BenefitsContributorsEmployee Engagement

The Engagement Gap

A survey of 30,000 workers in 17 markets reveals widespread disquietude.

By Jeff Miller
It’s not helpful to make sweeping assumptions or generalizations about global trends, global populations, or even the global employee population. What matters to workers in the vastness of North and South America might not reflect the cultural, social, and regulatory workplace realities of Europe, China, India, or Australia. To get inside the minds of employees worldwide—and to learn how our outsourcing strategies can best serve them—we need good data, a lot of it, and a solid methodology to interpret that data.
That’s what Mercer sought with our latest What’s Working survey, an ambitious research project conducted from Q4 2010 to Q2 2011 involving nearly 30,000 workers in 17 markets worldwide. Relying on more than 100 survey questions covering pay, benefits, careers, leadership, performance, engagement, communication, and more, our research captures employee views regarding the work experience today. It is designed to reflect overall workforce demographics in each market (age, gender, job level) and uses sophisticated conjoint analysis to show which value proposition elements employees value most. Because Mercer conducts this research periodically, prior data is available for most markets to highlight year-over-year changes and trends.
There’s a good chance that wherever you’re reading this, the survey sampled a local employee population—from Canada to Argentina, the Netherlands to Spain, and throughout Asia—and the results revealed any number of notable trends amid the differences of culture and geography. Key findings tell us that loyalty is eroding across all markets, as increasing numbers of employees (from one-quarter to one-half in each of the markets surveyed) are seriously considering leaving their organizations. Those figures are highest for the youngest employees, and a large number of additional workers are not committed to staying or leaving. Both of these developments have produced an engagement gap with serious implications for employers, given the potential impact on productivity and profitability.
If anything, the so-called “millennials” (born after 1980) exhibit something of a paradox.
Compared to the overall workforce in their markets, the youngest groups of workers (ages 16 to 24 and 25 to 34) in Mercer’s survey are more satisfied with their organizations, more satisfied with their jobs, and more likely to recommend their organizations as good places to work. Yet at the same time, they are much more likely to be seriously considering leaving their organizations at the present time. We could chalk this up to youthful restlessness, but the fact remains that this pattern was not seen in prior What’s Working survey data. Organizations that want to retain and develop high-potential employees need to face this paradox and, if possible, try to change the perspective and employment habits of younger workers.
This can call for significant shifts in strategies for attracting, on-boarding, rewarding, motivating, and retaining young workers. Success in this area would allow organizations to amortize these front-loaded workforce costs over a reasonable period of time, and not lose talent and investments to another employer or competitor. The decision to do so or not will vary by organization, but it’s essential for each firm to understand its own unique value equation and whether a business case can be made for taking steps to retain and extend the tenure of young workers—steps that may well call for global outsourcing services in the areas of employee communication and benefits administration.
What is clear from the Mercer survey is that—regardless of global region, age, gender, or level—base pay, type of work, and career advancement are what rank as the most important elements of the employee value proposition today. Yet satisfaction with pay and benefits is down in many locations. And that trend speaks to the opportunity for global outsourcing providers to help employers articulate and enhance their value propositions to the diverse population of global employees, young and otherwise.
As I’ve said before, that calls for first-rate service delivery, from transactional self-service for employees and managers, to help lines, case management, even face-to-face support. To succeed in these areas, outsourcing providers must deliver enabling technologies that provide a seamless and flexible experience for clients and their employees, promoting not only health and wellness but higher levels of engagement as well.

As outsourcers, we must be able to help employers administer, support, and promote the benefit offerings that are best customized to employee needs and wants, especially now that flexible benefit offerings are becoming an attraction/retention factor for companies in more and more countries, and especially in the hypercompetitive war-for-talent geographies of the Asia-Pacific region.
If anything, Mercer’s What’s Working survey adds data to the lessons that employers and their outsourcing providers continue to learn. The data tracks a global workforce responding to many factors—financial and nonfinancial—that affect employee motivation and engagement. While those factors can vary by culture, patterns can be seen, and they converge on a motivational mix of pay, opportunity, and the quality of the work experience (which includes co-worker and managerial quality, work/life balance, and providing good customer service). Even the leading global organizations can use help in delivering on so much, and global outsourcing’s challenge is to be a fully enabling, long-term partner.
Jeff Miller is president and group executive for Mercer’s outsourcing business.

Tags: Benefits, Consultants & Advisors, Engaged Workforce, HRO Today Global, Professional Contribution

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