Employee Engagement: Here’s Why It’s a Worldwide Problem

Employee engagement has become one of the top human capital concerns of U.S. companies.

As executives are contending with this issue for their U.S. workforce, they are finding that their operations in the rest of the world are having similar problems. Executives are realizing that employee engagement is a global issue.

Which countries have higher engagement scores, and which have lower scores?

Why engagement is a global problem

Here are some brief facts on global engagement:

  • Just two-thirds of employees worldwide are engaged.
  • Company loyalty is at a five (5) year low.
  • More than 40 percent of the global workforce intends to leave their current employer within five (5) years.
  • Employee engagement across the world has stagnated at 2008 levels,

Companies need to understand how engagement and its drivers differ by region. They can then segment their workforce and target engagement programs appropriately.

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Employee Engagement by region

Where do people take pleasure in their work? Where do people like to go the extra mile for their company?

Let’s look at global engagement scores by region. This 2011 survey by Effectory was conducted among over 12,000 respondents in 47 countries. The scores were based on a 10-point scale, 10 being the most positive.

  • Europe: Confidence in management and the future is low, and that negatively influences engagement. Employees in Northern/Western Europe score higher on willingness to change and retention. Giving trust and reaching consensus is key. Employees in Southern Europe believe they have a negative working environment, and have low efficiency, low motivation and low productivity. Role clarity and leadership also receive low scores. So although there are differences between the two regions, the overall scores are OK.
  • North America: The satisfaction with immediate co-workers and their motivation is a point of particular concern. Scores seem to be at the global average with Engagement and Willingness to Change. Satisfaction, Leadership and Role Clarity are a little above the average. (This may be a shock to readers!)
  • Asia: Asia has not suffered economically like the Western world has. Consequently jobs are more plentiful. In China and India in particular, employees are quick to leave an employer if they don’t believe there is enough career development opportunity. Key is the ability to “job-hop” for more money and bigger job titles. Being treated with respect and quality of leadership are cited by employees as most influential to their motivation and engagement at work. Don’t be fooled by the overall low scores. They are almost totally due to the very low scores by Japan. Overall most of Asia is at the global average.
  • Japan: It has had a depressed economy for 20 plus years, which is the largest cause of lower employee engagement. Japanese employees are virtually disengaged, but they also have no intention of leaving, which doesn’t do much for productivity. Employees not only don’t care about their jobs, but they are upset with their company and their managers and spread this malaise to those around them. Job security is the main concern and engagement takes second place to that. Japan’s scores really pull down the Asia composite scores.
  • China: For workers in China, employee engagement is more influenced by their perceptions of fair pay than by their satisfaction with recognition. Money has historically been the primary motivator for Chinese employees. This focus on pay could also be due to the speed of economic growth in their country and the extreme demand for talent which drives up pay levels. Pay then, unlike other countries — with the possible exception of India — is the most important driver.
  • Australia: The workload reduces the fitness and health of employees that in turn gives rise to stress and low productivity. Employees view their leaders as effective in building business strategies, but feel there are low scores in Role Clarity of their company’s future direction and overall levels of confidence in leaders. Employees perceive that their organization’s ability to clearly articulate available career paths is low. Australia also scores low on Satisfaction.
  • South America: This region has the highest scores. Employees are proud and due to their strength in the global marketplace they work very long hours. Reducing the workload would produce more engaged employees. A huge 74 percent of South American workers feel motivated to go beyond their formal job responsibilities. South America also enjoys the highest levels of employee pride.
  • South Africa: Employees find themselves working under very poor conditions. There is low confidence in job security. Employees show lower intention to stay with their employer regardless of career status. Employees feel they are not properly engaged through their supervisors. The low scores are for Satisfaction, Leadership and Role Clarity.


There are varying weaknesses and strengths in the specific areas of employee engagement across the world. Understanding the differences is important.

Just like many other talent management programs in multinational companies, one size does not fit all worldwide. Employee engagement programs need to be tailored to meet specific needs.

Jacque Vilet, president of Vilet International, has more than 20 years’ experience in international human resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor, and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. She has also been a speaker in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications. Contact her at jvilet@viletinternational.com.


7 Comments on “Employee Engagement: Here’s Why It’s a Worldwide Problem

  1. Interesting article. Question about bullet two Company Loyalty. Is this about company loyalty on the part of the company towards its employees or employee loyalty towards the company. Seems like this should be the first bullet since it effects the rest.
    As a child I grew up with the idea that I would be like my dad. I would get a job with a company, stay there for my entire work career and work my way up through the ranks.
    Since that time I have been merged,sold, restructured,outsourced, and shutdown. At 58 my dad was told his skills no longer met the needs of the company and he was let go.
    A common comment I hear from employees is ” why should I care about the company when I know they don’t care about me.” Its hard to built engagement in an environment like that.

  2. The core need of human being does not differ ever by region/ geography . Today’s bad result in”engagement” is the result of too much research in a matter which is not that complicated as it has been made so complicated through idle research – and secondly through hypocrite leaderships. Cheats & Liars can not be leaders ever – they may be Hitlers , Thugs but not leaders. They may win today’s quick game but loose for life . I find Chinese and Indian reasons are the universal base reasons for low engagements. I see a lot of companies spends lot of money after short term engagements through various childish programs that will sure keep school goers engaged and not a grown up employee. Reason may vary person to person and may not from region to region . Today’s HR misses one thing that that human beings are not be regimented and not be known by numbers. HR has lot of home works to guide management leadership and themselves in any organization . There is not shortcut and thinking amass here in question of human.

  3. Interesting article. As the Director of Contracting at a multi-billion dollar multinational organization, I teamed with my newly hired/replaced supervisors, and we met the engagement challenge head-on. And, believe me: the challenge is NOT complex; it’s simple, straightforward, and SEEMINGLY complex. The solution? Create the ideal workplace. How? Create more than a passing fancy for earning a paycheck; create passion within and by the workforce. How? Smash the us-versus-them paradigm between management and the workforce. How? Call me…

  4. Great insight, Jacque. It’s troubling to see employee engagement has stagnated, especially when loyalty to your organization and commitment to your job is as important as ever.

    So, in order to change this, managers need to do a few things. First, they need to have regular feedback and coaching sessions with their employees. This helps them to understand who’s on track and who needs a little help. Next, performance needs to be socialized so employees are working on their goals with the help of others. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to say thank you. Oftentimes, employees aren’t engaged because they don’t see a reason to be. When they feel like their work matters beyond a paycheck, they’ll be more in tune with their goals, their co-workers, and of course, their jobs.

  5. There’s also a possible connection between employee engagement and the evolving workforce. Millennial employees might not be as willing to stick with a company for their entire career. This doesn’t automatically mean they aren’t engaged while they are there but they might have different expectations for their careers than previous generations of workers.

  6. I’d support Enkata’s input that a there is a generation effect in this topic. Generation Y is per definition more engaged and committed to a task / team which is not limited to a company boundary. This generation will most likely also seek respect and endorsements outside the company and hence seem to be less committed or engaged within a single company.

    From a European perspective, one should as well consider the very difficult situation in many countries. This doesn’t leave many employees with the confidence that companies are very committed to their employees and as such the social contract between employer and employee does – unfortunately – not hold any longer. To be highly engaged, employees must be able to fully concentrate on the task and not on job retention.

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