Only 24% of UK employees are engaged with their job according to the latest Gallup Engagement Survey. Confirming the need for urgent action, the CBI reported in May 2010 that employee engagement is now the biggest challenge facing employers. Employers recognise they have a problem; however, current engagement strategies are not working. The Training Foundation’s white paper proposes a new approach.

David Macleod, author of the Macleod Report to Government on Employee Engagement (May 2009), recommends that employers review their current engagement strategies against the new approach: “The Rules of Engagement white paper offers some thought-provoking insights to employers, well worth considering in the light of their current engagement strategies.”

Key points in the white paper:

• Employers’ engagement strategies primarily focus on big-picture issues like work/life balance and charismatic leadership. These make little impression on the problem because, while important, they do not address the two key issues.
• First, by far the major influence on an employee’s engagement is the relationship with the immediate manager, reflected in the day-to-day workplace climate. Employers are not generally recognising this: less than 20% of managers have received training in how to engage with and bring out the best in their people.
• Second, employee trust levels in employers are low. In times of general austerity, wage freezes, lay-offs and short-time working, any perceived unfairness in comparative remuneration between top and bottom weakens trust. Rebuilding that trust is an urgent priority for employers seeking to improve employee engagement. It is the first Rule of


Rule 1:  Engagement is founded on trust

Trust is needed at two levels; trust in the employer and trust in the manager. The recession has led to a general weakening of trust; it needs to be rebuilt before there can be any significant improvement in employee engagement. In particular, perceived unfairness in comparative remuneration between top and bottom is a major issue.

Rule 2:  Engagement is driven by emotions

Recent discoveries from neuroscience and genetics are supporting the findings of occupational psychologists as to what is driving engagement today. The importance of emotions to decision-making is far greater than previously thought. Six key emotional drivers of engagement have been identified. Employers must pay more attention to the role of emotions in people’s decisions to engage or not.

Rule 3:  Engagement is 20% culture, 80% climate

The workplace climate is more important than organisational culture. Most employers are focusing their engagement strategy on organisational initiatives such as flexible working. These are important but are not producing significant improvements because they are trumped by a far more influential factor. There’s growing evidence that the employee/immediate manager relationship is the key factor in up to 8 out of 10 decisions to leave a job, the ultimate measurement of engagement.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development’s publication Becoming an employer of choice states that “70% of people leave their manager and not the job”. Despite the evidence, most employers have been slow to respond. Surveys by The Training Foundation and others show that less than 20% of managers have received any training in engagement skills and how to bring out the best in people.

More than 100 human resource professionals are scheduled to attend the launch event at The Training Foundation’s Coventry headquarters on 14th July, and attendee comments will appear on on 15th July.

Nick Mitchell, author of the white paper and Chief Executive of The Training Foundation commented: “An engaged workforce is a huge competitive advantage; disengaged workers impose enormous financial costs, resist needed change, and inhibit customer advocacy. Finding a solution to any problem requires first making an accurate diagnosis, and the evidence suggests that employers are generally barking up the wrong tree; it is the way that people are treated in the workplace that is the critical factor. The Training Foundation is today assisting employers to recognise and address this key issue.”