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Employee disengagement remains a problem as employers fail to tackle 'deadwood'

UK firms are failing to tackle unmotivated staff, despite disengagement being a major threat to businesses, according to research by global management consultancy Hay Group and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The report, published yesterday, shows only 11% of UK companies regularly weed out so called 'dead weight' - staff with continually low engagement - say senior executives. But the vast majority (82%) of UK business leaders identify disengaged employees as one of the top three greatest threats facing their business.

Graeme Yell, director at Hay Group, said: "Business leaders are right to identify disengagement as a key threat to their companies, but are doing very little about it. This is a major concern, as many organisations have scaled back heavily during the recession, leaving a smaller workforce to drive their business through to recovery."

The Hay Group study is based on research among 300 C-suite executives in large businesses across Europe. The UK picture is reflected across Europe, Hay Group found, with several countries even less likely to address disengagement. Just 8% of French companies and 10% of German and Spanish companies regularly remove disengaged staff. Companies in the Netherlands and Belgium are the most effective, with 14 per cent regularly weeding out dead weight.

Despite the threat disengagement presents, the study also reveals a worrying lack of focus on employee motivation at the UK board table. Staff engagement is discussed occasionally, rarely or not at all at board level at almost half (46%) of British firms.

Yet UK boards are more alert to the disengagement pitfall than their European colleagues - 71% of French companies and 65% of German and Spanish companies hardly ever discuss staff engagement at board level. Close to half (46%) of UK C-suite executives find long-serving employees the most resistant to efforts to improve engagement - on a par with executives in the Netherlands and Belgium - compared to a quarter (26%) who would say the same of employees under the age of 25.

Spanish executives find long-serving employees the most difficult to motivate (51%), followed by their German counterparts (50%). In Germany this figure drops to just 14% employees under 25.

Yell added: "Experienced staff are extremely valuable to an organisation. They have useful knowledge and an in-depth understanding of the company and how it works. "Firms must act to ensure that long-serving employees are engaged as ambassadors of the organisation, rather than dead weight that must be carried."