Employee Engagement High in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Roy Maurer Mar 14, 2013

Employee engagement scores are higher in sub-Saharan Africa than other regions of the world, according to a recent survey.

South Africa-based HR consultancy Emergence Growth, in partnership with global HR consultancy Aon Hewitt, surveyed 75 organizations across sub-Saharan Africa, representing more than 300,000 employees, using an engagement model developed by Aon Hewitt.

The model measures key drivers of employee engagement such as quality of life at the workplace, work processes, relationships with managers and senior leadership, total rewards, career opportunities, and company practices.

Seventy-two percent of employees in sub-Saharan Africa are considered engaged, according to the Sub-Saharan Africa Employee Engagement Survey, published in January 2013. It was the highest score of any global region.

According to Aon’s 2012Trends in Global Engagement Survey, published in June 2012, engagement levels globally were at 58 percent in 2011, up 2 percentage points from 56 percent in 2010. Asia Pacific scored 58 percent, Europe 52 percent, Latin America 71 percent, and North America 64 percent.

“Africa scores broadly correlate with those from other emerging markets,” said Yendor Felgate, CEO of Emergence. “For the first time HR practitioners in Africa have access to reliable employee engagement data,” he told SHRM Online. “This will enable them to play a strategic role in identifying those interventions that support the attraction and retention of key talent in their organizations. By working closely with leaders, HR practitioners will truly be able to craft employee value propositions that add value.”

The report stated that Africa cannot be considered one entity in terms of employee engagement. Significant regional differences in engagement scores occur, with East Africa scoring 74 percent, Southern Africa (represented by Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) 70 percent, and South Africa 68 percent. Data from West Africa were insufficient to provide a regional view.

The survey was based on the following dimensions: quality of life, work, people, opportunities, total rewards and company practices. Within these dimensions, perceptions of work, relationships with management and career opportunities were the most concerning.

Quality of Life

Employees rated more freedom and autonomy in their jobs as “extremely important” to enable them to perform better. Recognition from management, teambuilding activities and workplace flexibility were also rated as important. Raun Smythe, managing director of Emergence Growth, said the global trend is to move away from a “tell” style of management to one that connects and enables employees.

Work Process

Trust, creativity and honesty were positively rated. “This stands out in terms of global trends, where trust and honesty are increasingly under pressure in terms of perception,” said Felgate. “Incumbents are more engaged when they trust their organization to act in an ethical manner. Our experience suggests that the role of values has never been more important in organizations as exemplified through role model leaders.”

Notably, 21 percent of participants rated their organizations as poor on rewarding high performers.

“With most organizations aiming to drive superior performance, rewards and recognition is essential to build an engaged and productive workforce,” Smythe told SHRM Online. “Our experience suggests, particularly in Africa, that most organizations have concentrated on fixed pay and benefits to the detriment of variable pay and a more flexible approach to benefits.”

Relationships at Work

Seventy-two percent of participants are satisfied or extremely satisfied with their relationships at work. “Employees who are comfortable in their work environment typically perform better in their job,” said Felgate.

Overall, only 4 percent of employees say they are dissatisfied with their relationships at work and 2 percent are extremely dissatisfied.

As more companies move toward a performance-driven workforce, the need for employees to work well together within their respective teams and divisions is essential. With this in mind, it is recommended that organizations support teambuilding events and encourage employees to work together to achieve team and division targets, Felgate said.

When the data was further broken down by generation—Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials—there was a similar percentage of participants across each generation that showed similar levels of satisfaction with relationships at work.

Career Opportunities

Survey results showed a slim majority (29 percent) of participants are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied by the career development opportunities within their organizations. Twenty-six percent were satisfied, and another 26 percent were dissatisfied. Without proper career growth, employees are less engaged and more likely to look for new opportunities outside of their organizations, thus negatively affecting retention and increasing staff turnover. The majority of respondents agreed that they received sufficient training to carry out their jobs effectively. However, 29 percent of respondents do not believe that they are adequately equipped to effectively perform what is required of them in their current roles.

Total Rewards

“Total rewards” refers to all elements of remuneration, benefits and incentives offered by an organization. Rewards most valued by employees include salary (65 percent), pensions (63 percent), health care (63 percent), performance bonuses (62 percent), maternity leave (52 percent) and compassionate/family responsibility leave (49 percent).

Based on these results, Smythe recommended that organizations implement a strategy to address the issue of rewards for high performers. He suggested that there is a clear opportunity for organizations to adopt a formal short-term incentive scheme; this offers a return on investment while keeping payments based on performance.

Company Practices

The good news for employers in Africa is that 89 percent of respondents said they were either totally committed or very committed to furthering their organizations’ goals.

Greater concern lies with the finding that only 51 percent of employees said that they are in agreement with their organizational policies and procedures. According to Felgate, the ultimate aim of a well-developed policy manual is to ensure that the organization is able to focus on its key strategic deliverables and objectives, while maintaining the integrity of the value chain within the business. Legislative requirements are becoming more onerous for businesses, and due care should be given to ensure that the required supporting processes are carefully thought out and implemented, so as to ensure that this does not place the business in an undesirable position, while retaining buy-in of employees.

Engagement Scores by Generation

Millennials (71 percent) are substantially more engaged than Generation X (63 percent) or Baby Boomers (64 percent). The report highlighted the fact that as organizations develop through the various stages of maturity, it is important to remain aware of any differences and the possible reasons for differing levels of engagement.

Generation X and Millennial respondents are closer to each other in terms of engagement needs than they are to Baby Boomers, indicating a degree of potential polarization. These findings have strong implications for talent management and career development, according to the report.

Recommendations to Improve Employee Engagement

A large number of organizations are experiencing high turnover. Although opportunities for career advancement in certain industry sectors is limited, scarce skills and top performers are becoming increasingly mobile, making employee engagement more important to a company’s sustainability.

Emergence Growth recommended the following steps to encourage engagement:

  • Enforce a solid vision and continuously promote values.
  • Be transparent about goals, new endeavors and changes to the organization.
  • Build relationships between managers and peers.
  • Provide encouragement and support career development opportunities for employees.
  • Support teamwork.
  • Build trust.
  • Communicate clearly about and define expectations of goals and targets.
  • Recognize and reward performance for exceptional employees.
  • value employees that contribute over and above what is expected of them.
  • Enforce competitive pay and benefits to encourage attraction and retention of employees with key skills.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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