Global Engagement – Has Anything Changed?

In recent years, employee engagement has become one of the most pressing issues in the world of work. This isn’t surprising, considering the negative impact that low engagement has at an individual, organisational, and economic level.

There has been plenty of talk – and at least some action – regarding ways to fix the engagement crisis. But has anything actually changed?

A recent study by the by ADP Research Institute aimed to find out. Surveying over 19,000 workers across 19 countries, including both part- and full-time employees, gig workers, and those with portfolio careers, and covering a range of key industries, the Global Study of Engagement is one of the most extensive studies of its kind. Here are the five key takeaways.

1. Global engagement remains worryingly low

ADP carried out a similar study back in 2015, which covered 13 of the countries surveyed in the most recent study. So, have engagement levels improved in the last three years?

The short answer is: no, they haven’t. Globally speaking, engagement levels are still pretty much the same as they were, with only 15.9% of employees ‘fully engaged’ in their work, compared with 16.2% in 2015. According to ADP, the remaining 84% of the global workforce are simply ‘coming to work’, i.e. not necessarily disengaged, but not giving everything they can.

Looking at the statistics country by country, we can see that some have improved engagement levels (Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, India, Italy, Spain, and the UK) while others have regressed (Brazil, China, Mexico, and the USA). For the most part, changes – both good and bad – were nominal (a percentage point or two), but in the cases of India and China, engagement levels saw a noticeable increase and decrease, respectively.

At this point, it’s worth delving a bit deeper into the methodology of the report. Unlike traditional engagement surveys that ask how happy or satisfied an employee is, ADP used the following eight statements as an engagement barometer:

  1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of the company.
  2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me.
  3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
  4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work.
  5. My teammates have my back.
  6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work.
  7. I have great confidence in my company’s future.
  8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

The level to which respondents agreed with these statements was used to decide who was ‘fully engaged’, and who was simply ‘coming to work.’

2. Teams – and their leaders – drive engagement

One of the survey’s most interesting findings was that employees who are part of a team are 2.3 times more likely to be engaged than those who are not. This was true in all 19 of the surveyed countries, and across all industries.

Why is this? Well, being part of a team naturally brings a sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning to the work we do. This is an interesting point to consider in a world where freelance and remote working is on the rise.

What’s more, the survey found that the most engaged teams all had one thing in common: a team leader that they trust. In fact, employees who trust their team leader are a whopping 12 times more likely to be engaged than those who don’t.

3. Remote working also drives engagement

Remote working has long been seen as one of the benefits of a truly mobile world, and the ADP survey reflects this. Generally speaking, the more days that an employee spends working remotely per week, the more likely they are to be engaged.

Interestingly, remote workers who are part of a team are most likely to be engaged. This reveals two key points: first, that you don’t have to share an office to be part of a team; and second, that effective communication and collaboration tools are of paramount importance.

4. Seniority is a predictor of engagement

The higher up the professional ladder you climb, the more likely you are to be engaged. Almost a quarter (24%) of those at an executive level – including C-suite, directors, and partners – are fully engaged, compared with 15% at management level, and only 10% in lower-level positions.

This reflects the fact that the ability to direct one’s own work – to make key decisions, act autonomously, and guide the direction of the organisation – is naturally engaging. Perhaps if organisations distributed power more evenly among the workforce, we’d see an increased level of engagement at all levels of the organisation.

5. Gig and portfolio work may improve engagement

Instead of surveying only regular full-time employees, the report covered a range of different employment options, including full-time, part-time, portfolio (i.e. more than one employer), and gig work (i.e. self-employed, per-project work).

The survey showed that 15% of regular full-time employees are fully engaged, compared with 21% of full-time freelancers. Furthermore, adding a second job to a full-time position seems to boost engagement – 21% of full-time employees who do freelance work on the side are fully engaged, with this number growing to 24% for full-time employees who have a regular part-time job as well.

It is perhaps unsurprising that both freelance and portfolio work outrank regular full-time employment, as these options give the worker more freedom, flexibility, autonomy, and choice.

The fact that the most engaging combination is one full-time job and one part-time job is more surprising, however. Perhaps this combination gives people the best of both worlds: stability and financial security from the full-time position, allowing them to pursue something more enjoyable and engaging in their part-time work.

Final thoughts

Although the ADP report was packed full of interesting new angles around what drives engagement, perhaps the most striking finding is that not much has actually changed – the vast majority of global workers are still not fully engaged, and the crisis rumbles on.

But the outlook isn’t entirely pessimistic. The fact that engagement is improved when people feel part of a team, and that this factor is increased markedly when they trust their team leader, shows the importance of a sense of belonging and community, not to mention strong leadership. In a rapidly changing world, employers must do everything they can to build and nurture outstanding teams, no matter where their staff are based.

What’s more, we can see that factors such as remote working, varied employment options, and the ability to make decisions also drive engagement. If employers can give more of these things to their employees, engagement will improve.

These findings suggest that perhaps engagement isn’t such a tough nut to crack after all. By getting the basics right, starting with strong teams and excellent leadership, and by embracing modern working trends rather than fighting them, we should see those engagement levels creeping up.


Nick Edwards - http://www.praguecopywriter.com

Nicholas Edwards is a freelance writer and editor based in Prague, the Czech Republic. When he's not helping local businesses master the English language, he loves writing about the future of work for People First. 

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