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Only one of three employees highly engaged, says Towers Watson study

February 1, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By George Brown

The results from the 2012 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson suggests employees are finding it harder and harder to keep up the kind of positive connection to their companies that yields consistent productivity. This is the major conclusion reached by the study, whose results will be presented to breakout participants at this year’s People, Profit, Progress Conference on March 14.

No one should be surprised at this conclusion — after all, workers have been doing more with less, and for less, for over half a decade. But they should be very concerned at the risk it suggests employers are taking: It may be that they have pushed engagement so close to the cliff that one more nudge would be enough to send it over. And if they have, the question becomes what it would take to pull it back from the precipice.

The study provides a snapshot of the attitudes and concerns of 32,000 workers around the world. It sheds light on how employees’ views affect their engagement in their work and commitment to their employers—and ultimately their behavior and performance on the job. As such, it provides important insights into the elements of the work environment that help shape employee behavior and performance in positive ways to support growth goals. And it presents a new and more robust definition of engagement for the 21st century — sustainable engagement.

The concept recognizes that engagement is fragile, especially in an era that puts so much pressure on both employers and employees. It depends on more than their ability and willingness to help the company succeed.  The study identified three elements critical to sustaining engagement over time:

  • Traditional Engagement: Employees’ willingness to extend discretionary effort on their job.
  • Enablement: Having the tools, resources and support (typically through direct line supervisors) to do their job effectively.
  • Energy: Having a work environment that actively supports physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being

Based on employees’ responses, the study identified four levels of engagement:

  • Highly Engaged – 35%
  • Unsupported – 22%
  • Detached -17%
  • Disengaged – 26%

Note that nearly two-thirds of employees feel “unsupported,” “detached,” or completely “disengaged.” Those numbers should amount to a wake-up call for employers who continue to rely on practices and programs that belong to a disappearing era.

Below are just some of the key concerns that resonate worldwide, transcending location, age, job level and gender:

  • Technology continues to escalate the pace of change and alter the nature and structure of work itself, but the work environment and experience are not keeping pace.
  • Cost pressures are already intense, but they are increasing in many parts of the world. This puts more pressure on ever for already busy workers to do more with less.
  • Companies continue to shift costs and risk to employees, especially in developed countries with high labor cost structures, including the U.S.
  • Employees, even at entry levels, are showing more interest in job security. And they express doubts about their future in terms of retirement preparedness, career growth and advancement, and the rewards they will get for their efforts. 
  • Employees everywhere are working more hours, taking less time off and experiencing higher levels of stress.
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