There is a tendency in the workplace to refer to areas relating to employee engagement like ‘communication’, ‘trust’, ‘collaboration’, ‘culture’, etc. as the soft issues. The problem here that the term ‘soft’ creates the idea that it’s not important - especially when allocating budget, not likely to be included in the discussion around the boardroom table, not used as growth indicator for the organisation and are often left for the HR professionals to deal with as a side-line activity.

Tough market conditions are forcing South-African companies into survival mode which often puts the issue of employee engagement even further on the back burner. However, the effects of neglecting employee engagement can be detrimental to productivity and the bottom line. A study done by PDTSA, “The state of employee engagement in South Africa”, measured the engagement levels of executives, middle managers and General staff.

Some of the main findings were:

Only 58% of general staff indicated that they are motivated to come to work in the mornings. Results were slightly more positive for middle managers (61%) and for executives (89%).

Only 58% of all respondents felt inspired to make a difference, while 4 out of 10 participants noted that they are disinterested and do not have clear objectives – leaving them unsure of what to focus on.

45% of general workers do not have the necessary tools to do their jobs effectively.

When asked whether participants have the opportunity to contribute to decisions that impact on their work, 13% of executives, 65% of middle managers and 70% of general staff indicated that they would like to be included more in decision.

When asked whether participants are encouraged to share their ideas on a daily basis, only 50% of general staff responded positively. The responses from executives were overwhelmingly positive (99%).

Only 35% of all respondents indicated that their direct supervisor(s) are leading by example and communicating goals clearly, and 40% of all respondents indicated that they need more meaningful communication.

Only 32% of general staff, 34% of middle management and 60% of Executives noted that they can recite their organisation’s vision statement and values.

84% of all staff believes that their performance and motivation will increase if the company’s way of engaging with them improved.

If these facts were true for your organsiation, what would the effect on your productivity and bottom line be? According to British multi-national Aon, there exists consistent, statistically significant relationships between higher levels of employee engagement and financial performance (Wired for Engagement, AON). Research by Gallup supports this finding and indicate that a mere 5% increase in employee engagement can lead to a 3% increase in revenue growth in the subsequent year. The Workplace Research Foundation further states that “Increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year”.

Apart from the obvious reasons to improve employee engagement, like increased productivity and the bottom line, here are some additional benefits:

Improved ability to retain critical and valuable talent: Replacing employees who leave can cost up to 150% of the departing employee’s salary. Highly engaged organisations have the potential to reduce staff turnover by 87%. (Corporate Leadership Council, CEB)

Happier employees: Happy employees are on average 22% more productive than their unhappy peers. (Corporate Leadership Council, CEB)

Improved innovation and agility: Engaged employees are more likely to invest in their companies’ growth, leading them to be more agile and more likely to think of innovative solutions to business problems. (Corporate Leadership Council – CEB)

Attracting valuable talent: Engagement is one of the foundation blocks of creating a healthy organisational culture and effective collaborating teams. According to Undercover Recruiter, these do not only impact the organisation’s image, but are also some of the main drivers behind a candidate’s decision to join a new organisation.

Reflecting on why we need to improve our employee engagement is much easier than actually doing it. To assist, Gallup suggests a few simple, yet affective, ways to improve engagement levels in your organisation:

Leadership behaviour:  A common reason why employee engagement programmes fail is because HR professionals are usually expected to take ownership. In reality, employees look at the behaviour of their direct managers. If that doesn’t correspond with the values that the organisation proclaims to have, any engagement activity will be fruitless.

Use legitimate, focused engagement surveys and programsOne of the biggest mistakes made by organisations is that they mistake a ‘survey’ for a ‘programme’. By merely getting a sense of how engaged your employees are is not enough and can actually cause more damage to your engagement levels if not backed by a validated instrument and followed up by concrete next steps.

Integrate employee engagement into your  Human Capital StrategyBe ready to include the measured engagement levels as an indicator of the organisation’s success rate. Also, creating a clear communication strategy and ways to hold leadership accountable is crucial for an engagement drive to be effective.

Manage engagement as a concrete construct, not an abstract feeling: There are simple, concrete ways to increase engagement levels that doesn’t require spending too much money. Some of these are:

Fair performance management practices.

Setting clear expectations.

Implementing a sound on-boarding process.

Showcasing the organisation’s vision and values.

Allowing for ‘on-the-job’ learning and development.

Utilize employees for their strengths.

Including employees in decision making – especially if the decision impacts on their jobs.

Catering for Z’s: The world of work has changed dramatically. Tap in to the preferences of younger generation employees (whether it is around flexibility, technology or operating in remote teams) and you will be surprised about the value they can bring to your organisation.

If there were ever a time to focus on your employee engagement, it is now!

Feel free to ask us more about how to improve your employee engagement levels. visit our website or send us an email at

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