National staff engagement rates

How far does employee engagement vary from country to country, continent to continent – and why? James Dean finds out

“Patchy” is probably the best word to describe the world’s economic recovery. We are in growth territory, for sure, but nations are growing at very different rates. In Europe, sovereign debt crises continue to hold back Greece, Spain and Portugal. In the United States, a shale gas boom has all but solved medium-term energy problems. In China, roaring 10 per cent annual growth is a thing of the past.

Major shocks have global repercussions. The US Federal Reserve’s winding down of its economic stimulus package has sent tremors across world markets. Each country is wired in to the global economy and its patchwork of national highs and lows. This has obvious ramifications for companies that operate in multiple markets, especially in terms of the dynamics of their labour force and how much their employees are engaged with their work.

Taking the world as one, research by Kenexa, a workplace consultant, suggests there are four things that drive high levels of employee engagement: leaders who inspire confidence in the future; managers who recognise employees and mobilise their teams for peak performance; exciting work and the opportunity to improve skills; and organisations that demonstrate a genuine responsibility to their employees and the communities in which they operate.

The effectiveness of a manager was most important for British and Canadian workers, while in China it was fair pay

Kenexa applied these four global drivers at a country level to see if they matched local perceptions. Of the 12 largest national economies, for five the match was 90 per cent, for another five it was 80 per cent and for two it was 70 per cent. On average, the country-to-global match of employee engagement drivers was 82.5 per cent. Thus, they serve as “an excellent predictor of the employee engagement drivers for any given country”, the report concludes.

This is not to say there were no regional variations. The effectiveness of a manager was most important for British and Canadian workers, while in China it was fair pay. German, French and Japanese employees were most concerned about management support for diversity in the workforce. In Russia, making high-quality products was the biggest concern.

With these factors in mind, many multinationals poll their employees to test engagement levels. Coca-Cola, arguably the best-known brand in the world, regularly analyses the engagement of its 700,000 employees in its Employee Insights Survey (and perhaps as a result of its research, the company prefers to call its staff “associates”). Nestlé, another company with global reach, asks its 190,000 staff to complete its Nestlé and I survey.

According to research by Hay Group, the management consultancy, the American worker is, perhaps conforming to stereotypes, more engaged with their job than their British counterpart. Some 73 per cent of Americans are engaged with their job, compared with 65 per cent of Brits, against a global average of 66 per cent, the research found. At 61 per cent, French workers – and again this does not upset the stereotype – are even less engaged than their British counterparts.

Interestingly, and despite its severe economic troubles, 72 per cent of Spanish workers felt engaged. Also above the global average were Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Russia. On a regional basis, 64 per cent of employees in Asia-Pacific felt engaged, 71 per cent in Latin America and 68 per cent in the Middle East and Africa.

“There are, of course, cultural reasons behind the differences in engagement levels,” says Sam Dawson, head of employee engagement at Hay Group UK. “In America there are some of the biggest and longest-established organisations in the world. Employee engagement tends to be higher in older organisations than in young, fast-growing organisations.”

One finding of the Hay Group research was particularly interesting. It suggests that companies’ employee turnover rate would jump, particularly from 2014 onwards, but turnover would spike at different times in different regions.

Emerging economies in Asia and Latin America would spike by 2014, while mature markets would peak between 2014 and 2018, the research predicted. Such a mismatch will have ramifications for companies looking to hold back an outflow of talent. “Failure to create the right working environments will encourage disgruntled employees to take off in search of better conditions,” the Hay Group says.

Mr Dawson warns: “High-growth regions had good engagement levels, but over the last 12 months we’ve seen them drop. People clung on to their jobs when there were fewer opportunities, but now they’re looking around for other jobs because there are more out there. There’s a real talent crisis on the horizon.”