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The Losers’ Club? Which UK sectors need to up their employee engagement game?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

48% of legal professionals feel ‘actively disengaged’ at work

AON, 2017

We all know that for the past 5 years or so, HR directors, managers and CEOs have had the words ‘employee engagement’ rattling through their minds, scrawled on meeting notes and appearing in the subject line of countless emails. We also know why, with strong levels of employee engagement linked with a raft of business benefits including:

  • Higher employee satisfaction
  • Improved staff retention and lower turnover
  • Increased levels of productivity
  • Boosted profitability
  • Less absenteeism
  • Enhanced employee loyalty

In 2017, according to Gallup’s ‘State of the Global Workforce’ report, an alarmingly small minority of just 15% of employees felt strongly engaged at work. At the time, Gallup predicted this meant a global loss in productivity amounting to $7 trillion. The US and Canada led the way with 29 and 30% respectively. The UK lingered around mid-table with 16%.

In August 2018, the needle had moved a little, with the US scoring 34% for engagement and a new low of just 13% for actively disengaged workers. We await the 2019 results but if we make an educated guess, we’d expect to see some further growth as the topic becomes ever hotter and thus more in to focus.

While we await some fresh new results from Gallup, we thought it would be interesting, (and perhaps a little cathartic to point a finger or two) to look at which sectors are currently letting the side down.

Manufacturing props up the bottom of the table

According to Gallup, manufacturing workers are the least engaged occupation globally with 75% of employees disengaged as of 2017.

There are likely numerous reasons that explain this one, including the following:

  • The prevalence of cost-control pressures within the industry
  • A talent shortage of skilled workers
  • High levels of historical turnover
  • Lower than average wage levels
  • The geographic spread of a workforce often split across continents

One big consideration with the manufacturing industry is the transient nature of its workers. Most are not going to be office-based, with their own desk, computer, and phone, meaning a multitude of traditional channels for interacting with staff (intranet, emails, newsletters, etc.) aren’t an option. If strong efforts aren’t made to offer the same experience to non-desk staff as to those based in the office, obviously feelings of being less valued and unwanted can prevail.

Interestingly though, many of these issues are also faced by those working in the construction industry, which has some of the highest levels of engagement across the globe!

Though it’s not all doom and gloom for the industry with some shining examples of how engagement can work for the sector, such as New Zealand based Synlait, who boosted engagement levels dramatically to increase their share price by 100%!

Does the legal sector have an issue with engagement?

A (surprising) recent piece of research by Aon looked at exactly this question to build the first, comprehensive view of the state of engagement within the legal industry. ‘The State of partner and employee engagement in the legal sector’ report was released in late 2018 and brings some fascinating insight into the inner workings of engagement in one of the world’s oldest professions.

The report gathers together insight on 9,500 professional working in the legal sector, across a number of roles in the UK, mainland Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas and ran over an 18-month period from early 2017.

A staggering 48% of respondents from the research felt ‘actively disengaged’ at work. Levels of engagement differed greatly from role to role including:

  • Partners – 66%
  • Trainees – 59%
  • Business services – 56%
  • Associates – 43%

None of those scores are good, but with associates making up a sizable chunk of the legal sector’s workforce, them sitting at just 43% for any level of engagement should be a real eye-opener for the industry. Only 54% of associates felt they were empowered and had autonomy at work, compared to 81% of partners.

These poor scores are bound to impact operations and it seems the legal profession is particularly susceptible to staff turnover – while Monster state the average, cross-industry turnover rate in the UK is 15%, data from the Office for National Statistics shows this could be as high as 40%+ in the legal sector – ouch!

With the average cost of legal recruitment sitting at around £40,000 – ouch again – when all factors are considered (hiring costs, training costs, loss of productivity, etc.), then the legal sector need to look at their employee engagement problem and fix it fast.

Hey teacher, leave those kids employee engagement stats alone

This one might not come as a huge surprise (certainly not as much as the poor employee engagement within the legal sector does), what with the constant news stories both here in the UK and globally about the shortage of teachers and the retention difficulties faced by the industry, but engagement in education is pretty abysmal.

Gallup once again carried out research looking at the state of teacher engagement in the U.S. and found that 56% of teaching staff are not engaged in their work. This is a somewhat startling finding when you think that one of the key elements of a teaching professionals work is to actively encourage engagement within their students – how is that possible if the teacher themselves is simply going through the motions?

While specific figures for UK teachers are not readily available at this time, we can safely assume that as engagement is consistently lower here that the U.S. it’s likely a similar or worse story for teachers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If teacher engagement is poor, and the profession is becoming harder and harder to staff, what is the potential long-term impact for our future workforce? Surely if we need any industry to lead the way on engagement it’s education?

What can these sectors do to improve engagement?

There are some key elements that are shared across the most successful engagement strategies such as:

  • Open, honest two-way communication between staff and managers
  • A culture of recognition
  • Frequent interaction, feedback, and measurement of engagement
  • Equal opportunity for all staff to raise issues and thoughts

Making these individual criteria part of your employee engagement strategy is key to your business success.

Happily, Weekly10 offers all the above elements as part of our online platform (also available on mobile and across workplace apps such as Slack and Microsoft Teams).

With a data-driven, effective employee engagement process built around a weekly check-in, Weekly10 helps any business open up lines of communication across the organisation from the newest recruit all the way to the CEO, allowing staff and managers to recognise success and discretionary effort.

Weekly10 also offers up performance management in the shape of goal tracking/OKR management as well as performance reviews and a full suite of analytics backed produced via bespoke machine learning models, allowing you to test, measure and engage your staff.

If you’d like to see Weekly10 in action, then we offer free (and zero obligation) guided demos and the option to trial the software for free. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

Head of People Science