Engagement Factors Vary by Country, Business, Function

By Kathy Gurchiek Jan 23, 2008
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The factors that drive employees to be engaged in their work and motivate them to go beyond stated expectations vary not only from country to country but also by industry sector and within companies, according to recent research conducted among 22 countries.

It’s important for organizations expanding globally to understand what engages its workforce, according to Mercer, which has conducted the national “What’s Working” studies over the past several years.

Even among organizations with global locations that share workplace characteristics, such as English as a first language, differences in national culture, market conditions and the state of economic development influence employee engagement, according to Mercer.

Workers in the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, share only one engagement driver—a sense of personal accomplishment—rated first and second in importance, respectively.

However, the top drivers in the United Kingdom “paralleled six of the top drivers in Asia’s top market, China,” the report noted.

“Even if business leaders of multinational companies know how to engage staff in their home country offices, they might not succeed in delivering the most value for their HR investments if they simply transfer HR policies and practices to other countries,” the report says.

In looking to engage employees, Mercer reports, employers must:

  • View global HR decisions in the context of national culture.
  • Use valid research—not stereotypes—to align HR practices for a local population with actual employee attitudes and perceptions.
  • Remember that the norm for engagement varies widely from country to country, making it critical to have data on national norms to interpret employee surveys correctly.
  • Realize the elements that create engagement also create the employment brand.
  • Understand that how the organization conducts its work reflects its organizational culture. How employees are treated reflects how they treat customers or clients.

Employers want workers who are “truly engaged in their work and the success of the organization,” said Patrick Gilbert, a principal and employee research expert at Mercer, in a January 2008 press release.

An engaged employee has a vested interest in the employer’s success and whose performance level exceeds his or her job requirements. These are employees, says Gilbert, who help their organization establish a competitive advantage and drive business performance.

However, “the drivers of engagement vary from country to country and from company to company. Even within companies, the drivers will vary across different businesses and functional areas,” he said.

“That’s why it’s important for employers to identify and manage the unique drivers of engagement within their own organizations. This way they can achieve maximum return on investment for their HR spending,” Patrick added.

There are four drivers of engagement that are consistent among employees around the world—the work itself, including opportunities for development; confidence and trust in leadership; recognition and rewards; and organizational communication that is delivered timely and in an orderly way.

The top factors by country, according to the findings:

  • Australia: Quality of workplace relationships, including coaching.
  • Brazil: Sense of personal accomplishment, confidence in senior management, training opportunities, fair pay based on performance, good reputation for customer service, comparable benefits to industry.
  • Canada: Being treated respectfully, good work/life balance, feeling they can provide good service to the clients or customers.
  • China: Sense of personal accomplishment, fair pay based on performance, good reputation for customer service, comparable benefits to industry, confidence in senior management, IT systems support business needs, training opportunities, regular performance feedback.
  • France: Work/life balance, providing good customer service, being treated respectfully.
  • India: Type of work, promotion opportunities.
  • Japan: Base and incentive pay.
  • Sweden: Respectful treatment, type of work they are involved with, sense of personal accomplishment.
  • United Kingdom: Sense of personal accomplishment, confidence in senior management, training opportunities, fair pay based on performance, good reputation for customer service, comparable benefits to industry.
  • United States: Confidence that career objectives can be met, sense of personal accomplishment, confident in organization’s success, quality is a high priority, opportunity for growth and development, information and assistance to manage career; flexibility to provide good customer service.

Companies typically can get a sense of what engages their employees by conducting employee surveys; ideally any issues that are identified are followed by some kind of action, Mercer notes.

Be wary of misinterpreting results, though.

“When an organization looks at its own employee survey data, it needs to take these [cultural] differences into account,” Gilbert said.

Not doing so could cause an organization’s leaders to assume that there are significant issues among its Japanese workforce and fewer issues with its Mexican workforce when, Gilbert said, “employee survey scores simply tend to be lower in Japan and higher in Mexico” when those workers rate employer performance.

It would be helpful for the employer to know if a broad cross-section of employers in that country also receives a low performance rating, Mercer points out in its paper.

Mercer’s most recent findings are based on 130 questions to working adults on a dozen topics: work processes; ethics and integrity; quality and customer focus; immediate manager; communication; performance management; work/life balance; compensation, benefits and recognition; job security and career growth; leadership and direction; teamwork and cooperation; and training and development.

Its latest findings are highlighted in the Mercer paper Engaging employees to drive global business success.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.

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