How Can You Overcome the Global Decline in Employee Engagement?

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New research has shown a decline in employee engagement for the first time since 2010. Global uncertainty is felt to be at the heart of this decline - with 2016 being the year of Brexit and Trump. Employee engagement peaked in 2015 at 65% but saw a two point drop in 2016.

Study Methodology

This study looked at 1,000 organisations around the world, with data from five million employees. Companies included those with fewer than 100 employees, right up to complex organisations with hundreds of thousands of employees, covering more than 60 industries. So this truly was an accurate snapshot of the state of employee engagement on a global scale.

For the purposes of the report, employee engagement was defined as “the level of an employee’s psychological investment in their organisation”. The study measured engagement with a Say, Stay, Strive model.

Employees were asked if they Say positive things about the company and consider themselves advocates. They were asked whether they intended to Stay at their organisation for a long time. And finally, if they are motivated to Strive to give their best efforts to help the organisation succeed.

Employee Engagement Key Findings

Overall engagement dipped by 2% year-on-year, but Latin America and Africa actually saw increases of 3% and 2% respectively. North America went down by 1%, Europe by 2% and Asia Pacific by 3%. Specific factors were attributed to each of these changes. In Europe, for example, Brexit brought potential economic, social and political implications for many countries and, interestingly, France (-7 points), Italy (-6 points) and Spain (-5 points) saw sharp falls in engagement.

Employee engagement graph - since 2011

Along with rapid advances in technology that are increasingly threatening job security, fewer employees are engaged and we expect this trend to continue. As engagement falls, businesses can expect greater turnover, higher absenteeism and lower customer satisfaction—all factors that will significantly contribute to poor financial performance,” said Ken Oehler, Global Culture & Engagement Practice Leader at Aon Hewitt.

Surprise election results, politically divided countries, technological disruptions all have their share of blame for this dip in engagement. The three elements of engagement (Say, Stay, Strive) all dropped 1% globally. Simply put, people are uncertain; that uncertainty means that they are not as fully engaged at work.

Reward and Recognition Opportunities?

The report also detailed opportunities for driving engagement:

  • Asia Pacific - Rewards and Recognition
  • Latin America - Rewards and Recognition
  • North America - Rewards and Recognition
  • Europe - Employee Value Proposition, Rewards and Recognition
  • Africa - Talent & Staffing, Employee Value Proposition

Rewards and Recognition is the key global opportunity to increase employee engagement (this is up from ranking third overall last year).

It is understood that pay increases and bonuses across the board are not an economically viable way to increase employee engagement - there are too many inhibiting external factors.

Rewards and recognition are the next best thing and actually often more effective. Employees are looking for stability and transparency - that much is clear from the rising populist movement in many countries, of which a demand for transparency ‘at the top’ is a common theme.

Managing Engagement During Periods of Uncertainty

In addition to contributing factors we have previously mentioned (political, economical)... it is estimated that some 15 million jobs in the UK are at risk of automation as a result of advances in AI, machine learning, and robotics, according to The Guardian.

All this adds to growing uncertainty and concern amongst employees.

These engagement initiatives will enable you to create a clear action plan which reassures employees what is expected of them and a clear timeline of changes to be implemented. This negates any nasty surprises.

Next up, you’ll need to reinforce this plan and reward consistent adherence to it. Keeping employees engaged throughout this process will be a challenge.

57% of executives say they are planning a Merger/Acquisition transaction in the next 12 months. That compares to 25% just four years earlier.

Case Study

Challenge and solution

When Attachmate Group (now Micro Focus) bought out Movell Inc, Ovation was asked to implement a motivation scheme for their 3,500 employees across 32 countries. This is the perfect example of uncertain times faced by employees. The organisation required a single rewards platform for all territories - rewarding company beliefs and exceeded core values. Rewards were distributed by managers and also peer-to-peer and included Long Service Awards. When employees reached a milestone they could choose their own reward in their local currency.


The instant nature of the rewards system helped to integrate two company cultures, increasing employee engagement and loyalty, attracting new employees, employee retention, staff morale and company integration (four brands into one!). Within an hour of the program launch, 353 employees had logged into the portal and within 24 hours, a further 1,018 employees.

Employee engagement Conclusion

Don’t delay in implementing strategic efforts to keep employee engagement levels steady during these somewhat troubled times. Accurate measurement, instant rewards and good communication are key to the scheme being a success.