Research Library Article


Improving Workforce Engagement

David Earle

An update of a worldwide 2012 survey of 32,000 workers that provides a detailed view of their attitudes and concerns. Taken together, the two surveys also offer detailed guidance into the actions employers can take to monitor workforce engagement and determine which are the most effective ways to influence it in positive ways.

The studies use the term “sustainable engagement” to describe the optimal relationship between employers and workers. It has three components:

  • Traditionally engaged workers are proud of their company, believe in its goals, and are willing to give extra effort to support its success
  • Enabled workers have the environment, resources, support and ability to work effectively
  • Energized workers feel enthusiastic, valued and socially engaged

When sustainable engagement is not achieved the studies find the workforce fragments into four groups:

  • Highly engaged — This group scores well on all three components
  • Unsuppported — This group remains traditionally engaged but lacks support and/or energy
  • Detatched  — This group feels supported and energized but lacks traditional engagement
  • Disengaged - This group scores low on all three measures


After decades of being instructed to know their customers' needs and meet them, employees have begun to expect the same from their employers. Seventy percent of employees agree that their organization should understand employees to the same degree that employees are expected to understand customers. However, fewer than half (43%) report having an employer that understands them in this way.

These studies distinguish themselves from other studies of employee engagement in three ways:

First, the researchers tested the relative impact of a dozen workplace elements and identified five that are the top drivers of sustainable engagement along with a corresponding list of the specific behaviors and actions that matter to employees.

Second, engagement is presented as the complicated problem it actually is, one that can only be “solved” holistically.  Little is gained by oversimplifying the analysis, looking for shortcuts, or using inappropriate motivators like salary, bonuses and other rewards that may be useful when attracting and retaining talent, but not when trying to build engagement.

Third, it offers details regarding the specific questions to ask in order to accurately determine a driver’s impact. Stress measurement, for example, uses a series of nine questions.

Contents (both studies)

  • Closing gaps in the traditional engagement model
  • Drivers of sustainable engagement: what matters most
  • Managing the dark side of stress
  • Managers and management redefined
  • Organizational reputation
  • Attraction and retention: shifting elements in the employment contract
  • Talent mobility
  • The economic value of highly evolved employment
  • Priorities
  • Compensation


Research Author  Towers Watson
Date Published  2012 and 2014
Pages    24 / 8
Cost Free
URL Link   (both surveys)