What can we learn from ‘Engagement Outliers?’


If you’re passionate about creating a great place to work, you’re probably familiar with Aon Hewitt’s 2017 Trends in Global Employee Engagement report. The annual study reiterated that engagement levels have stagnated; globally, just 63% of employees are engaged. This shows a two-point decrease on the previous year.

Progress is predicted to be painfully slow. As part of their ‘Outliers Study,’ the organisation found that engagement in the average company improved by just one point, year on year. The report’s introduction states that ‘at this rate, it will take the average company more than 10 years to achieve top quartile engagement levels,’ and ‘more than 20 years for bottom quartile companies to move to the top quartile.’ For many organisations, experiencing such minimal change over a long period could be incredibly detrimental to their engagement efforts. Why work so hard, for such little gain?

Engagement Outliers

It’s not all bad news. Aon Hewitt took a closer look at the companies that have gone the extra mile to achieve engagement improvements, year over year. These ‘engagement outliers’ have achieved much more than a one-point increase – they’ve seen significant results, increasing engagement by 11 points or more.

The report is based on three key groups:

  • The Most Improved Players’ – Companies which started with their engagement levels in the bottom quartile, and have made a leap over one year (achieving an increase of 25 points)
  • The Ordinary to Extraordinary’ – Organisations which began with average engagement levels, but have managed to achieve a 19+ point increase over one year
  • The Best Getting Better’ – Described by Aon Hewitt as the ‘truly elite’ group, these organisations have already achieved top-quartile engagement levels, and continue to achieve incredible results (on average, a 13-point improvement year on year)

Although every organisation in each group has achieved impressive results, the ‘most improved players’ have had a particularly tough journey. We know that trying to improve upon low engagement levels can be an uphill struggle; how do you inspire employees to get involved, when they’re already disengaged themselves? These companies may have struggled with engagement to begin with, but they’ve certainly achieved great things over the course of twelve months.

What can we learn from these organisations?

This group saw a 14-point improvement in collaboration year on year, proving that working together and ensuring employees are on the same page is an essential element of increasing engagement levels. During our own Spotlight on the Employee Engagement Profession research, we found that many teams were still struggling to get to grips with employee engagement – just 14% of our respondents had a company-wide definition of engagement. Of those companies, only 7% said their definition was well understood in their organisation.

Improvement in senior leadership was also a highlight for the ‘most improved players,’ showing an increase of 20 points. Line managers can have a significant impact on employee engagement, and it seems this was reflected in the achievements of this group. As part of our own study, only 13% of respondents rated their manager as ‘good’ (a decrease of 25% on the previous year) – with many participants believing that their manager didn’t support the need for engagement in the first place.

Empowerment and autonomy increased by 17 points for this group. As one of the five enablers, employee voice is an integral element of achieving successful employee engagement. Employees must feel able to reinforce (and challenge) views, as well as being central to changes and solutions. Our research found that 59% of organisations were focusing their efforts on improving this area.

Getting started in your organisation

If you’re hoping to achieve similar results in 2018, don’t let low engagement levels drag you down. We know it can feel demoralising (and even impossible at times), but the achievements of the organisations in this group prove that improvements can be made, in a relatively short space of time.

Download our free research report today, for an overview of the current state of the employee engagement profession. Alongside the findings from 76 UK organisations, you’ll find practical hints and tips to help you get started.

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