Perfect storm brewing as HR scales back engagement initiatives

by 28 Feb 2012

HR professionals have cited employee engagement as their single biggest challenge this year amid longer hours as a flow-on effect of redundancies.

70% of respondents to a recent survey by King’s College London named engagement as their top concern for 2012. The figure has increased from 65% in 2011 and reflects the challenge of motivating employees in an age of uncertainty, the researchers noted.

Interestingly, despite recognising the importance of engagement, many organisations are cutting back on their investment in engagement initiatives. Just 50% reported an investment in initiatives to enhance employee input in the decision-making process – a marked decrease from 70% recorded in the previous year.

Economic concerns were also found to be weighing heavily on staff and leading to additional stress. When asked what changes had occurred in the past four years, the top three cited by HR were:

  1. Number of additional hours worked by staff
  2. Stress-related grievances among staff
  3. Employment relations problems

Perhaps as a flow-on effect of increased workplace stress, presenteeism has also emerged as a serious HR issue in 2012. The report revealed:

  • 25% said staff were more likely to come to work while ill rather than take the day off
  • 41% predicted an increase in presenteeism this year
  • only 31% viewed health and wellbeing as a key priority

“Organisations are running significant risks if they allow higher workloads to erode employee wellbeing. This is both counter-productive from a productivity, quality and service perspective, and also a serious driver of employee disengagement and withdrawal,” said Stuart Woollard, co-author of the report.

In light of the fall in employee engagement and health & wellbeing initiatives, the researchers suggested that a perfect storm may be brewing unless business and HR strategy is refocused.

“This year we were hoping to see improved confidence, increased recruitment and greater employee engagement signalling the start of a genuine recovery. Unfortunately, uncertainty about the business environment has increased and we are seeing leaner workforces, longer hours and even higher levels of stress, absence and workforce discontent,” said employment lawyer and report co-author Robert Thomas. “Employers ignore this cocktail at their peril.”


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