Employee Engagement

Employees in sub-Saharan Africa are more engaged by their employers than in other regions of the world, a recently published survey conducted by consultancy Emergence Growth in partnership with human resources (HR) advisory Aon Hewitt shows.

The Sub-Saharan Africa Employee Engagement Survey measured key drivers such as quality of life, work processes, relationships with managers and peers, rewards and employee benefits, career opportunities and company practices.

“Employee engagement refers to the state of emotion and intellectual involvement that motivates employees to do their best work and is a crucial factor in retaining high-value employees and reducing staff churn,” explained Aon Hewitt South Africa deputy CEO Ndivhuwo Manyonga.

“Organisations need to ensure that every effort is made to retain those high-value employees who are critical to the future of their businesses.”

Three in four engaged

Seventy-two per cent of employees in sub-Saharan Africa were considered engaged, according to the survey, which polled over 300 000 employees from 75 organisations across sub-Saharan Africa.

These scores correlated very closely with those of other emerging economies and were significantly higher than all global developed economies.

Latin America followed closely with 71%, while North America scored 64% and Asia Pacific 58% – the global average.

“It is, however, important to note that Africa cannot be considered to be one nebulous region, as significant regional differences in engagement scores are evident,” the study cautioned.

For example, East Africa scored 74%, followed by Southern Africa – represented by Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland – at 70%, while South Africa scored 68%.

Insufficient data was received from West Africa to constitute a regional view.

Developed Country Comparison

These scores were still significantly higher than those of the major economic regions of the US, Europe and Asia Pacific.

According to Aon Hewitt’s 2012 Trends in Global Engagement Survey, published in June 2012, engagement levels globally were at 58% in 2011, up two percentage points from 56% in 2010.

Asia Pacific scored 58%, Europe 52%, Latin America 71% and North America 64%.

Manyonga believed that companies that made a concerted effort to engage with and listen to their employees would benefit from improved staff retention and improved business performance.

“However, it is essential that engagement improvements are applied in consultation with employees, and need to be relevant to the unique needs of the organisation’s diverse workforce, rather than ‘template-type, one-size-fits-all approaches,” he commented.

Emergence Growth chairperson Pat Smythe, who emphasised that, for the first time in Africa, HR practitioners had access to reliable employee engagement data, echoed this view.

“This will enable them to play a strategic role in identifying those interventions that support the attraction and retention of key talent in their organisations. By working closely with leaders, HR practitioners will truly be able to craft employee value propositions that add value,” she said.

The emphasis, however, had to be on the customisation of appropriate solutions that connected with and enabled employees, many of whom were at different life stages and had various needs.

“A large number of organisations are experiencing high turnover of staff. Following the global economic crisis, opportunities for career advancement in certain industry sectors is still limited; however, scarce skills and top performers continue to be in high demand, making employee engagement critical to a company’s sustainability,” said Smythe.

Transarency and trust

Issues around values, transparency, trust, ethical business practices, the promotion of teamwork, recognition, rewards, and career development opportunities, were equally important as competitive pay and benefits to attract and retain key skills.

Manyonga added that the demand for skilled individuals was no longer a local issue, but one of serious global proportions.

“The shortage of highly skilled individuals with experience is a global phenomenon. Head hunting of key staff is no longer limited to local markets. One only has to look at rapidly growing economies such as China and a number of African countries to realise that there will be a serious increase in high-value employees applying for positions both locally and abroad,” he advised.

As such, he believed that proactive employers must start identifying unique ways of creating an attractive value proposition for their staff if they were to arrest such an exodus.

In South Africa, an alarmingly low percentage of organisations had attempted to develop holistic engagement or retention strategies and had instead focused merely on replacing exiting staff, Manyonga believed.

“With an improving economic outlook, employees are increasingly expecting more value from their employers and voting with their feet if they believe they are not valued by their employers,” he cautioned, adding that, if one considered that the replacement cost of a highly skilled employee was in the order of 100% of his or yearly salary, the need for engaged employees became a business imperative.

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