Why Is There An Employee Engagement Deficit In The UK?

Written by Nicola Wylie

If you’re feeling disengaged and unfulfilled at work, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re part of a very large group of Brits who are feeling disconnected from their workforce. According to Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace” report, only 9% of UK employees who responded to the survey feel engaged (this falls far below the European average of 14%).

These sobering stats highlight the huge employee engagement deficit in the UK. Did you know that the UK workforce is one of the least engaged in the world? With only eight territories reporting lower engagement levels, we are facing one of the biggest threats to employee well-being we’ve ever seen.

So why is there such a considerable employee engagement deficit in the UK? 

This guide explores employee engagement in the UK, why we score so low, and how companies can improve these numbers by fostering a positive workplace culture.

First up: Where did it all start to go wrong?


A Brief History Of Disengagement In The UK Workforce

For experts like Dan Cable, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, the issue can be traced all the way back to the early 1800s. According to Cable, the British Industrial Revolution marked the beginning of the disengaged workforce. While the implementation of new workplace practices, bureaucracy, and technologies, may have boosted productivity and efficiency, they also bred discontentment. Employees all of a sudden had little room for self-expression, little connection with the business, and increased red tape to deal with.

You may be thinking that almost every country in the world experienced a similar type of industrial revolution. So, what makes the UK so different? 

According to Cable, the UK has stuck to these management practices and regulations more rigidly than most countries. However, in a bid to ensure consistent results and efficiency, employees have lost the ability to experiment and grow beyond the specifics of their roles.

Interestingly, Cable doesn’t necessarily believe that UK employers believe these are the best working conditions. However, the practices, policies, and standardised performance metrics harking back to this era seem to be deeply entrenched in British workplaces.

Amrit Sandhar, founder and CEO of The Engagement Coach, echoes Cable’s sentiments. Sandhar cites an “ingrained hierarchy” as one of the main reasons why there’s such a disconnect between management and employees in the UK.  

“Until employees feel that they belong, have the same opportunities and believe everyone’s working to further a common cause, we’re unlikely to see any groundbreaking improvements in employee engagement,” he predicts. “What’s heartbreaking to me is that all of this is achievable.” – Amrit Sandhar, founder and CEO of The Engagement Coach

It seems that while the UK was a leading pioneer during the Industrial Revolution, it has failed to modernise its mentality to align with current-day workplaces.

Next up: Why do we still feel so disengaged at work?


Why Is There An Employee Engagement Deficit In The UK?

We’ll preface this section by letting you know that it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite still reporting low engagement rates, the UK has slightly improved its 2022 score. In response to the statistics, British employers have invested heavily in enhancing the employee experience, recognising that this issue must be addressed. That said, the overall engagement score only improved by a single percentage point. So, there’s a lot more work to be done.

In order to get to the bottom of where this deficit comes from, we’re going to use Gallup’s research on the 12 psychological needs employees require at work.

Adequate resources, support, and expectations

One of the basic needs that Gallup highlights is employees have the necessary resources to do their jobs properly. In other words, adequate training, tools, support, and space to carry out their roles to their full potential. Linked to this is having clear expectations of what employers expect of staff, and goals to achieve this. When employees have set expectations and are equipped to meet those objectives, they tend to be more successful and engaged at work.

Finding a sense of fulfilment 

Gallup also highlights the correlation between employee fulfulment and engagement levels. Unsurprisingly, when employers give staff sufficient opportunities to do what they’re good at, engagement rates soar. In the process, employees feel more valued and have a greater sense of how their role impacts the organisation’s wider goals.

Addressing external factors

It’s clear from the report that the reasons behind the employee engagement deficit in the UK aren’t all internal factors. Naturally, external concerns like the cost-of-living crisis, climate change, and strain on public services are causing more employees to feel stressed and concerned.

While this may not be directly related to the workplace, these feelings carry over and affect employee well-being.


How Can Companies Plug The Employee Engagement Deficit In The UK?

Disengagement negatively impacts employee motivation and job satisfaction. In turn, this affects UK employers’ profitability, productivity, and staff retention rates. By contrast, boosting engagement rates can do wonders for businesses. 

Gallop CEO Jon Clifton stated that business units with engaged workers report 23% higher profit than those with staff who felt “miserable”. Therefore, investing in effective employee development plans can be a significant move for companies. 

This section explores some ways companies can beat the employee engagement deficit in the UK.

Assess leadership effectiveness

For big results, you need to start at the top. We all know the saying, “Employees leave managers, not companies”. Well, it rings true when it comes to employee engagement too. That means companies should invest in adequate leadership training to arm managers with the skills to effectively manage teams. This training should cover everything from setting clear expectations to dealing with emotional distress to aligning employee’s goals with wider business objectives.

The more organisations invest in great leaders, the more chance they have to boost overall engagement levels. However, many experts also call for a shift in how leadership approaches performance management. This would entail moving away from traditional annual performance reviews and instead conducting ongoing coaching sessions to help employees grow and thrive. Therefore, investing in coaching training for managers could be a valuable step in employee empowerment.

Build an inclusive work culture

One of the best ways to engage employees is to create an inclusive work environment where employees feel supported, valued, and motivated. The first step in achieving this is by promoting open communication and collaboration across the organisation. In addition, setting policies and best practices will demonstrate your commitment to building an inclusive and empowering work culture.

Another way to help employees feel comfortable and engaged is by communicating clear expectations of staff roles, responsibilities, and performance goals. Using a framework like SMART goals will help employees find a sense of purpose and direction, and understand how their work fits into broader business activities.

Of course, encouraging communication means establishing effective channels to facilitate open dialogues between staff and management. So, employers should invest in setting up and promoting these channels across the business.

Create development opportunities

Engaged workers are constantly developing new skills. Therefore, employers can showcase their commitment to their staff by providing regular learning opportunities to support their growth. Initiatives such as coaching, mentoring programmes, and ongoing training will help staff continue to evolve and stay motivated.

Promote work-life balance

According to the Gallup report, 41% of British workers experienced daily stress,making  work-life balance a major tool in increasing engagement levels. Organisations can support staff members in managing stress by providing flexible working options, well-being initiatives, and strong boundaries around employees’ personal time. All of these activities can help employees manage stress and prevent burnout.

Recognise and reward achievements

Implement recognition programs that acknowledge and appreciate employees’ contributions and achievements. This can be through verbal praise, awards, bonuses, or other incentives to motivate and reinforce positive behaviors.


Optimise Employee Engagement With Embracing Future Potential

Improved staff retention, increased productivity, and better business results are just some of the benefits companies with high employee engagement can enjoy. With so much riding on workplace satisfaction, employers are under more pressure than ever to implement policies to boost morale. And with the employee engagement deficit in the UK looming larger than ever, many companies are enlisting outside support to address this issue.

Do you want to maximise your company’s employee engagement initiatives? Embracing Future Potential can help. Browse our blog for up-to-date news on a range of employment topics and the latest workplace trends.

For more information on our range of employer services, get in touch.

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