By Claire West

UK workers least engaged among major Western European countries
 Almost a quarter of staff described as ‘ineffective’ by managers
 Senior managers list disengagement as one of three biggest threats to their firms

British workers are the most disengaged and the second most frustrated in Western Europe — a problem recognised at the very highest levels of UK firms, according to new research from global management consultancy Hay Group.

The study, Engagement Matters, finds that over half (51 per cent) of UK employees are disengaged — defined as unwilling to ‘go the extra mile’ for their firms — and/or frustrated by an inability to do their job effectively due to poor resources, processes and procedures.

The scale of the problem is causing concern at the highest echelons of UK firms: 82 per cent of C-Suite executives regard disengaged employees as one of the three greatest threats facing their business.

As a result, over half (52 per cent) claim that employee engagement is frequently discussed at a senior level — compared to only 41 per cent across Europe.

Graeme Yell, director at Hay Group, said: “Employee engagement is understandably vulnerable after two years of recession and uncertainty, and disengaged employees can have a detrimental effect on a business’ bottom line.”

“Companies must act to safeguard and maximise engagement levels among their staff or risk suffering financially and losing key talent.”

The study analyses employee engagement across five major European economies — France, Germany, Holland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Hay Group assessed attitudes to engagement among 300 C-Suite executives and 3,000 middle and junior managers.

Engaged and Enabled?

The study examines two key attributes of European workforces: their engagement and enablement — enablement being the extent to which firms’ processes, procedures, systems, technology and other tools and resources allow staff to perform effectively.

Hay Group research estimates that top performing organisations, in terms of both engagement and enablement, achieve revenue growth 4.5 times greater than their industry peers.

According to Hay Group, UK employees are the least engaged and the second least enabled of the five European countries studied (see Table 1).

Just 71 per cent of British workers are engaged, with just 56 per cent enabled.

Table 1: Employee engagement and enablement: European comparisons

The shape of the UK workforce

Based on engagement and enablement levels, Hay Group’s study defines four different categories of employee: effective, frustrated, detached, and ineffective.

Just over half (51 per cent) of workers fall outside of the ‘effective’ category in the UK (see table 2) — with almost a quarter (22 per cent) being ineffective.

Table 2: Worker Categories and Proportions - UK

Graeme Yell said: “With less than half their staff operating effectively, it is little surprise that senior managers list worker disaffection among the three greatest threats to their firms.

"Organisations need to run engagement surveys that are tailored to their particular strategy and culture to identify exactly what is getting in the way of engagement and enablement and how this is impacting on performance.

Then, by empowering line managers - with the right information, an understanding of how performance is being impacted and an accountability for acting on only the things they can control - they can begin to make a difference and influence employee frustrations.”