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Yves Duhaldeborde

Towers Watson

Director, Employee Surveys

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Employee attitudes in Britain – trends for 2014


It is too early to tell for sure but 2013 could become known as the year the UK turned an economic corner and started a slow but definitive road to recovery. Currently the economy is still 2.5% smaller than its peak in 2008 but the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just announced 0.8% growth for the quarter and an unmistakable sense of optimism is creeping in.

Macro-economic indicators are all very well, but how does this translate for the companies and employees going about their daily business? Are companies more confident about their future growth prospects? Are employees more relaxed about their job security and does this lead to greater or lesser productivity? And what do companies need to do to take advantage of the new conditions to ensure successful growth? An analysis of this year’s UK employee survey data may hold some answers for organisations looking to capitalise on the changing business environment. With over half a million employee responses, our UK employee survey database is widely regarded as the most reliable benchmark of employee attitudes in this country and a good indicator of employee trends.

The 2013 results suggest that companies’ efforts to sharpen up their messaging around the employment deal (the “employee value proposition” or “EVP”) are beginning to pay off. Indeed, employees report having a clearer understanding of what is expected of them – complying with policies and procedures, understanding what matters to their customers, understanding how they influence business performance, being accountable for the work they produce. They are also more aware of their total rewards package — what they get in return for their good work, including their pay, benefits, and the tools available to help them manage their career. We can see that, as a result, they are today more likely to consider that they are being paid fairly than a year ago.

Beyond communicating on total rewards and providing support for career progress, companies in the UK have also made significant advances on critical aspects of the employee work experience. The 2013 results clearly show that organisations are reshaping their internal culture both in order to respond to the changing market conditions and engage their talents in a sustainable way. Specifically, UK employees are saying that today their company is doing better at:

  • Involving employees
  • Holding people accountable
  • Managing individual performance
  • Transferring best practice across the business
  • Recognising positive employee contributions
  • Celebrating success

These positive culture changes have been largely leadership driven. Specifically, employees have witnessed a step change in the way senior leaders communicate the case for change, manage risk, use facts to inform their decisions and demonstrate company values. They are also beginning to feel the effect of investments made to develop line-manager capabilities, and believe that their supervisors are doing a better job developing people, building trust within their team, encouraging new ideas, managing individual performance and dedicating sufficient time to the people aspects of their job.

These positive trends are good news for UK plc. Clearly, HR teams have worked closely with the business to stabilise their organisation amidst the tough economic conditions. Together, they have effectively started to reshape the organisational culture and clarified the employment deal to rally their talents. But leadership teams know that achieving sustainable growth will demand both continued and renewed efforts. So, as the signs of a recovery become stronger, what are there other specific improvement areas to consider in the ramp-up to 2014?

Here again, our analysis of the major trends in the Towers Watson UK national norm provide useful pointers of what UK companies can do to get an edge over the competition. These can be summarised as follows:

Shifting gears from risk-averse to risk-aware

Whilst appreciative of senior leaders’ efforts to carefully steer their companies through the crisis, employees are finding the increasingly risk-averse culture stifling. Hungry for opportunities to get involved in process improvements or in the design of new products and services, they need signals from the top that it is ok to take calculated risks to improve business performance.

Navigating from satnav to co-pilot

In rally car racing, a pilot’s performance is very much dependent on the quality of their co-pilot, who tells then what lies ahead, when to accelerate, how severe a turn will be and what obstacles to look out for. Clearly, a satnav would not be of much use in that context. Similarly, leaders need to reinforce some key behaviours for employee involvement to be productive and sustainable. Looking at the UK engagement survey scores that have decreased in 2013 compared to the previous year, this includes continuing to communicate company objectives, values and ethics, resolving issues promptly and demonstrating interest in employee well-being. But this is also about leaders and line managers working together as a broader team to ensure that employees have access to the tools and support needed to fine-tune internal processes, design new ways of working, bring innovations to market and feel accountable for delivering their best work.

Organisations have successfully leveraged their employee value proposition and reshaped their internal culture to stabilise the business and counter the challenging economic environment over the past year. Our analyses also indicates that leaders should now take steps to instil a spirit of enterprise, where all employees feel empowered to improve processes and products, with the ambition of ultimately enhancing the customer experience. Nurturing a positive approach to risk will increase employee confidence in the long-term future of their company. 

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Yves Duhaldeborde

Director, Employee Surveys

Read more from Yves Duhaldeborde