Employee engagement is a very important metric for a company, and HR must and need to track it. Unfortunately, in 2017 its value around the world has been generally decreasing, while other countries witnessed an unexpected improvement.
First of all, employee engagement is not just about happiness and satisfaction, but also, as stated in Aon 2017 report, “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organization”. It is an entire outcome, a whole process, not just the measure of some random features and statistics. Highly engaged employees are committed to their organization, determined to invest in its success, share their ideas, actively promote their work, and invest more effort than what is required in their tasks. Unfortunately, the employee engagement rates around the world are now decreasing.
After a good reaction in 2016, where the situation had improved by a good 3%, nowadays employee engagement is definitely falling.
A 2017 survey by Aon Hewitt shows how global engagement has been changing lately, and what emerges from it is that some countries’ levels around the world are decreasing, while others are unexpectedly increasing. More than 5 million employees have been answering to the questions and just 24% feels highly engaged, while 39% feels moderately engaged. It was claimed in 2013 always by the Aon Hewitt Trends in Global Employee Engagement Report found that a 1% increase in engagement indicates a 0.6% increase in sales. And that is something!
Employee engagement data around the world
In general, from this survey, the world level for Employee Engagement is 2% lower than last year (it went from a rate of 65% to 63%) and it is due especially by the decreases in Pacific Asia (-3%), Europe (-2%), and North America (-1%). The countries whose data have been showing a higher rate of employee engagement are Latin America (+3%) an Africa (+2%). In total, it has been falling, but with some silver lining.
This downward sloping in the global engagement graph is caused by the decrease in four of the region’s largest markets: China (-3%), India (-2%), Japan (-2%), and Indonesia (-1%). Engagement increased in only Australia (+3%) and South Korea (+2%).
In Latin America we can address the downfall to Mexico, probably influenced by the potential of strained relations with the United States, that dropped from a very good 79% to 75%, while Brazil went from a its 69% to 77%. In the same way it happened in Pacific Asia, Latin America’s greatest engagement opportunity of improvement is Rewards and Recognition, which rose by 2%. We can see a good improvement in Colombia (+6%), Ecuador (+6%), Puerto Rico (+4%), and Argentina (+4%). Beside Mexico, also Venezuela (-11%), and Costa Rica (-6%) got worse.
Two thirds of the European countries saw a decline in their rates as well. What is remarkable about Europe is that Turkey is not part of this two thirds and neither does UK, despite their involvement in political changes. However, these economic and political changes had consequence on other countries like France (-7%), Italy (-7%), Spain (-5%), and the Netherlands (-5%). Germany’s employee engagement levels remained quite stable, with only a decrease of 1%. The only exception is Belgium, which had a 3% increase up to 56%.
Recognition as the pillar of employee engagement in 2017
So, as Aon Hewitt describes, it comes to light that recognition is the most meaningful pillar of any employee engagement program around the world. It has been falling globally but improving in, for example, Latin America and Europe, determining an upgrade. Recognizing and rewarding people’s actions means reinforcing those actions that you want to see repeated.
Aiming at improving recognition drives higher levels of engagement, which leads to improved performances and better outcomes. Every company needs to develop an employee recognition program that is equally powerful for both the organization and the employee himself.
The HR team is typically the front and the center in the policy development, the design of employee recognition programs, and their implementation through vendor selection, program management, training, communications and results tracking. In order to improve recognition, HR has the important job to involve all employees and all groups, making everybody eligible and never feel excluded. HR should supply specific feedbacks and awards in a short time-period after the performance: in a company there is always room for recognition, and it should not be postponed. Recognition is a win-win case where both an enterprise and an employee win. It should be frequent, specific, personal and also, why not, fun. Recognition is a key-engagement driver, but still few firms measure it.
Employee engagement Best practices
There are already many companies and startups giving the right value to employee engagement and recognition metric systems.
US organizations, for example, spend over $100 billion annually on incentive programs. For example, in 2013 Horizon Blue Shield Blue Cross of New Jersey implemented their Step It Up employee recognition program across their business locations, hoping to increase employee engagement. This initiative was, in fact, a company-wide recognition program that allowed peers and managers to commend workers for their achievements and leadership. By the end of that year, 90% of employees had joined the platform, and all of this activity contributed to an increase in engagement scores and survey results related to recognition. Working Mother magazine also gave them a prize for their commitment.
DHL Express, the delivery and international shipping service, takes employee engagement very seriously. It has an incredible culture of thanking employees, whether that’s through monetary rewards, honoring top performers at its annual Hollywood-style black-tie event or pinning notes of appreciation on the company corkboard. CEO Ken Allen said “DHL’s performance can be measured in many ways, but it is the part that is perhaps most difficult to measure that contributes the most to our success: employee engagement”. This is why they established Staff Appreciation Weeks, spectacular Employee of the Year events and a company-wide development scheme.
Southwest Airlines has a worldwide reputation for its outstanding employment engagement and branding. Even those who don’t work for the organization have the perception that it’s an innovative and cool place to work. A strong employment brand is clear about their culture and it ensures that the right people are attracted to the organization and the wrong people apply elsewhere. When Southwest Airlines executives realized it was time to renovate their uniforms, instead of hiring somebody from outside, they put out an open call to employees from all departments. All those that were interested in contributing to the design of the airline’s new uniforms were welcome to apply.
Recognition and engagement in the startups
Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove HQ, stated :”highly engaged employees improved operating income by 19.2% over a period of 12 months, while those companies with low engagement scores saw operating income decrease by 32.7%”.
The startup environment is sometimes small and low-budget, so keeping the engagement alive is a real test. The challenge for startups is to keep the initial excitement alive, despite the amount of money that they may have to invest in this. How can they do it? Engagement should spread out like a disease, but it should not be turned into generalist ‘team building’ or ‘on the job learning’ sessions that may teach your team something. Bonusly , for example, is a peer-to-peer recognition and rewards platform where employees are empowered to give each other bonuses. This is a win-win situation: morale improves and culture changes for the better when employees are able to recognize one another.
Other alternative ways of recognizing the employee’s achievements can be Kudos, trophies, certificates, day trips, thank you notes and many many more. Kudos, a social way to give a prize within a company, are especially good to reward somebody, promote success, and help tracking the management metrics. Also Towers Watson confirmed that when managers strongly recognize employee performance, engagement increases by almost 60%.
The point of an employee engagement activity should be to elevate the company culture and change the feelings toward actual day to day work activities. The perfect way to create engagement is to share interests. Responster, the startup that manages feedbacks, every Friday afternoon takes the last half hour and unwind with an office gaming session.
To conclude, employee engagement has a very important value in every company, from a small startup to the biggest company in the world. The company success and revenue rely on how much an employee feels motivated and rewarded, and this cannot be underestimated by anybody. Engagement has an enormous impact on the product and the image the enterprise has worldwide. HR has an important task in this: trying to switch the downward tendency of employee engagement and turn it into an improvement, learning from all startups’ and companies’ recognition best practices around the world.