Why disengaged employees are costing UK plc billions

Improving staff engagement is key to the UK's economic recovery, a Government report argues.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If companies did a better job of engaging their staff, it could lead to a ‘step change in workplace performance and in employee well-being, for the considerable benefit of UK plc.’  That’s the conclusion of the Macleod Review on employee engagement, the second most newsworthy Government report released today. It argues that a measly one-third of Brits are engaged at work – i.e. they’re actually motivated to do a good job for their employer – which is hammering productivity. It’s hardly rocket science to suggest that happier employees work harder. But since so few companies appear to be any good at it, there’s clearly work to be done to spread the message...

The report, co-authored by specialists David Macleod and Nita Clarke, was commissioned by Lord Mandelson – the idea being to see whether better engagement could actually make the UK more competitive and help us recover from recession. And it cites various figures from employer groups and trade unions to demonstrate how low engagement levels currently are: a TUC/ YouGov survey last year suggested that only three in ten UK employees were actively engaged, while research from the Corporate Leadership Council suggested that only one in 25 fell into the highest engagement category. Even though the data’s quite old, it seems pretty clear that most companies’ efforts in this area still leave an awful lot to be desired.

Not surprisingly, the authors conclude that broader engagement would indeed improve performance. In fact, on the basis of the companies it’s been speaking to (like John Lewis, for example), it reckons the effect can be transformational – particularly for those people for whom ‘Monday morning is an especially low point of the week’ (ring any bells?). They make the entirely sensible point that at a time when goods and services are becoming increasingly standardised, people are the key differentiator. And it stands to reason that if staff really like their company, they’ll do a much better job of delivering their wares.

You’d think that none of this would be very radical. But in practice, it’s clearly not happening across the board. The review suggests that some employers are not even familiar with the concept of engagement, while others put no thought into how to make it happen, and others think that the odd employee survey will do the trick. To Macleod and Clarke, the logic of engagement is so compelling that this must amount to a failure of understanding – which is why their principal recommendation is for Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to spearhead a national awareness campaign, in association with industry.

It’s a worthy cause. And asking your company to treat like you a human being, rather than as an economic unit, surely isn’t that much to ask in this day and age?


In today's bulletin:
Battered BA seeks £600m cash after record loss
Editor's blog: It's no time for a lynch mob
Recession makes us drink less
Why disengaged employees are costing UK plc billions
Coping under pressure, with YouTube

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