Employers face heightened performance risk — from lower
productivity to higher inefficiency
NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jul. 11, 2012--
As doubts reemerge about the strength of economic recovery in the U.S.,
a new Global
Workforce Study by global professional services company Towers
Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) reveals that almost two-thirds (63%) of U.S.
workers are not fully engaged in their work and are struggling to cope
with work situations that don’t provide sufficient support. This finding
suggests employees are finding it difficult to sustain the kind of
positive connection to their companies that yields consistent
productivity — the result of almost a decade of pressure to do more with
less and respond to the challenges of global competition, ever-evolving
technology and the ongoing need for strict cost management.
“When workers are not fully engaged, it leads to greater performance
risk for employers. It makes companies more vulnerable to lower
productivity, higher inefficiency, weaker customer service, and greater
rates of absenteeism and turnover,” said Julie Gebauer, managing
director, Talent and Rewards, Towers Watson. “Without attention and
interventions aimed at improving on-the-job support for employees and
creating a sense of attachment to the organization, this trend could
worsen — and directly affect business outcomes. Companies have known for
years that employee engagement is important to business performance.
We’re now seeing — in part because of the tough business climate — that
engagement is quite fragile and will not be sustained over time without
careful attention to very specific elements in the work environment.”
A Fresh Perspective on Engagement
The study breaks new ground in understanding and measuring what
contributes to sustained employee engagement in the workplace today, and
demonstrates the strength of the relationship between “sustainable
engagement” and specific financial outcomes for employers.
“Sustainable engagement is an important evolution in the science of
workforce behavior — and it’s an approach well suited to the unique
aspects of the current work environment,” said Laura Sejen, global
practice leader, Rewards, Towers Watson. “It recognizes that employees
need support from their employer to continue to give discretionary
effort on the job, and right now, employees are telling us they’re not
getting that support in the way and at a level they need.
“This is an important wake-up call for U.S. companies if they hope to
sustain their growth,” Sejen continued. “When we looked at sustainable
engagement scores among 50 global companies in a related piece of
research and examined their one-year operating margins, we saw dramatic
evidence of the impact of sustainable engagement on performance. The
companies with high sustainable engagement had operating margins almost
three times those of organizations with a largely disengaged workforce.
That fact alone creates a compelling case for change.”
Sustainable engagement starts with basic engagement, defined as
employees’ willingness to expend discretionary effort on their job. It
also requires enablement — having the tools, resources and
support to do their job effectively, as well as energy, through a
work environment that actively supports employees’ well-being.
“Enablement and energy are critical factors in this equation,” Gebauer
pointed out. “In the last several years, when we’ve seen much more
pressure in the system, their importance has risen to the fore.
Engagement will only hold over time with these elements in place.”
The Towers Watson study uses a specific set of questions to measure and
classify respondents as to their level of sustainable engagement.
Overall, the study showed that only 37% of U.S. workers are highly
engaged in a sustainable way, meaning they scored high on all three
elements of sustainable engagement. Just over one-quarter (27%) are
classified as unsupported, meaning they display traditional
engagement, but lack the enablement and/or energy required for
sustainable engagement. Thirteen percent are detached, meaning
they feel enabled and/or energized but are not willing to go the extra
mile. And almost one-quarter (23%) are completely disengaged, with
less favorable scores for all three aspects of sustainable engagement.
Understand Gaps: The Unsupported and Detached
The study identifies specific attributes of a work environment that are
critical to traditional engagement, enablement and energy, highlighting
actions employers can take to improve engagement and increase
productivity. For the unsupported, not surprisingly, the most
significant factors relate to how their supervisors support them on the
job, their levels of stress and the severity of their workloads. For the
detached, by contrast, company leadership stood as the focal point.
Detached workers lack an emotional connection to the organization,
stemming from feelings that they do not work for a company with strong
values, clear vision, and a leadership team that takes employees’
interests and needs into account.
“Many companies are still operating in a traditional mode, with
processes and programs designed for an era that has effectively
disappeared,” Sejen said. “Employers need to consider the dramatic
changes occurring in the employment relationship, and they need to
address the elements creating this situation. The consequences of
maintaining the status quo may be more problematic than before, given
the level and pace of change.”
When considering the unsupported 27% of the workforce, clear areas for
employer focus emerged. For instance:
Just 43% of them agreed that their supervisors had adequately removed
obstacles to helping them perform their job well.
A mere 26% agreed management involved employees in decisions that
Only 48% felt the amount of work they had to do was reasonable.
Just 40% of the unsupported felt they had enough employees in their
work group to get the job done correctly.
Far more of the highly engaged employees — with responses at least 30
percentage points higher — are positive about these areas.
The detached segment demonstrated little confidence in senior
leadership. When asked if they had trust and confidence in the
performance of their company’s senior team, just 25% agreed — a
52-percentage-point disparity from the 77% of the highly engaged who
agreed with the statement. And when asked whether they agreed that
senior leadership had a sincere interest in employees’ well-being, a
45-percentage-point gap appeared between the detached (26%) and the
highly engaged (71%).
Recipe for Success
Although the unsupported and detached segments comprise two-fifths of
the study sample and represent a risk for employers, they also represent
an opportunity. The study findings point to specific actions employers
can take to address the elements missing for these individuals in the
work environment, putting solutions directly within companies’ control.
“There is a real imperative for change right now. The risks of
continuing to manage with traditional practices are just too great from
a performance perspective. And everyone in an organization has a role to
play in helping close gaps in employees’ feelings of enablement and
energy — from executives, to supervisors, to human resources, to
employees themselves,” Gebauer said. “By taking actions to address
identified gaps, organizations will be able to move some of the
unsupported and detached to engaged — and likely experience a measurable
and positive impact on financial performance.”
Other key findings from the study include:
Fewer than half (47%) agree there are no substantial obstacles to
getting their job done well.
Slightly more than half (53%) don’t feel their organization makes it
possible for them to have a healthy balance between work and personal
Just under a third (30%) say they’re bothered by excess pressure on
Just under half (47%) believe their supervisors don’t have enough time
to handle the people aspects of their role.
Under one-third (32%) say their organization does a good job of
providing opportunities for advancement.
Only 37% agree their senior management does a good job at developing
Just under half (49%) say they have trust and confidence in their
company’s senior leadership team.
About the Study
The Towers Watson Global Workforce Study covers more than 32,000
employees selected from research panels that represent the populations
of full-time employees working in large and midsize organizations across
a range of industries in 29 markets around the world. It was fielded
online during February and March 2012. The U.S. sample includes 3,600
employees and has a margin of error of ±2%.
The study is designed to help companies better understand their diverse
employee segments and the factors that influence employee performance on
the job by gauging changing attitudes that affect attraction, retention,
engagement and productivity.
About Towers Watson
Towers Watson (NYSE, NASDAQ: TW) is a leading global professional
services company that helps organizations improve performance through
effective people, risk and financial management. The company offers
solutions in the areas of employee benefits, talent management, rewards,
and risk and capital management. Towers Watson has 14,000 associates
around the world and is located on the web at towerswatson.com
Source: Towers Watson
Ed Emerman, +1 609-275-5162
Savani, +1 703-258-7648