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Exclusive: Employee engagement slumps to the levels of 2008

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UK staff are less engaged than they were in 2009 - at the height of the recession, according to research revealed exclusively to HR magazine.

Less than a year after David MacLeod published his seminal review linking employee engagement to business success, engagement levels among UK employees are dropping, HR magazine can exclusively reveal.

Employees in the UK are now reporting some of the lowest engagement levels in the world, falling behind China, India, Russia, Mexico and the US. Levels in the UK have reverted to 2008 levels and are lower than 2009 when the UK was in the height of recession.

According to the Kenexa Research Institute Employee Engagement Index, overall engagement in the UK currently stands at 51% compared with 54% in 2009 and 51% in 2008. Japan reports the lowest engagement levels in the world at 36% compared to a global average of 55%-57%, in the survey of 25,000 staff worldwide.

Jack Wiley (pictured), executive director at the Kenexa Research Institute, explains: "In 2009, employees in the UK were very relieved to even have a job but, over the past year as employee numbers have been cut, staff have experienced more stress, lack of pay rises and more work heaped upon them. By comparison, India and China have seen increases in engagement levels as their economies have grown."

The report shows high levels of employee engagement are linked to business leaders who inspire confidence in the future; managers who recognise employees and emphasise improvement as top priorities; exciting work and the opportunity to develop; and organisations that demonstrate a genuine responsibility to their employees and communities.

Kenexa also measured the key drivers of engagement and for the first time, opportunity for growth and development, trust in leadership, the value of employee contributions and the feeling that staff ideas count appeared among the top 10 drivers.

"We have typically found the main driver is leaders who inspire confidence," says Wiley. "Relationships with managers are important but we can't put the onus on them. People want to work for leaders they can trust."

Amanda White, HR director of healthcare and pharmaceuticals company Abbott, adds: "In 2009 and 2010 communication has been crucial. Employers should consider both formal and informal means of communicating with employees to create a positive working atmosphere."