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Ramya Yarlagadda

IPA Involve

Policy and Research Officer

Read more about Ramya Yarlagadda

How to engage employees in diverse cultures


The last few years have seen both employee engagement and equality and diversity gain greater prominence. Employers know how important it is to engage their staff, and they’re willing to invest in doing so. Employers also recognise that they need to create a fair environment where all employees are treated equally and are able to flourish as individuals. But as yet, little has been done to understand how these two agendas interact.

To address this gap, the IPA and consultancy astar- fanshshawe have embarked on a major new project – Diverse Voices – investigating the links between employee engagement and diversity and inclusion to develop a better understanding of how organisations could most effectively engage with their diverse workforce to deliver sustainable success.

There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating the importance of employee engagement. This was in part driven by the MacLeod report Engaging for Success of 2009, which argued that employee engagement was absolutely fundamental for organisational success. The report put forward four enablers of employee engagement – strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and integrity – that were “commonly agreed to lie behind successful engagement approaches.”

There has also been an increasing focus on equality, diversity and inclusion in recent years. This has been driven both by a willingness to do the right thing, by legislation and by a desire to protect organisational reputation and brand. But organisations are gradually seeing that as potential in people previously discriminated against in work is released, diversity and difference has a greater power beyond to drive performance.

Despite facing labour market disadvantage and barriers to workplace equality, women appear to be far more engaged than men.

As part of the study, we’ve taken a look at how engagement varies across different groups in the workforce using the 2011 Workplace Employee Relations Study (WERS). We looked at the questions relating to engagement, particularly the four enablers, as well as the outcomes commonly associated with engagement. It showed some significant disparities across groups. 

Despite facing labour market disadvantage and barriers to workplace equality, women appear to be far more engaged than men.

They are more likely to share the organisation’s values by 68.9% to 61.9% and are more positive about the manager-employee relationship by 65.1% to 57.6%. Women are more trusting of management, they feel more loyal to the organisation and they get more of a sense of achievement at work.

It appears that disabled employees are far less engaged than those without disabilities. 

The only area in which they are less satisfied is ‘employee voice’ where 46.8% of women feel their views are sought compared to 52.2% of men. There are some interesting findings in terms of age. Younger employees scored higher on the engagement index, with engagement progressively decreasing with age until the former default retirement age of 65 from where it rose sharply.

It also appears that disabled employees are far less engaged than those without disabilities. There were no significant variations to be found in terms of ethnicity, religious believe and sexual orientation.

We are also conducting a large scale employer survey to understand more about how engagement varies in the workplace, and how organisations approach employee engagement and equality and diversity.

So how are we to explain these significant gaps in terms of engagement between different groups? We have investigated various factors including varying drivers of engagement, flexible working and discrimination at work that might explain these gaps in engagement.

What is clear is that employers need to ensure that they are measuring engagement in their organisation, and taking action to address any gaps. Employers need also to build a diverse and inclusive organisational culture, which helps all employees feel engaged and achieve their potential.

We also discuss the important role of senior leaders and line managers in supporting a diverse and inclusive work force. Full findings from the report will be discussed at the launch event on the 2nd of June.

We would like to thank our sponsors, NHS Employers, First Group, DHL, Ernst and Young and Lloyds Bank for supporting this work. We would be grateful if readers could complete our short survey on employee engagement and diversity and inclusion. As an additional incentive, respondents will also be entered into a prize draw for £50 work of shopping vouchers.

Author Profile Picture
Ramya Yarlagadda

Policy and Research Officer

Read more from Ramya Yarlagadda

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