The people most likely to make employees feel engaged at work are their peers rather than their managers, according to the results of Oracle’s Western European study released today.

Worryingly, the research shows that according to employees, Human Resources (HR) is least likely to have a positive impact on their engagement levels. The survey draws attention to how HR teams can take ownership of employee engagement within their businesses and thereby help create better company cultures that improve business performance.

Loïc Le Guisquet, President for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and Asia Pacific regions said:

“These findings should be of concern to HR teams as they indicate that HR does not ‘own’ engagement in the eyes of employees. If this is the case, then what hope is there that HR can have a positive impact on the working environment and company culture? This study should act as a call-to-arms for HR teams to demonstrate the value they bring to their business and its employees in a way that is clear for all to see.”

The Oracle Simply Talent study, which sets out to understand the drivers and benefits of employee engagement in Europe, polled 1,511 employees at large European businesses. The survey reveals that, surprisingly, 42 percent of employees across Europe and 30 percent in the UK believe that their peers have the most positive impact on how engaged they feel at work, well ahead of line managers (21%) and business unit managers (7%). Worryingly, only three percent of respondents say HR has the biggest positive impact on their levels of engagement.

Conversely, when it comes to negatively affecting employee engagement, employees in European businesses believe the senior leadership team (19%) and line managers (11%) are the most responsible.

According to Oracle’s study, only around a third (35%) of Western European employees say they feel engaged most of the time. However, employees believe it is important for their organizations to get engagement right, citing increased productivity (56%), a reduced likelihood of them looking for work elsewhere (37%) and an increased ability to provide creative ideas to their company on what to improve (35%) as the main business benefits of them feeling engaged. In the UK increased productivity was selected at the main business benefit of employee engagement, by 59 percent of respondents.

The benefits of engagement are also seen to extend to improved customer service: 30 percent of employees said they are more inclined to deliver better customer service if they feel engaged. This suggests organizations that get employee engagement right stand to gain a great deal in terms of improved business performance.

Oracle’s study also reveals employees’ thoughts on how HR teams and the wider business can make them feel more engaged at work. According to employees, recognising their achievements should be the biggest priority for management (53%), followed by helping employees understand their contribution to the company (35%) and giving them the opportunity to work on exciting projects (34%). Worryingly however, around a third of employees (32%) across Western Europe and 19 percent in the UK state that their company does not recognise individual employee excellence at all, suggesting that a gap exists between what employees and managers believe constitutes good management.

This contention is supported elsewhere in the research: 57 percent of employees say they want management to take a more proactive management style and 56 percent say they would like a more personalised and tailored approach to management that treats them as an individual, with neither currently offered at their organizations. In the UK this was 57 percent and 53 percent respectively. Overall, only 26 percent of respondents say a more proactive management style is offered at their work.

Millennials in particular want more regular discussions with their line managers about their career path. While this age group has the highest percentage of employees (44%) who already receive this, it is also the group with the highest percentage of employees who do not have regular discussions on their career path and would like to (79%).

Currently, only 29% of employees believe their company is proactive at engaging with them, compared to 42% who state that their employer typically waits for them to bring up issues. Meanwhile, only 33% believe their company understands their employees and treats them like individuals. Furthermore, 56% state their line mangers are average, poor or very poor at providing regular feedback. Only 11% say their employer communicates with them via regular engagement surveys (once a month or more).

Loïc Le Guisquet concluded:

“From the perspective of employees there is a gap between what makes them engaged and the approach taken by management; a gap which provides HR with a great opportunity to take ownership of engagement within their organisations. Employees feel engaged by their peers and HR can help encourage this by providing access to sharing and collaboration platforms and social tools. But employee expectations are also changing fast, particularly those of millennials. They want recognition and feedback and they want it consistently. HR can deliver this through technologies that provide managers with a more up-to-the minute view of their employees, which in turn encourages a more personalised, rewarding dynamic between them.”