Employee Engagement in the U.K.: 3 Trends and Examples of What Works

Posted in Employee Experience

Have you ever wondered why a self-deluded, unlikeable character like David Brent resonated so well in the United Kingdom? Of course, there have been many adaptations of “The Office” around the globe, the most famous being the American version that ran from 2005 to 2013. But still, what is it about work culture in the U.K. that led to such a cult classic?

Employee Engagement in the U.K.

First off, employee engagement in the U.K. is low – dismally so. According to Gallup’s most recent “State of the Global Workplace” report, 76% of U.K. workers are not engaged. Another 14% are actively disengaged.

Employee engagement describes how involved and committed an employee is to their job and the company’s success. It’s a term used to describe how enthusiastic or passionate an employee feels towards their job and if they feel a deeper emotional connection to the organization.

Why U.K. Workers Are So Disengaged

London Business School professor of organizational behavior Dan Cable has an interesting theory as to why engagement levels are so low in the U.K. He argues that the issue stems from lingering bureaucratic management practices first adopted during the industrial revolution.

“These rules improved productivity and reliability, but also created the conditions for disengagement. That’s because they reduced employees’ self-expression, their ability to experiment and learn, and their connection with the final product,” he told Raconteur.

Of course, navigating a global pandemic and economic uncertainty these past few years hasn’t helped the situation in the U.K. Amid the push for hybrid workers to return to the office, there’s actually a new trend emerging that tech company Owl Labs refers to as “coffee badging” – where workers just go into the office for a few hours to “show face” and then leave. One in three workers in the U.K. said they’ve tried coffee badging.

How to Fix Employee Engagement in the U.K.

At its core, a lack of engagement is about a lack of connection to your work, your colleagues, and your company. And creating an engaging work environment is ultimately a shared responsibility across senior leadership, employees, managers, and HR.

But there are some specific U.K. trends we uncovered in our annual employee connection survey that might help you understand the situation and take steps to improve your company culture.

Low Satisfaction With Engagement Programs:

Only 29% of U.K. workers said they were very satisfied with their company’s engagement programs – a marked contrast to the 44% who expressed high satisfaction in the U.S. Workers in the U.K. were more likely to report that their company has DEI programs, and slightly less likely to report onboarding programs available to them.

Connection Is Key:

When engagement programs are successful in the U.K., 56% of workers say it’s because those programs help employees form strong relationships. And when asked about the greatest impact of employee engagement programs, 40% said they create a more inclusive work culture. It’s no surprise that peer learning and career development top the list of most beneficial programs in the U.K. according to employees.

Don’t Forget About Convenience:

Why do U.K. employees choose not to participate in engagement programs? Forty-three percent say they’re not offered at a convenient time and 27% said they’re not authentic. That tells us top-down mandates won’t move the needle. Meet employees where they’re at and give them opportunities to forge stronger relationships in the flow of work.

two women sitting next to each other looking at screens

Curious what this looks like in practice? Global personal care company Dermalogica is doing a lot of things right. Here are some fun examples of how the Dermalogica team is weaving a culture of connection at every step of the employee journey:

  • Dermalogica integrated Enboarder with Huggg, so new hires can grab a free drink at a local coffee shop during their first week. ☕
  • A video from Jane, Dermalogica’s founder, made it into preboarding, “so you’ve heard some of her inspirational words and learned about our culture before you start,” says Beca Floyd, internal communications and engagement manager. 🎥
  • In a dedicated pregnancy workflow, pregnant employees are connected with Dermalogica’s “mommy tribe,” who share advice, offer support, and answer questions. 🤰

We hope these trends and examples give our U.K. friends some ideas for how to amp up engagement and connection. Of course, if your company is still promoting people like David Brent into management positions, we really can’t help you there.

To learn more about the state of engagement and connection in the U.K., check out Enboarder’s e-book that breaks down the data from our 2023 connection survey.

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