Compared to their counterparts in much of Europe, Canadian workers log more hours, take shorter vacations and have to wait longer for full retirement benefits and pensions. Yet it’s in France where workers are occupying refineries and taking to the streets, in a bid to choke off the economy and force the government to reverse a decision to bump the retirement age from 60 to 62. What if these yawning differences between Canadian and European attitudes toward work, employers and institutional entitlement could be quantified, scored and further explained?
In fact, they can, and they already are. Aon Hewitt, the global HR consulting and outsourcing firm that annually identifies Canada’s Best Employers, has all kinds of employee engagement data that allows for international comparisons. What those show is that while improving engagement may be the mantra of human resources managers and consultants the world over, actual engagement scores are far from uniform. Employee engagement, which is ultimately a reflection of companies delivering against the expectations of their employees, is shaped by local culture and history as much as it is best practices. In some cases, it might even point to underlying causes of labour unrest and economic uncertainty.
Canada does well in Aon Hewitt’s analysis, with an overall average engagement score of approximately 62 per cent, six points higher than the global average. That’s just slightly ahead of the North American average (60 per cent), which is followed closely by the Asia Pacific region (57 per cent). The one region ahead of Canada is Latin America (75 per cent). Conspicuously trailing the pack, with an average engagement score of just 49 per cent, is Europe.
Engagement scores are calculated by averaging employees’ responses to six questions—a willingness to recommend their firm to a friend seeking employment, for example, or holding the view that the organization inspires them to do their best work every day. “We’re trying to use a few survey questions to try to get a high level measure of the degree to which employees are intellectually and emotionally committed to their organizations,” says Neil Crawford, principal at Aon Hewitt. The more engaged the employee, the better their performance, the more likely they’ll stay, the more likely they’ll attract other high-calibre employees, all of which is better for their employers.
Europe’s low average score and penchant for extreme labour unrest suggest a potential correlation, according to Crawford. “In different parts of the world, people management or attitudes to people in organizations are different,” says Crawford. “There’s a lot of things in a lot of European work environments, particularly when you look at France and Germany and, to a certain degree, Italy, where there is a different mindset around work and around individual performance compared to, say, North America.”
One aspect of the data that reveals such distinctions is related to workers’ satisfaction with their employer benefits. More than two-thirds (67 per cent) of Canadians and 58 per cent of Latin American workers say their benefit plans meet their needs, whereas only 40 per cent of European workers say this is the case. According to Crawford, this reflects the fact that more beneﬁts are likely provided by the state in Europe, so there’s less of an expectation for it from work.
Other drivers showing significant spreads between top and bottom scores include “my pay is appropriate,” which only 32 per cent of European workers agree with, compared to 54 per cent in Latin America and 47 per cent in Canada, and “enjoyment of daily work tasks,” a category that finds 83 per cent of Latin American workers in agreement compared to just 58 per cent in Europe, 61 per cent in Asia Pacific and 66 per cent in Canada and the U.S.
Crawford, as well as several other researchers and consultants in the field, warn that it’s risky to draw too many conclusions based on data that’s averaged from huge regions with lots of differences between countries. At the same time, local factors clearly play a role in determining overall engagement scores. “On one hand, it’s about the individual employees’ cognitive, emotional and behavioural perceptions about the work that they’re doing,” says Danielle van Jaarsveld, an associate professor at the Sauder School of Business in Vancouver. “But on the other hand, the employee’s perceptions can also be influenced by institutional characteristics of the country that they’re working in.”
Van Jaarsveld, who has spent seven years studying workplaces in the call centre sector all over the world, says cultural values also play a role. Lower scores in Europe might be expected, she says, when you consider there’s a great deal of collaboration between employees and managers through work councils and unions. “They’re more likely to be more critical of their employers as a result,” she says.
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