Launched in 2022, the Engage for Success (EFS) engagement survey was established to gain a better understanding of employee engagement levels in the UK. At the time, the focus was on the pandemic and the impact it had on engagement. Given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, it was not unexpected to see a dramatic drop in engagement levels during the waves of lockdown restrictions. However, the lack of rebound in engagement levels as we emerged from the pandemic was troubling. The expectation that employees would ‘re-engage’ as the threat of Covid diminished did not materialise automatically.  With data from the 2023 EFS engagement survey showing no movement in engagement, it is becoming apparent that UK engagement has stagnated. Coupled with 47% of respondents thinking about leaving their current job, the findings are alarming. As organisations struggle to attract and retain talent, paying attention to employee engagement has never been more critical.

EFS Engagement Index – what does it mean? 

Based on feedback from over 3,000 respondents representing the UK working population, data indicates engagement levels still lag significantly behind pre-pandemic levels. Notably, the EFS Engagement Index remains stagnant at 62%, reflecting a neutral stance among UK employees and their experiences of work. To explain what this means, it is important to consider how the index is calculated. The index is derived from three questions measuring levels of satisfaction, advocacy, and intentions to stay and is calculated by averaging the responses to these questions. Measured on a scale of 1-5 and the average is then converted into a percentage to make it more intuitive. Data from the 2023 EFS survey gave an average response of 3.47 to the three Index questions, which when converted, gives an Index level of 62%. To put this into context, UK employees are on the fence, neither enthusiastic enough about work to agree (4), nor discontent enough to disagree (2). They are present, but not engaged.

Prioritising the people issues 

Whilst the data suggests a sense of despondency across the UK workforce, it is important to note that experiences vary considerably. A key example is how the prioritization of the people issues by managers and leaders affects engagement levels.  Respondents were asked whether their leaders sufficiently prioritised the people issues when making the big decisions and whether managers prioritised the people issues when making day-to-day decisions. Experiences were divided. Two-in-five respondents believed that both their senior leaders and their managers did not sufficiently prioritise the people issues, whilst two-in-five respondents believed that their leaders and managers did sufficiently prioritise the people issues. Those in between expressed mixed views.  The effect on engagement levels is evident when comparing responses against the EFS Engagement Index. Respondents who did not believe that either their manager or their leaders sufficiently prioritised the people issues when making decisions, had an EFS Index level of 45%. This contrasted significantly with the EFS Index Level of 77% among respondents who perceived that both their managers and leaders adequately prioritised the people issues. Perceptions of the prioritisation of the people issues also impacted other key indicators. Of specific note, levels of unmanageable job stress were 5 times higher for respondents who did not believe their managers or leaders prioritised the people issues.

The influence of organisational actions on engagement 

Findings from the 2022 survey found that the number of practices used by organisations had a positive impact on both engagement levels and the degree of drop in engagement experienced during the pandemic. In essence, the more methods the organisation used, the more engagement levels were shielded during Covid. Data from the 2023 survey supports this finding and demonstrates that what an organisation does, or doesn’t do, significantly impacts on engagement. On average, there was a variation of 25% between organisations who offered a variety of methods and those that offered the minimum required. For example, respondents who were offered no learning and development at work had an engagement index level of 47%. Whilst respondents who had access to five (or more) development opportunities had an engagement index level of 72%. Examples of methods included online learning (e.g. LinkedIn Learning and other learning platforms), and both internal and externally developed seminars and workshops. This pattern was consistent across all groups of practices, including wellbeing, employee voice mechanisms, and social engagement methods.

Impact of the organisational stance on hybrid working 

Ways of working were dramatically altered during the pandemic; the most dramatic change was remote working. Whilst many organisations stated that they would support hybrid working once restrictions had lifted, over the past 12 months several prominent organisations have mandated a return to the office. Looking at the 2023 EFS survey data, just over half of respondents stated that their organisations supported hybrid working. Whilst 21% of respondents stated they had been mandated to fully return to the office. Engagement level of those in hybrid supportive organisations were 13% higher compared to respondent who had been mandated to fully return to the office. In addition, respondents who were mandated to fully return to work, experienced significantly higher levels of unmanageable job stress and were twice as likely to have worked whilst ill over the past three months. Findings also highlight very little variation in engagement levels of respondents who were mandated to return part of the week, and those who were being ‘encouraged’ to return to the office.  

Reflections on the data

With over 3,000 responses from a representative sample of the UK working population asking over 100 questions related to their experiences of work, there is a lot of data to explore. Variations in engagement levels are also evident across sectors, organisational size, organisational approaches to people management, and individual circumstances and backgrounds.

The discussion above highlights a few key areas. A copy of the full report will be available in May via the Engage for Success website. 

Dr Sarah Pass, Nottingham Trent University