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Cracking the engagement code

24 May 2012


For some years staff engagement has been a magic fad for employers, seen to be a reliable route to productivity improvement. While the same organisations that report high engagement levels often see wellbeing, job satisfaction and organisational loyalty figures to be alarmingly low, they seem to continue investing in this elusive concept, swayed by the promise of outstanding bottom line outcomes.

Such reliability may be misleading, as measures of engagement are still poorly – and often anecdotally – defined.  For example, many employers are under assumption that pay is the single strongest incentive for people to perform well at work. While this is true for some people, The Work Foundation’s two-year research programme, completed in 2010, has demonstrated that reducing engagement simply to pay is an oversimplification. Not only are employees motivated by an array of the factors, ranging from organisational brand to the amount of fun they have with colleagues at work; the relative importance of those factors varies in time, as individual employees proceed to balance and re-balance their employment ‘deals’.

Two interesting survey findings revealed today once again confirmed the UK employers’ overconfidence in their engagement strategies.

We know that good work is characterised by the culture of honest and open communication and fair recognition process. At the same time, in one Yougov survey more than a third of a 1,000 respondents to the survey said they rarely or never received appropriate or sufficient recognition at work; and 35 % reported they are dissatisfied with the communication that they receive from their senior management.

Another important workplace incentive that employers often oversee is the ethos of the employer. Another Yougov poll of 4,000 has shown that two thirds of staff would go the extra mile for an organisation with purpose that surpasses mere profit-making. This incentive was second most important factor to people after pay, ahead of other working conditions, such as autonomy and development opportunities.

This is not to say that engagement measures should be forgotten – they are often an appropriate instrument to take the temperature on employee commitment and job satisfaction. What is needed though is a more thoughtful interpretation of the engagement scores on a more regular basis than an annual staff survey.