Despite Employee Engagement having been a key concern of HR Directors for several years the recent CIPD headline “Deterioration in Employee Voice and Employee Engagement at record low” suggests it has yet to be addressed properly.  So what’s the problem?

A clue may be the fact that I have yet to see a single article or presentation from any CEO showing that Employee Engagement is on their strategic radar.  Does this suggest Employee Engagement is only of interest to HR professionals because we worry more about people than organisations?

This can’t be true.  There is a considerable body of evidence demonstrating that more engaged employees are more productive, more loyal and deliver better service.  However that is all very well in theory but in practice most companies struggle to bridge the gap between the boardroom aspiration and the shop floor.

Levels of engagement have been hit hard as job insecurity becomes a permanent fact of life for many.  Jobs are de-skilled giving work less meaning for individuals, career prospects become a lottery as constant re-organisations render long term career plans impossible and pay and conditions are eroded.

In this climate, it’s no surprise that many leadership teams (bending under the same pressures) decide it is all too difficult and that employees ought to be motivated by the fact that they actually have a job.

More ambitious HR teams try to tackle it head on but often with limited success.  A change programme can often amount to little more than corporate propaganda.  The Employee Value Proposition, a personal favourite of mine, sounds good but seldom amounts to more than a statement of why you are so lucky to work for this organization. Both have no link to an employees’ every day experience of work.

So what can we do? It is clear that the old social contract around work is torn up and is unlikely to return.  Loyalty is a two-way relationship and with most companies having put in place a more transactional employment relationship, employees are unlikely to feel the same level of engagement as before.

Is all lost and should we just accept that we can only manage employee engagement with a combination of fear and money? Well, not quite.

Leaders must recognise that Employee Engagement will no longer be achieved by corporate statements or programmes.  Engagement is largely driven by individuals’ relationship with their line managers and teams. Now more than ever, organisations need good line managers who can help their teams to understand their role, where it fits with the organisation and why it is important.  Good managers can create an environment where people can be motivated, can set clear, relevant and achievable targets and provide high quality feedback.  They can help individuals to understand their own potential and what they need to do this.

The simple question you have to ask is, are your managers equipped for this task and what are you doing to support them?  If the answer is not much but you are developing an Employee Value Proposition, I would think again.