Employee engagement in Canada was “stable to improving” in 2016, says Todd Mathers, a partner in the talent, rewards and performance business at Aon Hewitt Canada. New research from the consultancy found engagement levels increased one percentage point, from 69 per cent in 2015 to 70 per cent last year.

Globally, the survey showed a different story: employee engagement declined for the first time since 2012, dropping two percentage points from the previous year to 63 per cent.

Mathers points to political instability in other parts of the world, such as the presidential election in the United States and the Brexit vote in Britain. “And all of these things were contributing to a sense among workers of some uncertainty that hadn’t been there the year before, particularly around things like movement of labour or job security and how that might be affected,” he says.

Read: Global employee engagement levels plateau

Canada, on the other hand, had more political stability in 2016 than the previous year. “So 2015 was an election year and there did end up being a government change,” says Mathers. “So we had stability at least with the federal government last year, and even some of the policies that were introduced by the federal government were friendly to a lot of employees. The one in particular was some of the changes that were related to taxation that sort of appealed to the ‘middle class.'”

The survey also found employee satisfaction around rewards and recognition increased by six points over the year before. “So it’s not like a whole bunch of companies are paying people a lot more,” says Mathers. “Wage growth actually was fairly steady with 2015. But with some of the changes that were made with taxation, it’s actually created more dollars in the pockets for a greater proportion of people.”

Mathers also notes more organizations are devoting resources to leadership development, from on-the-job training to identifying good candidates at point of hire. That’s also playing a part in improving engagement levels.

Read: Employee engagement difficult to measure: survey

Researchers examined 15 other work experience dimensions and saw declines in only two: diversity and inclusion (down one point) and work-life balance (down two points). 

Work-life balance has been under pressure for quite some time, Mathers says. It’s not a universal issue — he stresses many employers are offering flexible schedules and remote working options. But in many situations, the pressure to increase shareholder value erodes work-life balance. “Ultimately, what we see in many organizations each year is they’re trying to do more with the same or do more with less,” he says. “And every year, it’s a bit of a tougher environment to work in for many organizations, and that can take its toll on work-life balance.”

In the U.S., employee engagement fell by one percentage point to 64 per cent. The researchers point out that every one of the 15 dimensions also declined. “This could be an early indication that engagement may recede further in the near future,” the report notes. “United States domestic and multinational business leaders will be challenged to adequately react to changes to the Affordable Care Act, regulations, international trade and labour tariffs that all directly or indirectly impact pay, benefits and job market competitiveness.”

Read: Five ways to improve employee engagement

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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