New research released today shows that employee engagement has increased in recent years, despite challenging conditions during the recession. The research, conducted by the IPA for Acas, is based on analysis of the most recent Workplace Employee Relations Study, the largest survey of its kind in Great Britain. It found that engagement was strongly linked to organisational success and identified factors that can support it.

The research examined the enablers of engagement identified by MacLeod and Clarke in their influential report ‘Engaging for Success’. It found that employee perceptions relating to all four of the enablers of engagement – strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and integrity – had improved since 2004. There was a particularly strong increase in the ‘strategic narrative’ enabler with 10% more employees agreeing that they shared their organisation’s values. However, although there has been a slight improvement in employee voice, the scores here remain worrying low with just one in three employees (34%) saying their managers are good at allowing them to influence decision making.

There also seem to be gaps in engagement between some groups of employees. The research found that men were less engaged than women and that middle-aged employees were less engaged than both older and younger workers. There is a particularly stark and concerning gap in terms of disability with disabled employees being far less engaged than the average worker. Employers should ensure they have robust procedures in place for measuring engagement, and that they can identify, understand and address any gaps there might be. Large employers seem to face an additional challenge as employees in bigger organisations are significantly less engaged.

There are things that employers can do to increase engagement. Contact between senior managers and frontline employees seems to be crucial for giving employees a sense of voice. Employees were far more engaged in organisations where there are meetings between employees and senior managers, particularly when employees are given the opportunity to raise questions or offer views.  Employers need to ensure that they engage employees in a genuine way which promotes dialogue and involvement rather than simply one way communication.

 The research also added to the growing body of evidence that links employee engagement to organisational success. At organisations with higher levels of engagement, managers tended to be more positive about both their labour productivity and financial performance.

Nita Clarke OBE, Director of the IPA and co-chair of the Engage for Success taskforce said: “It’s increasingly clear that employee engagement is vital for organisational success. Employers need to see engaging with their staff as a top priority and they must make sure they give their employees a voice.”

Sir Brendan Barber, Chair of ACAS, said: “This research shows that employee engagement can reap benefits to both organisations and employees.

“Some people may believe that engagement is just about employees ‘going the extra mile’ but it is much more than this. It is also about involving workers in the operation of their organisation, hearing their views and giving them a true voice. Allowing employees to have their say and taking account of their views not only makes good business sense but is crucial to developing an engaged and involved workforce. I firmly believe that it has to happen if Britain is to secure its economic future.”