Top companies build and sustain a culture of engagement and are often led by CEOs who understand that employee engagement is not just a nice-to-have but critical to achieving business results.  This is confirmed by Aon Hewitt’s 2015 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report, which points out that Leaders in these elite organisations also understand that employee engagement is primarily their responsibility.
Globally, employee engagement rose by one point to 62% as the economy continues to improve, in comparison to Aon Hewitt’s 2014 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report. There are considerable differences across regions and markets, with engagement varying from 57% (European region) to 71% (Latin American region) and changes in engagement ranging from no change to 3-point improvements (Asia Pacific region).
Ndivhuwo Manyonga, executive head of Aon Hewitt South Africa, says: “The Africa and Middle East (AME) region, with the next highest levels of employee engagement at 67%, has however seen great volatility in the last five years – falling to a low of only 53% engaged in 2012, but rising 14 points in just the last two years. This volatility and rapid bounce are likely related to both regional risk and economic opportunities.”
Africa and the Middle East markets are showing strong yet volatile economic, labour and growth opportunities.  The Middle East and North African (MENA) region has seen engagement levels grow by eight points, to 70%.
“Despite deterioration in enabling practices and resources, the MENA region has seen a generally positive work experience trend with strong improvement in areas of innovation, leadership, communication and the employee value proposition (EVP),” says Manyonga.  “However, sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) average engagement, although closer to the global average, is falling.  Basic work experience elements are generally trending negatively with the greatest deterioration in resources, safety and work-life balance in SSA.”
According to Manyonga, the financial implications of an engaged workforce are significant.  “In previous studies, we found that a 5% increase in employee engagement is linked to a 3% increase in revenue growth in the subsequent year.
“Many companies are however struggling to make engagement happen by fully aligning the business strategy and talent strategy. As a result, many companies are experiencing a disconnect between the company’s productivity and profit growth and the relatively flat increase in wages for the majority of workers.
“Our research shows that less than half of global employees (46%) think they are paid fairly for what they contribute.  While there has been a slight improvement in other key engagement drivers such as EVP, recognition and innovation, the overall net change in the average employee’s work experience is negative,” she explains.
Engaging leaders are key to creating a culture of engagement that sustains business results in an ever-changing and complex global environment.  “Companies that invest extensively in leader engagement have significantly higher operating income than those that do not.  Creating a culture of engagement requires pulling multiple levers and navigating many organisational stakeholders,” Manyonga adds.
The top employee engagement drivers that are important to employees in the Africa and Middle East (AME) region are ranked as: career opportunities, brand alignment, recognition, people and HR practices, and remuneration.
“What is concerning, though, is that only about half of employees have a favourable view of these areas that are so critical to their engagement,” says Manyonga.  “In the case of career opportunities, the majority of employees do not see a path forward with their organisations, and this has the strongest and most consistent impact on whether employees say, stay and strive.”
Aon Hewitt defines engagement as the psychological state and behavioural outcomes that lead to better performance.  The Aon Hewitt Engagement mode measures engagement outcomes based on three dimensions: Say (employees saying positive things about their company), stay (an employee’s perceived long-term future with their company) and strive (employees delivering their best performance every day).
Globally the top drivers point to the average employee looking for growth, equitable reward and pride in his or her company.  These themes are not only what employees need to be engaged, but are also aspects commonly addressed by best employers with superior and sustained financial performance.
“Senior leaders impact virtually every critical engagement driver we see in our research, ranging from organisational reputation and innovation to the resource, policies, processes and infrastructure elements that enable (or frustrate and discourage) change and growth,” says Manyonga.
With this in mind, Aon offers five key ingredients to building a culture of engagement:
* Build engaging leadership;
* Build trusting relationships with your employees with a compelling EVP;
* Grow your talent;
* Enable engagement and performance; and
* Focus on the individual.
Making engagement happen is not about a development program or tools or technology, the organisation advises.  It’s not about managing to a score, nor is it about an HR survey.  “There are two words that consistently come up when we speak with executives from top companies about the keys to their success in talent and engagement:  Culture and leadership,” Manyonga says.
“Culture is fundamentally about changing and aligning people, programs and infrastructure to drive a consistent set of beliefs, decisions and behaviours in an organisation.  Leaders, on the other hand, are in a unique position to set the tone and demonstrate the value of human capital.  It is up to the leaders of an organisation to link the people to the mission of the organisation and to act in consistent, authentic and strategic ways to make engagement happen.”