost 50% would like to do so. The third would almost certainly become half if the job market allowed it. So, the next time you organise an ice cream truck or free pizza for everyone, remember that some problems run deeper than a Ben & Jerrys.

If you would like to speak with a consultant, please drop us an email and we will organise an introduction. Alternatively, why not send us an enquiry through our website and we will call you back.

Finally, check out some of our techniques to improve engagement. That is, of course, after you have put people into your strategy. Why not also read how some managers are overly-positive when it’s all going ‘Pete Tong’.