By Melissa J. Anderson

A new report by the management software company Mindjet finds that workers in the UK are relatively disengaged from their jobs. The firm partnered with Opinion to poll 2,000 white collar workers at the end of 2012.

Only about half (54 percent) of respondents say that they “care passionately about helping their employer be successful,” and roughly the same fraction (49 percent) said they “take their role in their employers’ success seriously.”

But most troubling were responses to the questions on work motivation. About a third of respondents (32 percent) say they need to “change their everyday working practices to drive success.” And about the same percentage (38 percent) said they didn’t see a point in changing their work practices “because no-one notices or cares.”

Mindjet blames the economic situation in the UK for the lack of engagement. Companies have been focused on doing more with less for so long that they have neglected to actively manage or coach staff. As the report explains, “the recession may have left them feeling battle-weary.”

Economic Impact on Workforce Engagement

As part of the report, Mindjet analyzed 50 random CEO statements from FTSE 100 2012/2013 annual reports – the top three goals of UK business leaders for the next year, as revealed in the report, are operational efficiency, consolidation, and growth in emerging markets, or what UK workers may see as cutting back at home while seeking out opportunities abroad.

Professor Nelson Phillips, Chair in Strategy and Organisational Behaviour, Imperial College London, notes in the study:

“Motivated and engaged employees are at the heart of business success, and there’s no time when this is truer than in tough economic conditions. Yet, it’s just at this moment that employee motivation and engagement drops as their employers can lack the resources to support and reward them, while constant cost-cutting and pressure undermines morale and enthusiasm. … Add the everyday financial pressures that individuals are experiencing outside of work and a low level of employee engagement, satisfaction and motivation is not surprising.”

The result is a workforce that doesn’t see much of a reason to work toward strategic business goals. In fact, “19 percent say they “lack the motivation to do their job to the highest possible standard.”

Additionally, almost a quarter (24 percent) say they “haven’t got around to” improving their work practices. And almost a third of managers (30 percent) say they are not sure how to motivate their teams to improve as well.

About half of respondents said their contributions are recognized by their managers, yet about a quarter (25 percent) say their boss doesn’t acknowledge their achievements. Workers are also resorting to creative ways to get noticed on the job.

“A few people admit to using specific tactics to impress their superiors: 13% say they flag what work they have to do that day so people are aware they’re busy, 10% stay late every so often, even though they don’t have much to do, 9% try and send emails about something positive their team has done to their boss because it makes them look good and 8% send emails out of working hours because it makes them look busy.”

Motivation Solutions

This is, obviously, a leadership challenge for UK companies, which are struggling through the slow economic recovery. Companies need workers who are engaged and energetic, rather than ones who are merely pretending to be busy because they are unmotivated and ignored by management. Mindjet suggests a few solutions for managers.

Chris Norfolk, UK Director at Mindjet, commented, “Our research shows that UK businesses have spent the last year striving for clear goals. With so many employees saying they lack resources, senior direction, efficient working practices and communication, alongside crippling economic issues, it’s no wonder many are struggling to achieve these. With all signs pointing towards a slow start in 2013, it’s essential that businesses and individuals address these problems, and consider how they can inspire employees and work smarter to achieve clear business success.”

The report advises managers to set clear goals so employees know “where their business is going and why,” and become invested in its success. It also encourages managers to spend more time listening to employees and encouraging feedback, so that they can spot disengagement issues and work toward changing them. Finally, Mindjet discusses the importance of recognition and rewarding enthusiasm. “It’s hugely motivating and a thank you can go a long way,” the report says.