By Melissa J. Anderson

A new study by BlessingWhite Research, a division of GP Strategies, shows that engagement levels have ticked slightly up around the world since 2011. This can likely be attributed to the slowly stabilizing global economic environment. But the research noted some interesting regional differences as well, differences that reveal the economy may not be the driving factor behind employee engagement.

Engagement levels in North America, India, and China all rose, while those in Europe, Australia, and those in New Zealand remained relatively flat. Interestingly, BlessingWhite points out, engagement levels are lowest in China relative to other regions.

“Shifts aside, China remains the region with the lowest levels of engagement and India the highest – a long-standing conclusion that highlights the cultural differences between these two countries and dispels the usefulness of the BRICS nomenclature in developing human capital strategies.”

By focusing on the differences in employee engagement between regions, demographic groups, and other segments, employers can better meet the needs of their workforce, driving engagement and therefore productivity and retention.

What Is Employee Engagement, Really?

BlessingWhite says employee engagement is the combination of two important factors: job satisfaction and job contribution. The report explains:

“Full engagement represents an alignment of maximum job satisfaction (“I like my work and do it well”) with maximum job contribution (“I help achieve the goals of my organization”).

“Engaged employees are not just committed. They are not just passionate or proud. They have a line-of- sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals. They are enthused and in gear, using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.”

Employee engagement numbers also correlate strongly with an intention to stay with the company, the report continues. “Globally, 60% of all employees report that, given the choice, they plan on remaining with their current organization for the next 12 months. However, this number jumps to 81% among engaged employees but drops to 23% among the disengaged.”

Finally, BlessingWhite describes one last important aspect of engagement: “The Engaged stay for what they can give, the Disengaged stay for what they can get.”

Engaged people were more likely to discuss what they can contribute to the organization or through the organization. Disengaged say they work for the company because of what they can get – they need a paycheck or healthcare, or they simply can’t find work elsewhere.

Management and Engagement

BlessingWhite also noted an important connection between how well an employee knows their manager and how they say they take advantage of important tools of engagement like “talents, rewards and recognition, providing regular feedback etc.”

The report says:

“While they do benefit greatly, engaged employees appear much more tolerant of not knowing their manager as a person. When it comes to scoring their direct manager on these 8 critical items, the gap between engaged employees who know their manager well and those who don’t is not nearly as large as the gap for the other 4 less-engaged segments.”

For regions or groups that are likely to feature disengaged employees, managers can help increase engagement by getting to know their team better. “While companies focus on equipping managers with tactical skills such as delegation or matching individual talents to tasks, engagement is driven more effectively through leadership and connection skills,” the study continues.

It seems that authenticity around communication and relationship-building can make a big difference for people who lack engagement around their jobs. “In actual fact, it’s becoming better known as a person to their direct reports – not being the person they think they ought to be – that will build the relationship needed to increase engagement.”

BlessingWhite encourages companies to make sure managers are well trained on engagement – and the same goes for senior leadership. The study showed that only 59 percent of senior leaders said they were engaged. “One dead battery will not jump-start another. You cannot sustain engagement down into the ranks of the organization with disengaged executives or directors,” the report explains. Engagement is not simply a matter to be shunted to HR and forgotten – it needs to flow from the top, which is why the topic must be top of mind from the CEO down.