employeeengagementLow employee engagement and lagging productivity is the greatest  HR challenge facing UK business  in 2013, according to new research from talent and career management specialist Right Management. The global research found that this was the key concern for one in three (31%) UK HR professionals compared to a global average of just one in five (21%) HR professionals, suggesting that after years of economic uncertainty and doing ‘more with less’, the UK workforce has reached a productivity impasse.


Right Management’s research surveyed 2,600 senior HR executives across 14 countries and found that the UK’s concerns about staff engagement and productivity levels were in sharp contrast to other countries and emerging markets in particular.


In China, employee engagement was seen as the biggest challenge for only 11% of respondents and this figure drops even lower in Brazil, to just 8%. Out of the 14 countries surveyed, the UK’s pessimism was only beaten by Belgium where 35% of HR professionals cited productivity and staff engagement as their greatest challenge.


UK HR executives also held a particularly austere view of hiring intentions and growth in comparison to most territories outside Europe. Just a third (31%) of UK HR professionals expect 2013 to be a year of growth and recovery marked by stepped up investments in new talent development initiatives; 31% expect that this year will prove to be similar to 2012 with sluggish or postponed HR initiatives and a further third (31%) expect  the year to be marked by general  stagnation. In contrast, HR professionals in emerging economies have a significantly more positive outlook on the months ahead, with 78% of HR professionals in India, 70% in China and 66% in Brazil expecting growth and investment in new talent development.


Mark Hodgson, talent management practice leader, Right Management, comments: “There’s a stark contrast between levels of optimism and engagement in the UK and Europe, compared to the Americas and Asia-Pac. It seems many organisations in the UK are still stuck in recession mode but the fact is, the economy is in recovery. Businesses need to start talking about growth and start investing in and inspiring their workforce; putting talent initiatives on hold simply isn’t an option. Pressing pause will only lead to more stagnation and make it even more difficult for employees to find meaning in their work and make a real contribution to the business. Now more than ever, it’s time for organisations to take stock of their talent management initiatives and make sure they have the right processes in place to make staff feel engaged in the business and confident in their career trajectories.”


Right Management has the following advice for companies looking to develop employee engagement programmes:

  • Take an individual approach to line management training –Middle managers are a crucial link in employee engagement so it’s important that they are in a position to have honest conversations with colleagues to better understand their challenges and barriers to productivity. On-site coaching clinics can be a cost effective way of providing individual but consistent support that goes beyond traditional management training programmes. The tailored advice and one-to-one approach these clinics provide can be particularly useful in helping managers have meaningful career planning and career development conversations with team members or when tackling particular issues around performance.
  • Provide strong leadership and vision – Leaders need to be clear about the corporate story and have a narrative that translates well within the organisation. Everyone in the business needs to know how their individual role contributes and fits into the direction of the business with senior leaders being role models.
  • Give employees a voice – Staff satisfaction surveys are useful but businesses tend to focus on deliberating the results rather than exploring what can be done now to drive productivity. Rather than testing sentiment through an ‘annual census’, look for ways in which the business can encourage a two-way conversation with employees throughout the year.
  • Be clear about the aspirations of the organisation – Ensure that all employees are clear on the expectations and values that the business wants to represent now and in the future, and how employees fit into and can contribute to this journey. Don’t save these aspirations for the annual report; make sure they are regularly communicated to the business and that the workforce is kept updated on your progress.
  • Provide rounded support to your employees – Working long hours, increased levels of stress, different family set-ups and personal circumstances all have a clear impact on employee engagement. Organisations need to acknowledge the multi-dimensional nature of this issue and the ripple effect is creates on individual and organisational performance. Look for opportunities to provide support which includes initiatives to promote wellbeing as well as support employees’ professional development.