Worker Motivation Broad, But Shallow: Towers Perrin

May 28, 2003 ( - Most workers are motivated, care about the future of their company and feel their company is a good place to work - and then there's the other 20%.

Indeed, according to a new Towers Perrin study, fully 78% of worker respondents say they’re personally motivated to help their company succeed, and an equal number agree they are willing to put in extra effort, beyond what’s normally required in their jobs, to make that happen. A comparable 77% say they really care about the future of their company, 70% are proud to work for their employer, and 61% even say that their company is a good place to work.

Checked Out?

On the other hand, that commitment appears to be broad, but shallow. Only 17% of employees are highly engaged, according to Working Today: The Towers Perrin 2003 Talent Report. A slightly larger 19%, roughly one in five, say they have “checked out” in many respects, according to the study’s authors, and are likely just marking time on the job.

“Our engagement scores present a challenge to employers,” said Charlie Watts, who heads Towers Perrin’s Research practice. “Employers have to figure out who the disengaged are and whether they are in positions defined as ‘mission critical.’ Then they have to determine whether they can reengage these individuals or begin the difficult task of managing out those who truly are marking time.”

The study found that engagement levels were consistent across virtually all demographic segments, including industry, job level and age. However, two exceptions were noted. First, the percentage of highly engaged employees in the nonprofit sector (42%) was two to three times that in any other industry group, a trend that appears to reflect the “sense of mission and passion that typically draw people to work in this sector,” according to the survey’s authors.

Among all survey respondents, roughly a third (37%) say they have no plans to leave their current jobs, while another 44% say they’re not actively in the job market – but would be open to other opportunities. Those results were virtually identical to results of a 2001 Towers Perrin study.

Additionally - and perhaps not surprisingly - the percentage of highly engaged executives (53%) was twice that for the next level down (managers/directors), and three to four times that for nonmanagement employees.

The data reveals that two-thirds (66%) of the highly engaged have no plans to leave their present employer, compared with 36% of the moderately engaged and just 12% of the disengaged. In a similar vein, just 6% of the highly engaged are actively in the job market now, compared with 11% of the moderately engaged and 29% of the disengaged.

Surveyed workers did note some improvements in employer practices since the 2001 survey.

  • The ability to recruit people with the skills to help the organization succeed was rated favorably by 40% now, compared with 34% in 2001.
  • The ability to develop employees' skills was now rated favorably by 45%, compared to 37% previously.
  • 36% now have a favorable impression about the ability to provide a process for regular performance feedback, compared with 29% in 2001.
  • 42% favorably rated employers ability to help employees understand how their individual performance affects overall business goals, versus 34% in the previous survey.

On the other hand, employee respondents were less enamored of employer efforts on the ability to:

  • Provide salary and bonuses tied to individual performance, rated favorably by just 23% and 25%, respectively, compared with 31% and 29% in 2001
  • Reward top performers more than average performers, now rated favorably by just 24%, from 29% in 2001
  • Provide leading-edge technology to support improved work processes and growth, as favorable ratings slipped to 45% from 58% in the prior survey
  • Help employees balance their work and personal responsibilities, with favorable ratings down to 40%, from 46% in 2001.

The Towers Perrin 2003 Talent Report was based on information collected via a Web survey from 40,000 employees of medium and large organizations in North America. The survey was completed in February 2003 and updates an earlier study conducted in May 2001.