In Aon Hewitt’s 2013 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report, a grim portrait of the post-recession business world emerges. Right in the introduction, better employee engagement is cited as the solution to our current ills.

“Pay freezes, benefit cuts and layoffs are still at the forefront of many employees’ thinking. Additionally, the continued high rates of unemployment, lack of hiring, and extended hiring cycles for open positions create further stress and uncertainty for employees, making it more difficult to achieve or maintain healthy levels of engagement.

Striving to maintain a higher level of employee engagement not only contributes toward short-term survival during economic volatility, but also is a key factor for longer-term business performance and better positioning when market conditions become favorable. The companies that get engagement right can enjoy a surplus of competitive advantage in talent strategy and business results that is hard for others to replicate.”

Improvements in Overall Work Experience

The annual study of more than 2,500 organizations representing 3.8 million employees found that employee engagement levels rose to 60 percent in 2012, up from 58 percent in 2011 and 56 percent in 2010.

The way employees perceive their overall work experience also improved in 2012. Areas with the highest increases in employee perception scores were:

  • Effective communication (+7 percentage points)
  • Business unit/division leadership (+6 percentage points)
  • Managing performance (+5 percentage points)
  • Innovation (+5 percentage points)
  • Recognition (+5 percentage points)

Engagement scores dropped in the areas of:

  • Sense of accomplishment (-3 percentage points)
  • Customers (-3 percentage points)
  • Organization reputation (-2 percentage points)

Engagement Varies By Region

The largest engagement increases were in Europe (improving 5 percentage points) and Latin America (improving 3 percentage points). In North America, engagement dropped slightly to 63 percent, the lowest score since 2008. Asia Pacific’s engagement scores remained consistent with those from 2011.

Engagement Levels By Region Region 2011 2012 Globally 58% 60% North America 64% 63% Asia Pacific 58% 58% Europe 52% 57% Latin America 71% 74%

Engagement Varies By Level and Generation

Aon Hewitt’s analysis showed differences in engagement levels by job level and generation. Not surprisingly, executives and senior managers were the most engaged (66 percent), followed by middle managers, team leaders and supervisors. Professional employees, such as engineers, lawyers and nurses, had the lowest level of engagement globally, with only around 55 percent being engaged.

Substantial differences in engagement by generation were also identified. Baby Boomers had the highest level of engagement, with 65 percent engaged, followed by Generation X (58 percent) and Millennials (55 percent).

How to Boost Your Team’s Engagement

It is well known that engagement drives performance and productivity, and as a leader, you are likely to experience the highest ROI if you take ownership of engagement and focus on improving the following drivers:

  • Career Opportunities: For the fifth consecutive year, career opportunities remained the top driver to positively impact overall engagement levels for all regions but Latin America. Yet, less than half of employees (47 percent) think they have good advancement opportunities at their organization.
  • Reputation: According to Aon Hewitt, just 52 percent of employees know what their organization wants to be known for, yet this is the second most important engagement driver globally. Without a clear and concise organizational response to this question, it is difficult to attract, retain and engage the talent needed for organizational success.
  • Pay: Globally, pay as an engagement driver has been on the rise in importance over the last two years.
  • Recognition: According to Aon Hewitt’s analysis, employees want recognition for their performance and recognition for how difficult things have been. However, only 48 percent of employees think their employer currently recognizes this type of extra effort.
  • Communication: Aon Hewitt’s analysis shows only half of employees around the world think their company is effective at communicating with employees. Engaging communication that tells employees about the organization, where they fit in and the path forward goes a long way in making employees feel like they are adding value and contributing to the bottom line.
  • Enabling Performance: A little over half (55 percent) of employees say they have the tools and resources needed to perform effectively in their organization. Simply removing barriers to performance, such as clarifying goals, reducing process complexity and ensuring that technology supports productivity, will help decrease anxiety, stress and frustration and fully unlock an individual’s potential and performance.

Have you seen an upturn – or downturn – in your team’s engagement over the last year? What do you think is the cause?