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Employee engagement
Employee engagement

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Activity 1.1 Experiencing engagement

Activity 1

Timing: Allow around 120 minutes


Purpose: to reflect on your own working experiences.

Before we unpick different aspects of employee engagement as it is understood and practised within SHRM we want to begin by identifying your own experiences at work which might be relevant to these ideas.

Task A

We would like you to think about the different jobs you have had in your career so far. Think about the following questions with reference to one of those jobs.

  • Which aspects of the job did you like and dislike and how did these change during your time of employment?
  • Which aspects of the job kept you engaged? Think of the different factors which were relevant to your level of engagement. Did you enjoy the work itself? Were you more motivated by the rewards you received for the work? Were you committed to the organisation?
  • Did your engagement with the work change over your period of employment? If so, what caused these changes?
  • If you are no longer in this job, what was it that influenced your decision to leave the organisation? You might think about the respective importance of ‘push’ (related to the job you are leaving) and ‘pull’ (related to the new job) factors in this decision.

In answering these questions, begin by contextualising the nature of the organisation and type of work. Explain what (if anything) kept you engaged with the work, whether and how this changed through the course of your employment and what influenced your decision to leave. Was there anything the organisation could have done differently to change your experience of the job?

It is important that for this and all other activities in this free course you make notes and prepare a short statement capturing these issues.

Task B

Now read the article ‘The time of your life’ which presents some recent research on the dynamics of employee engagement in the working population of the UK. It suggests that engagement is strongly influenced by such factors as the life stage and size of companies. While reading, make some notes and consider the question: to what extent does this reflect your experience?

The time of your life

Brown, A., Roddan, M., Jordan S. and Nilsson, L. (2007) ‘The time of your life’ People Management, vol. 13, no. 15, pp. 40–3.

Are your staff young and promiscuous, steady and driven or content and loyal? Finding out could reveal the best way to keep them motivated.

Older workers may be more expensive, but engagement and motivation increase with age and employees aged 55 and over tend to be happier with their work and more likely to stay with their employers.

Findings from the 2007 YouGov PeopleIndex employee engagement study reveal three distinct stages of the work-life cycle: “young and promiscuous”, “steady and driven” and “content and loyal”. These different phases have important implications for UK companies and suggest employers should consider approaching employee engagement in a segmented way, according to life phase.

Turnover, for instance, is likely to be high among younger staff, which makes it all the more important to engage them right from the start and offer great career development so they are committed and motivated to perform for however long they stay.

The survey of 40,000 employees from a broad range of industries across the UK, conducted earlier this year, shows that, in general, only 52 per cent of employees are engaged in their organisation, less than three-fifths (57 per cent) would speak highly about their company as an employer, and only two-thirds (67 per cent) are motivated to perform well in their job.

Loyalty is also a key challenge for today’s companies. Gone are the days when young people joined a firm and stayed for the long term. Employees with 10, 20 or even 30 years of service in the same company tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Less than two-thirds (64 per cent) say they feel loyal towards their company. Only three-fifths (61 per cent) would want to be with their firm in a year’s time, and this falls to less than half (48 per cent) in three years and less than a third (31 per cent) in 10 years’ time.

Moreover, when comparing strongly engaged employees with strongly disengaged employees in the UK, the strongly engaged are almost 25 times more likely to have strong loyalty towards their organisation, more than five times more likely to feel motivated to perform, almost four times more likely to speak highly of a company’s products, services or brands, and almost three times as likely to believe the company is customer-focused.

However, these statistics vary markedly between the three stages of the engagement life cycle. The young and promiscuous (aged 18-24) demonstrate the lowest levels of engagement (48 per cent), motivation (65 per cent), job satisfaction (59 per cent) and commitment (60 per cent). This is not surprising when you consider that this group has grown up in a period where it is not unusual to move between jogs in quick succession, and, indeed, it can be the quickest way to get ahead.

This group can be daunted by the prospect of commitment to an organisation, even in the short-to mid-term, and three years – a relatively short period of time within a person’s entire career – is seen as considerably longer in their eyes. Only half (52 per cent) say they want to be with their organisation in a years time, and a third (33 per cent) in three years’ time.

Figure 1.2 Extent to which respondents would speak highly about their organisation to people externally

UK organisations need to ask themselves: is high turnover among this age group inevitable, or can something be done?

Note, however, that the young and promiscuous have the highest satisfaction rating in terms of training opportunities (52 per cent) and are the most satisfied group in terms of career development (45 per cent), although these career opportunities could be perceived as external by making a move elsewhere, rather than internal within the current organisation.

It therefore becomes important for organisations to marry training with the perception of internal opportunities. To maximise long-term loyalty and engagement, young employees should be given the opportunity to apply their new skills and take on more responsibility. Internal promotion opportunities need to be communicated effectively and recognised and rewarded accordingly.

At the next stage – the steady and driven period, which covers the 30 years between the ages of 25 and 54 – the study suggests people tend to have found their main career interest and are striving to get ahead. Engagement tends to remain steady during this period, scoring around 51 per cent. Similar patterns are seen in satisfaction, motivation, commitment and loyalty.

Just over three-fifths of the steady and driven report that they feel loyal towards their organisation, but there are differences between the younger and older members of this group when it comes to actual loyal behaviour. For the younger members, moving jobs after a reasonably sort period is de rigueur, whereas staying with a company for over three years becomes more acceptable with age.

