Employee engagement in the UK isn’t strong. Only 11% of UK workers are engaged, compared to 20% globally: a difference of 82%. Left unchecked, this level of engagement threatens organisations’ resilience and hurts growth.

Tackling the situation demands a strategic employee engagement programme that can accommodate the nuance and complexity of today’s workplace experience.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment your employees feel about work. For example, Gallup defines employee engagement as ‘the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.’The CIPD point out that there’s no common definition of employee engagement but recommend organisations ‘treat employee engagement as a psychological state and an umbrella term to describe a broad area of people strategy’.

The rise of strategic employee engagement

Over the past decade, employee engagement has been elevated from a ‘fluffy’ HR concern to a major strategic business priority, often with considerable dedicated internal resources. Reflecting this transformation, the global employee engagement software market has a projected compound annual growth rate of 13.5% between 2020 and 2026.

In large part, this momentum has been driven by low employee engagement scores. The UK has one of the most disengaged workforces in Europe: only 9% of UK workers feel enthused by their work and workplace, compared to a European average of 14%. And only 11% of UK workers are engaged, compared to 20% globally: a difference of 82%. 

After a decade of decline, employee engagement in the UK is now at a record low – and many organisations are realising that this requires action.

This realisation is driven by consistent research showing the benefits of employee engagement. For example, Gallup data shows that organisations with highly engaged workforces enjoy 147% higher earnings-per-share than organisations with disengaged workforces.

The benefits of having engaged employees

Employee engagement ultimately connects to almost every business outcome – because every business outcome hinges on the workforce. It makes intuitive sense that how your people connect to work impacts how they deliver, which impacts every project and priority across the organisation.

And decades of research from myriad sources reinforces that intuitive truth. As the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) summarise in ‘Employee Engagement: A review of current thinking’:

‘Engaged employees are more likely to stay with the organisation, perform 20% better than their colleagues and act as advocates of the business. Engagement can enhance bottom‐line profit and enable organisational agility and improved efficiency in driving change initiatives. Engaged individuals invest themselves fully in their work, with increased self‐efficacy and a positive impact upon health and well‐being, which in turn evokes increased employee support for the organisation.’

That is, employee engagement positively correlates to:

  • Retention
  • Productivity
  • Performance
  • Profitability
  • Employee loyalty
  • Organisational agility
  • Self-leadership
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Successful transformation.

It’s not hard to see why employee engagement has established itself as a major priority – especially now, following years of disruption and facing an impending recession.

But low engagement scores show just how difficult it can be to make progress. Employee engagement is complex and depends on many interacting factors. Building a strategic employee engagement initiative that can account for this complexity is inherently challenging.

9 factors that impact employee engagement and wellbeing

To evaluate the organisation’s current approach to employee engagement and wellbeing, leaders should consider the impact of multiple elements.


Managers have a day-to-day impact on their reports’ experience at work. Consider that 43% of UK employees have left a job thanks to a poor manager, for example, but 38% have stayed in a job longer because of a good manager.

Great managers are great people leaders – and are critical to organisational health.

Colleague relationships

Social connection is a critical factor impacting staff engagement. For example, 57% of UK employees say having a best friend at work makes work more enjoyable.

But lots of people across the UK don’t have those friendships. The same study found that UK employees are becoming lonelier, with 40% admitting they don’t have friends in the workplace. In London, that leaps to 47%. 

Sense of purpose

Purpose-driven work is critical to employee engagement and wellbeing, especially right now. Speaking to HR Magazine, workplace health consultant Wolfgang Seidl argues that a strong sense of purpose at work brings a sense of control that’s critical to help employees cope with the current cost-of-living crisis.

Creating purposefulness within the organisation must start from the top. Choosing and encouraging the right leadership model – typically incorporating elements of transformational leadership – is key.


Employee engagement is about much more than salary – but salary matters a lot, especially with the cost-of-living crisis. Recent research shows that 94% of UK employees are suffering from money worries, and 77% say those concerns impact their work. Acting to protect your workforce’s financial health is a major lever for protecting employee wellbeing.


One in five UK employees have never received recognition for their work. One third wish their manager would show more appreciation for their efforts. Those are noteworthy statistics given that when employees receive recognition, 83% report a more positive employee experience.

Creating a culture of recognition is an inexpensive way to boost morale and engagement.


Reports of burnout among UK employees have almost doubled since 2021, hitting record highs. Many industries are at crisis point. For example, 91% of teachers say their workload has increased this year, and 84% say their job is hurting their mental health. The same story is repeated elsewhere: the construction industry; the NHS; among HR professionals. The pandemic and shift to remote working has only exacerbated the issue: in the UK, working hours increased by 22% by 2021.

Taking a handle on heavy workloads – especially among your critical people leaders who can’t pour from an empty cup – is pivotal to your employee engagement strategy.

Career development

Business Leader calls 2022 ‘the year of career development’ for UK employees, describing a crisis of ‘neglected career development goals’. The survey found that 81% of respondents have no written career development plan, and only 55% of UK employers offer a dedicated career development tool. Other studies concur that Europe lags behind global organisations for training and development: European companies are 11% less likely to offer training on essential new skills that have emerged through the pandemic.

These are straightforward actions, if your organisation doesn’t already have a robust career development ecosystem in place. And it makes sound business sense too, nurturing skills in-house rather than depending on a challenging recruitment market.

Flexible work

The pandemic and subsequent widespread embrace of remote working has transformed employees’ expectations from and relationship with work. One in five UK workers wants remote working to be a full-time arrangement, for example.

But the challenge for organisations is meeting the wide spectrum of employee needs: remote work isn’t automatically flexible work. Accommodating true flexibility within your workplace is one of today’s biggest differentiators from an employee engagement perspective.

Diversity and inclusion

The majority of diversity and inclusion programmes in the UK are failing, HR Director reports. Just half of UK leaders have communicated diversity goals, and only 33% have dedicated employees for D&I. 

That’s a big problem, because diversity and inclusion have a major impact on employee engagement. Any employee engagement strategy must incorporate action to progress on D&I to have a successful and equitable impact. 


Employee engagement is difficult to get right because it’s an output of many different and interacting factors. The UK’s rock-bottom (and still falling) engagement scores are testament to that. A well-executed strategic employee engagement initiative should take this complexity into account, which naturally takes time and resources. But it’s an investment worth making, as employee engagement becomes an increasingly pivotal factor driving business success.