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Employee engagement in the UK: meeting the challenge in the public sector

Kate Pritchard

Kate Pritchard is Head of Employee Research, ORC International, London, UK.

ith change and restructuring inevitable in many organizations, one of the biggest challenges currently facing companies is employee engagement. As well as the ongoing focus on recruiting new talent, a further challenge lies in ensuring existing staff are focused, engaged and thus retained. Smart organizations understand that an engaged workforce results in better business performance, so many are placing greater emphasis on measuring employee engagement and implementing strategies to keep staff happy.

According to the ndings of a recent ORC International (2008) report Putting It in Perspective, overall UK worker satisfaction is fairly stable at 68 percent. However, analysis of these results shows that in many areas, public sector workers trail behind their private sector counterparts. There are also distinct variations between different employment sectors. The ndings are based on data from a benchmarking database, which contain information from over 300 employee surveys and represent the views and opinions of over 1.5 million employees in the UK.

Key emerging factors

Organizational pride is a key aspect of employee engagement. It has remained steady in the UK over the last ve years and currently measures 67 percent. However, results show that of all UK workers, employees in Local Government and Central Government are the least proud of where they work, falling short of the UK norm by 7 and 8 percentage points respectively. Conversely, the private and not-for-prot sectors excel, with employees rating high satisfaction and organizational pride scores of 70 percent and 77 percent respectively. It appears that working for big brands and worthy causes engenders more pride than the delivery of public services. Similarly, employee loyalty another important aspect of engagement is shown to be questionable in the public sector. In the Housing Sector and Central Government, fewer workers than in any other sector intend to be with their organization in twelve months. Those in the Housing Sector demonstrate the least loyalty of any industry at 54 percent, 13 percentage points lower than the average score. The poor performance of the public sector can be attributed to a variety of factors: relative to the private sector there are poor perceptions of training, management and employee benets. It could also be linked to the large amount of change the sector is currently facing; change management has often been agged as a key aspect impacting employee engagement. The report shows that managers may not prioritize employee management during hectic times of change employees involved in change in the UK in 2007 were less likely than others to feel that their achievements at work were recognized or acknowledged by managers. A further worry is that it seems UK organizations are not getting better at

DOI 10.1108/14777280810910302

VOL. 22 NO. 6 2008, pp. 15-17, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1477-7282



Giving consideration to creating a strong and attractive employer brand can engage potential employees, and turn them into members of your workforce.

managing change the percentage of employees who feel that their organization manages change effectively has fallen by 4 percent since 2000.

Analyzing for action

So what can organizations learn from the recent research and how can they ensure that employee engagement is improved and maintained? Measuring employee engagement is complex and it is not always easy to gain an accurate measurement without employee surveys. Employee engagement can be usefully dened in terms of say, stay, strive:

Say. This is a measure of how likely an employee is to be an advocate of the organization. Would they recommend working there to a friend? Would they sing your praises as an employer? Stay. Commitment is key, so it is vital to measure your employees loyalty to the business. Do they plan to remain in the company? How long do they envisage working there for? Strive. Are your employees more than just satised with doing their work well? This area measures whether employees would be prepared to go over and above the call of duty to ensure organizational success.

Using these principles of say, stay and strive as a basis for assessing the level of employee engagement, can be useful for organizations. Organizations should also bear in mind the Employee Lifecycle shown in Figure 1. It is important to understand the different needs and levels of engagement of employees at every stage of their career from a potential employee, right through to becoming an Figure 1


Employers should aim to carry out regular research as employee engagement is transitory, very much affected by changes within the workforce and organization.

ex-employee, and every step along the way. Bearing this in mind can ensure that organizations are able to adapt their practices to suit different employee needs. Giving consideration to creating a strong and attractive employer brand can engage potential employees, and turn them into members of your workforce. Understanding joiners can ensure they want to say, stay and strive, and similarly, working on ways to keep most valued staff happy is crucial for retention. It can be equally as important to consider ex-employees and use their feedback to shape the organization to ensure better levels of employee engagement for retained staff. This Employee Lifecycle model can be used by organizations to improve their understanding of employee engagement and improve the employee/employer relationship at each stage of the lifecycle. A well designed employee survey is another tool which can help to provide a good picture of how employees are feeling, which is particularly relevant during times of upheaval or re-structuring, when it is crucial that employees remain focused and engaged. Employers should aim to carry out regular research as employee engagement is transitory, very much affected by changes within the workforce and organization. Of course, whenever you are looking to embark on an employee engagement program, it must be borne in mind that establishing the level of employee engagement and measuring employee opinion is not enough. Any resulting information needs to be analyzed thoroughly and ultimately used to drive action that leads to organizational improvement. It is only through action that managers can address problem areas and keep employees engaged and effective.

Keywords: Employee involvement, Employees, Employee turnover, United Kingdom There are lessons to be learned by businesses across both the public and private sector in the UK from the Putting it in Perspective Report. It is clear that regular monitoring of staff opinions is crucial to all organizations, particularly during times of rapid change. By carrying out surveys and bearing in mind the fundamental principles of engagement as well as understanding the employee lifecycle, managers in organizations can discover ways to manage inevitable changes while keeping employees engaged.

ORC International (2008), Putting It in Perspective Report 2007, UK Employee Research Division, ORC International, London, January.

Corresponding author
Kate Pritchard can be contacted at: Kate.Pritchard@orc.co.uk

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