Why engagement at work matters more than you think

Urban Life 16 March 2018 Arnt Olaf Storeng Flemming Lorenz

Engagement at work matters. Yet a recent Ramboll study shows some alarming numbers about companies' ability to retain employees. On top of this, the study provides guidance for leaders eager to boost engagement.

8 mins

For leaders at the receiving end of a ritual-like employee satisfaction survey, knowing where to prioritise and improve can be hard. The swift logic would be to fix the lows from the bottom up or perhaps work hard to maintain the highs if strength based leadership is the preferred style. 

But does that really yield the best results – for company and employees? And what are the actual drivers that boost engagement?

These and more questions puzzled a group of survey experts in Ramboll to the extent that they developed a benchmark study to find out. Not that this was an unchartered territory, but the group looked for more specific causes and effects, notably in a Scandinavian context.

Therefore, 3200 Swedes, Danes and Norwegians were surveyed. Using regression analysis, the responses were then thoroughly investigated to understand the interdependencies between various engagement drivers and to pinpoint the main components of high performance. Knowing this will allow companies to prioritise their HR and leadership efforts more effectively to reap the benefits of highly engaged employees.

This work has now been summarized and labelled the Ramboll Engagement Scale.

Employees; a vehicle to success

I believe that the engagement scale is developed not only from a professional point of view but equally so from a business point of view. More and more companies are doomed to propel their thinking, processes, and tools when it comes to employee development as a core means to stay competitive in the market.

There are varying needs depending on your sector and type of organisation – having said that we see an increasing number of organisations eager to raise the bar. Why is that? Because they realise that their employees’ ability to grow and deliver results are perhaps the most important vehicle to success as many sectors and industries are changing rapidly these days. One example is the financial sector, where we have a number of clients.

Building the engagement case

Over the years, research has built a strong case for engagement as it is associated with personal and organisational benefits such as lower sick-leave, enhanced willingness to change, and better quality in products or services to name a few.

In Ramboll’s engagement scale reference survey, three results stood out in a surprisingly strong way:

  1. Highly engaged employees put in more hours at work, yet they feel less pressure or stress compared to disengaged employees
  2. Highly engaged employees far often recommend their employer as a great place to work
  3. Highly engaged employees are much less likely to look for a job outside the organisation

In a Scandinavian context, as much as 40% of all disengaged employees have looked for a new job outside the organisation, as shown below. And the likelihood is that this is not just the backbenchers or the non-performers. Depending on the size of your organisation this could well be hundreds or even thousands of employees.

On a more positive note, highly engaged employees serve the role as job ambassadors. This could ignite a positive spiral for HR and middle management; highly engaged employees deliver better results and notably in a private sector context this may well lead to a growing business, hence a need for additional resources. So not only do the engaged employee help grow the business, they also help attract new job candidates.

Illustration 1. This model shows the percentages of employees answering ‘yes’ to the above questions (y axis) combined with their level of engagement on a 5-point scale (x axis). Highly disengaged employees are nearly 10 times more likely to look for a new job compared to highly engaged employees. Consequently, the more engaged the employee, the more likely they are to recommend their employer to their network.

What is more, one in four employees in Scandinavia does not experience the right conditions to develop in their current job. As we are about to see, this is alarming since personal development is the core driver of engagement at work.


Everyday work

The insights generated from Ramboll’s engagement scale hint to three manageable factors that need special attention from leaders and HR professionals in the years to come: 

Even though engagement has some neuropsychological aspects to it, we see that the majority of factors driving up engagement are things we can observe in everyday work life. This shifts the focus from how we feel to how we work.  The main factors are firstly individual autonomy and manoeuvre room, then good fixed conditions like information and tools available, and lastly a development-oriented leadership. These factors heavily influence personal development and the ability to develop personally then leads to higher engagement. This is - simply put - the causal effects documented. 

Illustration 2: This illustration shows the three primary factors that influence personal development at work (top left). Our analysis points to five other factors that correlate positively with either engagement or implementation power.

Getting things done

On top of this, Ramboll's analysis clustered an additional handful of crucial factors. Factors that either influence engagement or contributes to an enhanced level of implementation power; getting thing done that is.

There is a strong correlation between engagement and the ability to execute and get things done. If you manage to have these two peak, then high performance is guaranteed. Regardless of whether you are in the financial sector or you work in a not-for-profit organisation.

The concept of implementation power is about reaching the defined goals and about solving the tasks at hand with an effective use of resources. Therefore, actions are paramount. For people working with stakeholder intelligence of any kind that re-underlines the trinity of insights; reflection and action. First you collect the insights (data), then you reflect on the pain points or improvement areas and then you apply the right remedies. Too often, the latter part is missing.

Leaders often find it hard to act on the data they are presented with. They realise the problem areas but do not know what steps to take to improve. This is why the underlying survey we use for the engagement scale addresses this exact challenge. The questions are very hands-on, and the results show that in terms of leadership for instance, the task is fairly simple; leaders need to focus on development, be supportive, and set clear goals. 

At the end of the day, a leader who communicates expectations clearly triples the likelihood that the team will solve the tasks effectively. Implementation power has a spill-over effect on engagement and hence the positive spiral is sustained.

Please reach out to us if you would like to learn more about our engagement scale and have a look at Results.com, to learn more about our customised and scalable solutions.