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Employee engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa trumps developed country levels

11 years ago | 9940 Views
Employee engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa trumps developed country levels


According to a recently published survey conducted by Emergence Growth, in partnership with Aon Hewitt, employee engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa is higher than in all other global regions measured. In addition to this, a startling seventy-two percent of employees in Sub-Saharan Africa are considered “engaged”.

This week’s newsletter delves into the ‘Sub-Saharan Africa Employee Engagement Survey’ – the first survey of its kind for the region, which released findings to participating employers at the end of January 2013. While the results of this survey bode well for regional business development, indicating the dedication and commitment of employees, the survey should serve as an incentive for employers to further boost employee engagement to avoid losing employees to other economic markets where their skills will be valued.

Employee engagement

What does “employee engagement” actually mean? Ndivhuwo Manyonga, Deputy CEO of Aon Hewitt in South Africa explains: “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.”

Manyonga goes on to elaborate on the importance of employee engagement: “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.”

In order to achieve this kind of employee engagement, Pat Smythe, the Chairman of Emergence Growth explains the role of collecting engagement data: “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.”

The necessity of retaining these skills is emphasised by Manyonga, who argues that the demand for skilled individuals is no longer a local issue, but one of serious global importance: “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 Manyonga.

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

The Sub-Saharan Africa Employee Engagement Survey, January 2013

This is why gathering data and using it to gain a business advantage is so important and hence the need for the Sub-Saharan Africa Employee Engagement Survey of January 2013. 75 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, but are significantly higher than all the developed economies around the globe. The closest rated developing region is Latin America, which follows Sub-Saharan Africa closely at 71%. North America scored 64%, Asia Pacific scored 58%; while the global average is 58%.

It is, however, important to note that Africa cannot be considered as one nebulous region, since significant regional differences in engagement scores are evident. For example, East Africa scored 74 percent, followed by Southern Africa (composed of Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) at 70 percent, while South Africa only scored 68%.  Insufficient data was received from West Africa to constitute a regional view.

These scores are still significantly better than the major economic regions of North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. Taking data from an earlier survey – Aon Hewitt’s 2012 Trends in Global Engagement Survey published in June 2012 – global engagement levels were at 58 percent in 2011, up two percentage points from 56 percent in 2010. Asia Pacific scored 58 percent, Europe 52 percent, Latin America 71 percent, and North America 64 percent. The Aon Hewitt 2012 Trends in Employee Engagement Survey covered more than 9.7m employees in 3100 organisations across Asia Pacific (including the Middle East), Europe, Latin America, and North America.

The findings

The key findings of the study include:

    Employees rated more freedom and autonomy as crucial to better performance;
    Recognition from management, team-building activities and workplace flexibility were rated as important to employee engagement;
    Trust, creativity and honesty were positively rated; indicating that the majority of employees believed their employees demonstrated these values. This is an important aspect of employee engagement and suggests that the role of values has never been more important, as is that of corporate role models;
    21% of participants believed that their employers were left wanting when it came to rewarding high performers – reward and recognition is essential to building an engaged and productive workforce. Most organisations have concentrated on fixed pay and benefits, to the detriment of variable pay and a more flexible approach to benefits;
    Only 4% of employees are dissatisfied with their relationships at work with peers and management, and only 2% percent are extremely dissatisfied. Team-building exercises and promoting a collaborative work environment should remain key priorities for employers;
    29% of participants are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied by the career development opportunities within their organisations, while 26% percent were satisfied and another 26% were dissatisfied. Both the latter figures are significant because only a quarter firmly believe that there are prospects for proper career growth, while another quarter are even less engaged as they do not believe there is room for growth, and are likely to look for new opportunities outside of their organisations;
    Almost one third (29%) of respondents do not believe that they are adequately equipped or trained to perform well in their current roles, suggesting that greater emphasis be placed on appropriate skills development programmes;
    89 percent of respondents said they were either totally committed or very committed to furthering the goals of their organisations, but a cause of concern is that only 51 percent of employees said that they are in agreement with their organisational policies and procedures;
    In terms of total reward, which refers to all elements of remuneration, benefits and incentives provided by an organisation; it was found that salary (65 percent), pension fund (63 percent), health care (63 percent), performance bonuses (62 percent), maternity leave (52 percent), and compassionate/family responsibility leave (49 percent), were some of the rewards most valued by employees. Based on these results, organisations should implement a strategy to address the issue of rewards for high performers. There is a clear opportunity for organisations to implement a short-term incentive scheme that rewards performance in line with company goals; and
    Engagement scores by generation show that Millennials (those born at the end of the 1970s to the early 2000s) (71 percent) are substantially more engaged than both Generation X (those born from the 1960s to the early 1980s) (63 percent) and Baby Boomers (those born post-Second World War from 1946 to 1964) (64 percent). The survey also highlights that as employees lifestyles change, it is important to understand the differerent drivers of engagement and the implications for talent management and career development.


As the survey results prove, employee engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa is high. The younger generation is also more motivated, so given the right environment; the workforce can become more productive and engaged. The key factors in creating this environment are highlighted in the study results above. Employers would be wise to implement these factors, in order to maintain the high scores and subsequently, valuable employees. Treasuring what is important to employees means ensuring employee loyalty, commitment and hard work. It also ensures that employees will remain in the region and not emigrate to greener pastures overseas. As the survey proves, we have the ability to attain high engagement scores. Now we just have to maintain these.

This article was kindly contributed by Emergence Growth

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