As employees hit the content and loyal period (55 plus), they are at their happiest in terms of working life. People have progressed to a level they are content with, or are resigned to the fact they may not go further, and so are less focused on getting ahead. The highest levels of engagement can be seen during this stage, at 59 per cent (compared with a UK average of 52 per cent), and this group tends to be the most satisfied in terms of reward and recognition. Not surprisingly, they are the most loyal, with 58 per cent of this age group saying they want to be with their organisation in three years’ time.

There are also big differences in engagement between large and small companies. It is easier to feel part of the team and that you are making a real difference if you are an employee in a small company of less than 100 people. You are closer to senior management and hence the strategic vision of the organisation.

High levels of pride in the organisation (70 per cent against a UK average of 64 per cent) are seen among employees in small firms, who are much more likely to recommend their organisation as a good employer (68 per cent compared with a 57 per cent average) and the products and services they offer (80 per cent against 67 per cent). These ratings all drop off as company size increases.

In fact, a comparison with larger companies, small firms are rated highly by their employees for communication, line management, reward, recognition, senior leadership and training.

Figure 1.3 ‘I want to be working for my current organisation in three years’ time’

Three-quarters (75 per cent) of staff in small firms say they feel loyal to their organisation, and almost two-thirds (65 per cent) say the organisation deserves their loyalty. Compare this with companies with 1,000 and more employees, where loyalty falls to only 59 per cent and less than half (44 per cent) say their loyalty is deserved.

The result is that employees in small companies are more engaged. This presents a big challenge to both large organisations and those that are taking the next steps in growing from small – to medium-sized and beyond.

For large companies, the task of engaging employees in the organisation is inherently more difficult. It therefore becomes more important to identify and monitor the factors that specifically drive engagement for their employees. It is too easy to feel like a ‘small cog in a big wheel’, but we find that the large organisations that manage to make their staff feel like they are part of the fold and that they are making a real difference reap the rewards in terms of individual and team productivity.

Expanding companies should take stock of how they can continue to drive engagement by maintaining the factors that have helped them to be so successful as a small company. Maintaining a small, family atmosphere for as long as possible and continuous, effective communication is vital to making employees feel they are valued and recognised. This can be encouraged through smaller teamworking models and strong two-way communication mechanisms. It is also important to ensure that good quality processes are in place for the next stage of the company’s life.

What drives engagement?

Employee engagement is an individual’s connectivity to an organisation. It is made up of both their emotional and rational attachment to the company, its work and its performance. Employee satisfaction is, as the HR community recognises, no longer enough, it is engagement that is critical to aligning people with our strategy.

Research has shown there is a strong link between employee engagement, and harder organisational metrics such as customer service, productivity and financial performance. The best organisations understand these links and are focused on identifying the factors that will drive stronger engagement levels among their employees.

The 2007 YouGov PeopleIndex employee engagement study suggests that there are a number of core factors driving employee engagement. These hold true across organisations in different sectors, large and smaller companies and at various stages of the employee life cycle.

1 Recognition: do managers and the company as a whole make people feel valued by telling them when they have done a great job and celebrating their successes?

2 Reward: are people fairly rewarded for their efforts and do they see the effort-reward balance as a two-way street?

3 Change management: how well do companies communicate about change (and the rationale for it) and how well do they engage employees throughout the company in the change process?

4 Performance management: how well do organisations deal with poor performance and how good are they at rewarding great performance differentially?

5 Leadership: how well do senior executives in the organisation outline the vision and strategy for the company, communicate and engage their people with it and lead by example in terms of the behaviour and values needed to deliver the vision?

‘The best firms are focused on identifying the factors that drive engagement’

The study suggests that it is many of the softer, people-based skills that are lacking in UK organisations: the factors about are all ones that the data shows have a high impact on employee engagement levels but that, at present, are given low ratings by the typical employee. The challenges of effective leadership, effective management and getting the balance of reward and recognition right remain the key issues for companies wishing to raise their engagement levels.

Andy Brown is managing director, Matt Roddan associate director, Sarah Jordan senior analyst and Louise Nilsson analyst in the organisational consulting group at YouGov, an online research and consultancy agency.

Task C

Finally, watch this short video. We shall see in later sections of this free course that employee engagement is big business for management consultants. In this video we see one such consultant, Will Marre, outline his reasons for its contemporary importance. He summarises what he considers the different levels of employee engagement and proposes what he believes to be the most important factor in contemporary work affecting these levels. While watching, consider the following and make some notes:

  • To what extent does this reflect your experience?
  • What is his central argument?
  • Do you share his view?
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If you are reading this course as an ebook, you can access this video here: The future of work and employee engagement - Will Marre [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]


Most people find that their level of engagement with their work is far from consistent. There are many factors that can affect this. It is not simply moving to a different job that creates change. Changes to personal circumstances can also affect our attitudes. Management and organisational practices are extremely influential too and often dictate how work is carried out and experienced. External factors are very important and shape the context for work. What is nominally the same job will actually change from year to year.

All of these factors will influence how we engage with our work. Intrinsic and extrinsic influences are also important. For example, we might engage with a job which is intrinsically unstimulating because of the rewards that it provides. Some work is valued because of the wider social contribution that it makes. This, according to Will Marre, is an increasingly important explanation for engagement.