HR faces engagement struggle as workloads rise, Casey Gold

In this time of “uncertainty,” most HR professionals are saying that employee engagement is their single biggest challenge this year, as workforces struggle with longer hours and the effect of redundancies, research has found.

70% of respondents to the State of HR survey by Speechly Bircham and King’s College London cited engagement as their top concern for 2012. This was up from 65% in 2011 and reflects the challenge of motivating employees in “age of uncertainty” said the researchers.

But despite recognising the importance of engagement, many organisations are cutting back expenditure on engagement initiatives. For example, 50% reported spending money on initiatives to enhance employee input into decision making, down from 70% the previous year.

Economic concerns are weighing heavily on staff and leading to additional pressures, the research indicated. Asked what changes had occurred in the last four years, the top three cited were ‘number of additional hours worked by staff’, ‘stress related problems among staff’ and ‘employment relations problems’.

Presenteeism has also emerged as a serious HR issue, with 25% of organisations reporting that staff are more likely to come to work while ill, and 41% predicting an increase in this trend this year. Yet health and wellbeing was only viewed as a key priority by 31% of respondents.

“This year’s survey finds that organisations are running significant risks with their employees in allowing higher workloads to erode wellbeing,” said Stuart Woollard, director of King’s Management Learning Board and co-author of the survey report. “This is both counterproductive from a productivity, quality and service perspective, and also a serious driver of employee disengagement and withdrawal. The rise in workloads and employee absence, presenteeism and stress should worry all leaders, managers and HR teams. Yet, we are seeing that initiatives to drive employee engagement have fallen significantly this year and that employee health and wellbeing is considered a lower priority than many other HR challenges. This is a potent mix and one that suggests that business and HR strategy is not focused enough on these key areas.”

There was a higher than expected level of grievances in 2011, with 62% reporting staff grievances against line managers – up from 45% expected in last year’s survey.
 
Robert Thomas, employment partner at Speechly Bircham and co-author, added: “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. Employers ignore this cocktail at their peril. It is a sad sign of the times that redundancies no longer appear to affect employee engagement. After four years of cuts, employees seem to see this as part of their normal working life.”

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This blog and its accompanying Twitter account have been established as social media learning tools for the Internal Communications and Employee Engagement class at Columbia College Chicago. Through this blog, we will share our observations about current events, change management and employee communications theory, and the application of social media in shaping employee engagement.
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