The many faces of employee engagement

Jan 09 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

For Britons and Americans it is all about respect. For workers in France and India it is the type of work they are doing. For Germans it is who they work with. And for the Japanese, it is pay. Employee engagement, it is clear, takes many different forms around the world.

Workers around the world are fired up by completely different things, according to new research, meaning that a global, one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement will almost inevitably be doomed to failure.

A study of workers in 22 countries by HR consultancy Mercer has found sharp differences around the world in what makes workers tick.

Employees were asked which of 12 factors most influenced their engagement at work, with surprisingly varied results.

Overall, respect was identified as having the strongest impact on engagement globally, and was the top factor noted in the UK and U.S.

But it was notable that in Japan – where respect is much more of a "given" in society and culture in general – it was considered a much less significant driver of employee engagement.

Similarly, workers in France and India cited the type of work they were doing as the strongest driver of engagement for them.

In Japan, employees rated base pay as their most important factor, while in China, benefits topped of the list.

German workers, meanwhile, cited the people they worked with as their strongest factor, said Mercer.

While employees across the world considered a healthy work-life balance to be an important driver of engagement, this was also less of a factor for workers in China and India.

Being able to provide good customer service was also a strong driver globally, especially in the UK, yet was rated by Japanese workers as the least important of their 12 factors.

"Even when workplace characteristics are shared – such as English as a first language – differences in national culture, the state of economic development and market conditions can have a significant influence on employee expectations and perceptions of the workplace and, subsequently, on employee engagement," said Dr Patrick Gilbert, a principal and employee research expert at Mercer.

"In the absence of any other information, focusing on the popular engagement factors would allow a multinational company to address areas that could raise levels of employee engagement," he added.

"However, because context is so critical, it is more powerful to look at country-specific and organisation-specific data to raise levels of engagement.

"That includes conducting your own employee research and comparing the findings to normative data, analysing the results to identify the strongest drivers, and then developing a comprehensive action plan to produce the desired changes," he recommended.

It was also clear that surveys on employee engagement had to be interpreted with caution, and very much located within their cultural and geographical context.

For example, employees responding to the study gave an overall favourable rating of 57 per cent to the 130-plus study questions.

Yet countries such as India, Mexico and China had much higher overall favourable ratings, while countries such as Japan, Korea and Portugal had much lower overall favourable ratings.

"Employee research has long documented consistent cultural differences across countries," said Gilbert.

"When an organisation looks at its own employee survey data, it needs to take these differences into account," he added.

"Without the benefit of this perspective, it could reach an incorrect interpretation – perhaps assuming that there are significant issues among its Japanese workforce and few issues with its Mexican workforce when, in fact, employee survey scores simply tend to be lower in Japan and higher in Mexico," he concluded.