Engagement Trends

Regular readers know I love market research. Now that my focus is on how well companies are organised to deliver what they promise, my real passion is the staff engagement study.

Most of us have heard the name Gallup in connection with electoral polls. In truth, Gallup is one of the world’s most capable producers of insights, full stop. Founded in 1935 by George Gallup after his stint as Director of Research at ad agency Young & Rubicam, the business initially traded under the portentous title The American Institute of Public Opinion. In 1936 Gallup got his break when his team predicted, from a sample of only 50,000 respondents, that Franklin Roosevelt would win the US presidential election.

Gallup has been tracking employee engagement worldwide since 2000. As you might expect, they have reported a steady metric without sharp ups or downs … until the COVID-19 pandemic. During this period, many organisational leaders have been asking how they should interpret current employee engagement results or compare them with past measurements given the markedly different circumstances. Are 2020 survey results even useful?

Here in Africa we’ve been advising our clients to continue such surveys because there’s no better time to know what your employees are thinking than during disruption. In America, Gallup, tracked 190 employee engagement surveys up to July across more than 300,000 employees in 18 industries. They found that overall levels of engagement were not compromised for organisations implementing employee engagement measures and interventions during COVID-19.

The percentage of engaged employees – those highly involved in and committed to their work – is actually one point above the pre-COVID-19 rate of 35%. The percentage of workers who are actively disengaged – having miserable work experiences and spreading their unhappiness to their colleagues – remains the same, at 13%.

However, Gallup found that the drop in engagement levels was highest for Managers in comparison to executive leaders and individual workers. While  41% of employees strongly agreed that their manager keeps them informed about what is going on in the company, managers reported higher levels of stress and burnout than the people they manage.

In Africa, there’s evidence that supports Gallup’s insights on staff engagement. My team is currently analysing 6 studies across 19 countries. We’re struck by unaltered levels of employee response (+/- 70%), and by willingness to answer open questions like ‘what is the company doing badly that we should stop doing?”

None of these responses seems blurred by uncertainty. If anything, COVID is prompting staff to reflect upon what is essential to business survival.

Employees in well-led companies are also grateful for the extra care and attention they have received.