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The State of Canadian Employee Engagement

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a Canadian Management Center National Thought Leader Series presentation, delivered in conjunction with Ipsos Reid, on some of the results of a recent study conducted by Ipsos into Canadian employee engagement. The data contained some real surprises for me, including how my fellow Gen Xers are apparently falling off our collective “organizational engagement radar”, and the rather frightening numbers associated with Canadians’ views about the trustworthiness and credibility of their senior leaders.

I highly recommend attending the December 11th webinar that CMC will be presenting on this topic, but have outlined some of the stats I considered to be most salient below.

Canadian Employee Engagement

As John Wright from CMC explained, prior to this study, there was “virtually no fact-based Canadian research on employee engagement, due to a lack of Canadian source data”. Its sample was approximately 1,200 Canadian employees, and 484 Human resource professionals, representing 500 organizations in 15 sectors.

The study defined engagement as “how each individual employee connects and aligns (emotionally and intellectually) with your company and your customers”.

This isn’t bad, although I would personally like to see more focus on how employees “connect and align” to the organization on a day-to-day basis in their roles. Engagement is not a onetime evaluation by an employee of how they align to your company and customers- it’s a continuous evaluation by employees based on their daily reality at work, and frankly, that is why it’s hard for organizations to engineer, influence and sustain. Anyway…this is a decent definition, and so I won’t get into my rant about how mindless some of the current feverish discourse on engagement has gotten (see this other great HR blog post from HR Capitalist who said it better than I could anyway).

The Ipsos Reid study had some very interesting findings:

Overall Engagement amongst Canadian Workers

  • 27%        Highly Engaged
  • 50%        Moderately Engaged
  • 23%        Not Engaged

So, I’m a realist; these numbers don’t shock me, but it is a little terrifying to see data confirming that for every  “highly engaged” person that you have contributing new ideas, volunteering to participate on cross-functional working groups and acting like an unpaid spokesperson for your organization, you have almost as many who are gutting fish on their TPS reports

Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

In addition to the data on overall employee engagement, last week’s presentation focused in on two key findings of the Ipsos Reid survey: the correlation between the degree of individual engagement, and the trust and confidence that the individual has in their organization’s senior leaders.

    › Trust in Senior Leaders

  • Only 39% of Canadian employees trust their senior leaders
  • But 75% of highly engaged employees trust their senior leaders

    › Confidence in Senior Leaders

  • Only 44% of employees are confident in their  senior leaders
  • But 81% of highly engaged employees are confident in their senior leaders

These are the numbers that shocked me. While this data only indicates very strong correlation between engagement and trust in senior leaders, not necessarily causation, the statistics themselves are jarring: only 39% of employees trust senior leaders!?!

I wonder how many senior leaders get up every morning and think: “Well, time to go lead my organization to success, where only 4 in 10 of my colleagues and team members actually trust me.” Yikes.

Gen X Pessimists?

Ipsos has sliced up the engagement and trust data by province/region, generation and industry/sector of employment. By far the most interesting comparison for me was between generations; and specifically in relation to my own generation…

 › Gen X Engagement

As mentioned, only 27% of Canadian workers describe themselves as ‘highly engaged’, but among Generation X (born 1961 -1980), that number is the lowest of all generations (which also includes Gen Y, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists), coming in at a lowly 22%.

  › Gen X Confidence in Senior Leaders

And while confidence in senior leaders across all Canadians is 44%, among Generation X this number is 38%,again the lowest amongst all generations currently in the workforce, and a full 11% lower than our Gen Y counterparts.

Why is this? Do we feel that we’ve been overlooked due to the current intense focus on Generation Y, with their supposed entitlement and expectations? Are we harbouring impatience at our Boomer colleagues still inhabiting senior positions we’ve been waiting for, feeling Gen Y nipping at our heels?I suppose that this could be, but it feels too simplistic an explanation (will have to tackle this in another post).

HR Optimists?

In addition to surveying Canadian employees of all levels and roles, Ipsos also surveyed HR Professionals. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised by the results (remember, I am a cynical Gen X), but HR professionals certainly come out as the optimists among us.

  › HR’s Trust in Senior Leaders

Again, only 39% of Canadian employees report that they trust the senior leaders of their organizations. But among HR professionals that number is a significantly better at 50%.

  › HR’s Confidence in Senior Leaders

And when it comes to confidence in those same leaders, HR professionals were significantly more positive also, with 55% indicating they had confidence in those at the top, in contrast to 44% of Canadian workers as a whole.

What accounts for this optimism? Perhaps a more fulsome knowledge of senior leader’s motivations and plans?  This seems possible, but raises another troubling question: if keeping that information from employees is a potential cause of their decreased trust and confidence, then are we perhaps suffering a crisis of communication, where a lack of trust and confidence in senior leaders is only the symptom of a lack of communication to employees from the C-suite?

What do you think? Why is Gen X seemingly so negative? And why are HR professionals so much more positive than other workers?

Photo Credit: Maggie-Me via Flickr (Creative Commons)

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