Employee Engagement Deteriorating, Aon Study Finds

North America far behind other regions in employee satisfaction

By Dana Wilkie Jun 9, 2015
Employees report that their overall work experience is deteriorating, particularly when it comes to the resources and programs they feel they need to be productive and to advance in their jobs, according to a new survey from Aon Hewitt, the global talent, retirement and health solutions business provider.

Aon Hewitt’s Trends in Global Employee Engagement study, released June 3, 2015, found that employees’ overall satisfaction with their work experience took a 28 percentage-point dive in 2014.

“Many employees cite insufficient staffing levels as a source of frustration; there is a perception that there just aren’t enough people to get the work done,” said Ken Oehler, an Aon partner and leader of the company’s global engagement practice. “In addition, there are concerns whether performance management and development programs are helping to develop the capabilities required for success. Finally, employees often cite inefficient technology and protracted processes as a barrier to effectiveness.”

The study represents the perspectives of more than 9 million employees at over 1,000 companies in 164 countries.

One of the key areas where employees have become dissatisfied is in career opportunities: The study found that such opportunities—which tend to be the top driver of engagement—dipped 3 percentage points.

“There is a simple question that managers should ask themselves: “Do you know where your employees want to be in their career in the next two to three years?” Oehler said. “Many managers do not know the answer to this question, and managers play an important role in career opportunities. We find that companies that excel in this area have clearly identified career paths for management and nonmanagement tracks, and have managers focused on developing and advancing talent through the organization through frequent feedback and conversations about the next steps in an employee’s career.”

As for other big engagement drivers—pay, employee value proposition and innovation—about half of the global population was dissatisfied with these factors.

“With regard to pay, the issues are about perceived fairness for contributions,” Oehler said. “There have been several studies that have illustrated that corporate growth and GDP [Gross Domestic Product] per capita are outpacing median income. Most employees have seen stabilization and steady increases in economic growth since the Great Recession, and I think there is a feeling that businesses should have turned the corner and so … I think employees have higher expectations.”

Workers in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region reported being either far more engaged than workers in North America, or reported experiencing more satisfaction over previous years compared to workers in North America.

For instance, Latin America was the region with the highest engagement levels, with about 7 out of 10 employees engaged. Africa and the Middle East region saw the greatest positive trajectory, with engagement rising 14 percentage points since 2012 to 67 percent. The Asia-Pacific region has seen a 9 percentage point increase in average engagement over the last five years, in large part because of high economic opportunities across many markets.

But in North America, engagement reached near pre-Recession levels at 66 percent.

“There is a very clear link in our research between economic growth and opportunity and employee engagement,” Oehler said. “The Latin American, Africa, Mideast and Asia-Pacific regions are quite simply where most of the economic growth is occurring. Economic growth brings new jobs, which provides career opportunities.”

Executives and other senior leaders tended to be far more engaged in their jobs than employees in lower-ranking positions. Executives’ and senior leaders’ engagement levels were at 76 percent, an increase of 10 percentage points since 2012. Middle managers had a slight jump in engagement level, rising 2 percentage points to 67 percent. Front-line and professional employees stayed flat at 61 and 54 percent, respectively.

Executives and senior leaders “typically have or have had greater levels of career opportunities, pay, line of sight to company goals, and enablement to get things done—all of the things we know matter to engagement,” Oehler said.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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