February 24, 2024

Employee engagement is the key to success amid crisis

3 min read

Impacted by significant challenges – including a global pandemic, civil unrest, economic hardships and environmental disasters – South Africa stands at a crossroads. In this complex landscape, one spotlight-stealing factor cannot be ignored: employee engagement.

The secret to navigating this arduous situation lies in the hearts and minds of its workforce. Employee engagement isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the linchpin of success. It’s the pulse that defines success or failure in these turbulent times.

In 2023, Bateleur Brand Planning, a recognised authority in market research and employee engagement, conducted the Vantage Point Survey, revealing that the key to thriving amid adversity – the antidote to stagnation, and the catalyst for growth – is engaged employees, the lifeblood of a resilient South Africa.

Impact of remote work

Remote work has become a prominent part of the South African work landscape. In this survey sample, 20% of the respondents worked from home, 47% from their offices, and 33% enjoyed a hybrid model. They spanned diverse industries including education, health, retail, ICT, civil services, banking, insurance.

The research indicates that work-from-home employees are more satisfied with their working arrangements (74%) compared to those required to work at the office (54%). Hybrid workers fall in between, with 67% satisfaction.

Engagement levels vary significantly based on working style. Remote workers are the most engaged (62%), followed by hybrid workers (60.5%). Conversely, employees in entirely office-based roles have the lowest engagement (43.9%).

Older employees are generally more engaged than younger counterparts. 

Engagement correlates positively with education and income, with better educated and higher income employees exhibiting higher engagement levels.

Interestingly, employees living in neighbouring countries have significantly higher engagement levels at 69.5%, raising questions about South Africa’s engagement challenges.

Engagement levels are less than ideal

In South Africa, current employee engagement levels fall short, with 53% of employees engaged, 27% neutral and 20% disengaged.

Engaged employees: Typically exhibit positive, committed, focused and motivated behaviours, with a ‘we’ mentality.

• Neutral employees: Tend to be passive, freewheeling and content with achieving ordinary outcomes, exhibiting an ‘I’ mentality.

• Disengaged employees: Are often negative, rebellious, distracted and indifferent, wishing they were elsewhere, displaying a ‘they’ mentality.

These results have remained relatively consistent over the past five years, with a slight increase during the initial COVID-19 pandemic. However, they have since regressed. This underscores the need for improvements in fostering a more engaged workforce, which is crucial for organisational success.

Factors influencing employee engagement

Leadership and organisational culture play a pivotal role in driving employee engagement. Purpose-driven leadership, characterised by vision, long-term objectives and strategic planning, emerged as a critical factor. Effective leaders should exhibit emotive and personality skills such as empathy and appreciation, while also possessing rational and functional skills like decisiveness and guidance.

The urgent need for change

South Africa’s economy and society face numerous challenges, and employee engagement plays a crucial role in addressing these issues. Achieving a highly engaged workforce requires inspirational and inclusive leadership. The statistics reveal a strong link between employee engagement, general happiness, and optimism for the country’s future. 

Call to action

South Africa’s economic future hinges on a substantial increase in employee engagement, which calls for a shift toward inspirational and inclusive leadership. Organisations should prioritise leadership development and foster cultures that emphasise empathy, appreciation, setting a good example, purpose-driven leadership, decisiveness and guidance.

By prioritising leadership development and creating an inspirational and inclusive environment, South Africa can unlock the potential of its workforce, driving progress and prosperity for the nation.

The findings and recommendations presented here are based on the Bateleur Vantage Point survey conducted in 2023. Readers are encouraged to consider the evolving nature of these issues and engage in further research and discussions for comprehensive solutions to improve employee engagement in South Africa. The Bateleur Vantage Point survey conducted in 2023 involved 1 592 economically active South Africans and focused on a wide range of social, economic and political topics.

Gordon Hooper

Managing Director

Bateleur Brand Planning

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