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Employee Engagement and Challenging Coaching

Towers Watson recently published their 2012 Global Workforce Study on employee engagement and I was invited to their seminar to launch the report. I was particularly interested to hear the prominent role leadership and coaching can play to promote employee engagement. This is an impressive study with 32,000 participants worldwide. Given the economic climate, not surprisingly the report shows that employees express concerns over their financial and professional security (54%), their stress on the job (38%), and the ability to build their careers. However, employees also expressed concern around the trust in their company’s leadership and the support received from their managers. Only 36% of employees believe their leaders are interested in their wellbeing, and only 48% said that they had trust and confidence in the job their leaders are doing.

Towers Watson introduced the notion of ‘Sustainable Engagement’ that is the intensity of employees’ connection to their organisation. There are three components to this; the extent of discretionary effort committed to achieving work goals (traditional engagement); an environment that supports productivity (being enabled); a work experience that promotes well-being (feeling energised). The report identifies the top five-workplace elements that have the greatest impact on Sustainable Engagement, these are:

  • Leadership
  • Stress, balance and workload
  • Goals and objectives
  • Supervisors
  • Organisational image

In another section of the study, Towers Watson answered the “so what?” question. They found that within organisations with low traditional engagement there was an operating margin of 10%. But within organisations with high sustainable engagement there was an operating margin of 27%. Cause and effect is not clear, but pretty impressive.

The 2012 Global Workforce Study showed employee engagement is focused on security and the basics of the work situation, including base pay, job security, and the trust and confidence in senior leadership. This is very different to the boom years and the ‘war for talent’ in which employee engagement was much more about career development. Retention in 2012 is still a key issue as many employees seek security and retention is more about the quality of the work experience overall.

The report states that there is an increasing importance being placed by employees on the accessibility, authenticity and transparency of leaders. This contrasts dramatically with the traits of the previous closed-door generations of leaders. The report found that less than 50% of next generation leaders felt that leadership development processes were effective. This was confirmed as only 39% of the overall respondents agreed that their leaders were effectively preparing the next generation of leadership.

There is clearly more to be done to develop Sustainable Engagement and the quality of leadership is at the heart of this. I was interested that at the seminar with a presentation full of analysis and statistics that coaching was mentioned three times (more than any other development). When considering leadership development Towers Watson said that coaching is the intervention that has the greatest role to play in Sustainable Engagement. This would certainly be about creating systematic organisational change and challenging leaders to act in a different way.

For coaching to play a role in this change it would clearly need to be challenging coaching. Conversations in the cosy club area of high support but low challenge would not create the change required. This is about changing habits on a long-term basis within leaders and leadership development professionals. What is interesting is the systems thinking perspective; the global nature of the study and the consistent negative results suggests that there is something systematically wrong with people management and leadership development within organisations. Maybe the economic climate is a big factor? Maybe there are other issues involved? Either way there is a need for challenging conversations and an entering of the zone of uncomfortable debate to deliver systematic change.

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Vist the Global Workforce Study by following this link:


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