by Thuli Sikhosana

Skills-starved global economies

Employee engagement in sub-saharan Africa trumps developed countries

Skills-starved global economies
Employee engagement in sub-saharan Africa trumps developed countries

Employee engagement in sub-saharan Africa scored higher than other regions of the world according to a recently published survey conducted by Emergence Growth in partnership with Aon Hewitt. Seventy-two percent of employees in sub-saharan Africa are considered engaged according to the Sub-Saharan Africa Employee Engagement Survey, the first of its kind for the region, the findings of which were released to participating employers.

Seventy-five organisations across sub-saharan Africa representing over 300 000 employees participated in the research survey developed by Aon Hewitt and Emergence Growth. The employee engagement survey measures key drivers of employee engagement such as quality of life, work processes, relationships with managers and peers, rewards and employee benefits, career opportunities and company practices.

The sub-saharan Africa scores correlate very closely with those of other emerging economies and are significantly higher than all the global developed economies. Latin America followed closely at 71%.  North America scored 64%, Asia Pacific 58% while the global average is 58%. 

It is, however, important to note that Africa cannot be considered one nebulous region, since significant regional differences in engagement scores are evident.  For example, East Africa scored 74%, followed by Southern Africa (represented by Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) at 70%, while South Africa scored 68%.  

These scores are still significantly better than the major economic regions of the US, Europe and Asia Pacific. According to Aon Hewitt’s 2012 Trends in Global Engagement Survey published in June 2012, engagement levels globally were at 58% in 2011, up two percentage points from 56% in 2010. Asia Pacific scored 58%, Europe 52%, Latin America 71%, and North America 64%. 

The Aon Hewitt 2012 Trends in Employee Engagement Survey covered more than 9.7 million employees in 3 100 organisations across Asia Pacific (including the Middle East), Europe, Latin America and North America.

“Employee engagement refers to the state of emotion and intellectual involvement that motivates employees to do their best work and is a crucial factor in retaining high value employees and reducing staff churn. Organisations need to ensure that every effort is made to retain those high value employees who are critical to the future of their businesses. Companies that make a concerted effort to engage with and listen to their employees will benefit from improved staff retention and better business performance. 

However it is essential that engagement improvements are applied in consultation with employees and need to be relevant to the unique needs of the organisation’s diverse workforce, rather than ‘template-type, one-size-fits-all approaches', explains Ndivhuwo Manyonga, Deputy CEO of Aon Hewitt in South Africa.

This view is echoed by Pat Smythe, chairman of Emergence Growth. “For the first time HR practitioners in Africa have access to reliable employee engagement data. This will enable them to play a strategic role in identifying those interventions that support the attraction and retention of key talent in their organisations. By working closely with leaders, HR practitioners will truly be able to craft employee value propositions that add value. The emphasis however has to be on customisation of appropriate solutions that connect with and enable employees, many of whom are at different life stages and have very different needs.”

“A large number of organisations are experiencing high turnover of staff. Following the global economic crisis opportunities for career advancement in certain industry sectors is still limited, however scarce skills and top performers continue to be in high demand, making employee engagement critical to a company’s sustainability. Issues around values, transparency, trust, ethical business practices, promoting team work, recognition and rewards and career development opportunities are equally important as competitive pay and benefits to encourage attraction and retention of key skills.” 

Ndivhuwo Manyonga of Aon Hewitt adds that the demand for skilled individuals is no longer a local issue, but one of serious global proportions. “The shortage of highly skilled individuals with experience is a global phenomenon. Head hunting of key staff is no longer limited to local markets.  One only has to look at rapidly growing economies such as China and a number of African countries to realise that there will be a serious increase in high value employees applying for positions both locally and abroad. Proactive employers must start identifying unique ways of creating an attractive value proposition for their staff if they are to arrest such an exodus.

“In South Africa, an alarmingly low number of organisations have attempted to develop holistic engagement or retention strategies; and have instead focused merely on replacing exiting staff. The reality is that the effect of the global recession which saw limited employment opportunities and the tendency to stay within companies despite a reduction in benefits, poor bonuses, low salary increases and limited career development opportunities is becoming a thing of the past. With an improving economic outlook employees are increasingly expecting more value from their employers and voting with their feet if they believe they are not valued by their employers,” concludes Ndivhuwo.

When one considers that the replacement cost of a highly skilled employee is in the order of 100% of annual salary, the need for engaged employees becomes a business imperative.


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