As doubts re-emerge about the strength of the global economic recovery, and questions persist about Canada’s productivity gap, a new Global Workforce Study by global professional services company Towers Watson shows that the majority (67%) of Canadian workers are not fully engaged in their work and are frustrated by insufficient support from their organizations. After almost a decade of pressure to do more with less, the study suggests that Canadian workers are finding themselves unable to sustain the kinds of positive associations with their employers that lead to greater productivity.
“The survey results are an important wake-up call,” said Ofelia Isabel, Towers Watson’s Canadian Leader for Talent and Rewards. “The business case is compelling. When we compare engagement scores of global organizations with their operating margins, companies with high sustainable engagement have margins almost three times larger than that of organizations with disengaged workers.” Among Canadian Global Workforce Study participants, those who believe that their companies are high-performers deliver sustainable engagement scores 16 percentage points higher than the overall country norm.
“When workers are not fully engaged, it leads to increased risk for employers. It makes companies more vulnerable to lower productivity and higher inefficiency, greater rates of absenteeism and turnover and increased costs for chronic illnesses,” said France Dufresne, leader of Towers Watson’s Talent and Rewards practice in Montreal. “Without more attention to the fundamentals of sustainable engagement — including improving on-the-job support for employees and increasing efforts to deepen employees’ sense of attachment to the organization — employers will have a harder time generating growth and returns.”
A Better Measure of Engagement
The Global Workforce Study breaks new ground in understanding and measuring what contributes to sustained employee engagement. The equation for sustainable engagement is the sum of three distinct elements. The first is traditional engagement, or employees’ willingness to give effort to their employer. The second is enablement, which means having the tools, resources, and support to get work done efficiently. The third is energy, defined as a work environment that actively supports physical, emotional and interpersonal well-being. “Enablement and energy are the really critical factors in this equation,” Isabel pointed out. “It’s only in the last few years, when we’ve seen more pressure in the system, that the importance of enablement and energy has risen to the forefront.”
“Companies have known for years that engagement is important to performance,” said Julie Naismith, a senior Talent and Rewards consultant at Towers Watson. “What’s now clear is the significance of effective workplace resources and interpersonal well-being, along with an understanding of the role that senior leadership plays in sustaining that well-being.” According to the study, virtually all (95%) of highly engaged Canadian employees believe that that they have the work tools and resources they need to achieve exceptional performance — compared to only 20% of disengaged employees. Similar disparities appear with regard to the ability to sustain energy throughout the work day (97% vs. 32%), and sense of personal accomplishment at work (99% vs. 33%). However, amongst all Canadian survey participants, only a third (38%) believe that their organization and senior leaders encourage and support a healthy workforce and just 39% think that senior leaders have a sincere interest in their well-being.
Restoring Value to the Employee Value Proposition
An organization’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) encompasses career development, culture, values and rewards and is a key component of sustainable engagement. While most organizations make an effort to communicate and support rewards programs, the survey findings reveal that there is still work to be done when it comes to the other elements. Only 34% of employees said their organization had a formal EVP and, where an EVP is in place, only one-third (34%) think their employer is doing a good job of living up to it.
As Yves Blain, a senior Towers Watson Communication and Change Management consultant said, “An employee value proposition is what is offered by an employer in exchange for the productivity and performance of an employee — it includes the entire employee ‘experience’ from their rewards and benefits, to the opportunity for career development and also the more intrinsic elements of management style, work environment and culture. When there is no formal EVP or the EVP does not align organizational strategy with employee aspirations, sustainable engagement is difficult to achieve.”
Closing the Gaps
Although the survey findings point out some risks for employers, they also suggest opportunities to address the full spectrum of engagement. The study identifies specific attributes of the work environment that are critical to traditional engagement, enablement and energy, highlighting actions employers can take to improve engagement and increase productivity, putting solutions directly within companies’ control. “There is a real imperative for change right now,” said Isabel. “The world has changed, but have our programs and practices changed with it? The risks of continuing to manage the traditional way are just too great from a performance perspective. And everyone in an organization has a role to play in helping to facilitate sustainable engagement — from leadership, to first-line supervisors, to Human Resources to employees themselves.”
About the Study
The Towers Watson Global Workforce Study covers more than 32,000 employees selected at random from research panels and employed full-time by large and midsize organizations across a range of industries in 29 markets around the world. It was fielded via an online-questionnaire between February and March 2012. The Canadian sample includes 1,000 employees and has a margin of error of ±3%. The study is designed to help companies better understand their employees and the factors that influence employee performance on the job by gauging changing attitudes that affect attraction, retention, engagement and productivity.