India and Brazil crack employee engagement

Apr 20 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Watch out "old" economies. Managers in India and Brazil are stealing a march on their counterparts in the U.S and Europe when it comes to their ability to engage and motivate their teams – in the process potentially giving themselves a competitive edge that could help them bounce back more quickly from the global recession.

Research by recruitment and outsourcing firm Kenexa has found employee engagement levels in India and Brazil to be the highest anywhere in the world, reporting an "engagement index" level of 73 per cent and 65 per cent respectively.

The U.S came a respectable third place in the poll of 25,000 workers, with nearly two thirds claiming to feel engaged by their work, while Britain was all the way down in 12th place, alongside China.

By comparison just over a third of workers in Japan, perhaps because of its rigid social mores and desperate long-term economic woes, felt engaged, followed by not even half of workers in Italy.

The key to getting and keeping workers engaged is having managers who understand the "four pillars" of employee engagement, argued Jack Wiley, executive director of the Kenexa Research Institute.

These were, first, ensuring that workers had confidence in their leaders and organisation and, crucially, in the future of their organisation, with the messages and body language sent out by senior leadership being absolutely critical.

Employees, argued Wiley, wanted to know that people in their chain of command knew where the business was going, had a strategy for riding out any difficulties and had a role for them in the future.

The second pillar was simply the outlook and actions of the management team themselves, specifically the emphasis managers put on recognising the efforts of their people and how high they put management of their people on their "to do" list.

Employees wanted to know that managers were on top of how to improve processes and the ways of getting their product out the door, added Wiley.

The third pillar was having an exciting or challenging place to work, where there were opportunities to grow and develop and, crucially, to improve your skills.

"People want to be jazzed about what they are doing and the content of their work needs to be exciting," said Wiley.

The issue of improving skills, intriguingly, was barely mentioned in the organisation's poll last year but, in an insecure working environment, had rapidly risen up the list to become a key priority for many workers this year, he added.

"It is about having the skills to prepare yourself for the future, whether that is improving your skills with your current employer or for a future one," said Wiley.

Finally, the fourth pillar was working for an organisation that was seen or felt to be concerned and responsible, not only for the welfare of its employees but also its wider community and which had a well communicated and genuine corporate social responsibility agenda, he suggested.

"It is about work life balance, safety, security and corporate social responsibility initiatives," said Wiley.

What this meant for managers was that organisations needed to have managers at all levels that were attuned to these issues.

Similarly, when it came to hiring management teams organisations needed to be thinking of these issues, and particularly whether these behaviours were modelled by the executive team.

Within the UK, for example, the relationship with immediate line managers was much more important for workers than it was in many other parts of the world, argued Wiley.

This meant organisations needed to drive home the message of effective people management all the way down to first line management.

Its figures specifically for the UK showed that just under six out of 10 senior and middle managers felt they were engaged, ahead of professional and technical staff (57 per cent), sales staff (55 per cent), clerical staff (54 per cent), supervisors (51 per cent) and service/production staff (45 per cent).

"To succeed, organisations need a strong financial standing and business strategy, solid growth potential, a clear vision, a set of values, well-aligned goals, satisfied customers and skilful talent," said Wiley.

"When you add engagement to that mix, you can really start to achieve high performance," he added.