NEWS 06 September 2016

Work content, workplace relationships and recognition

The "winning ticket" for employee engagement in the UK and Europe

European employees: obstacles and opportunities to boost employee commitment

Yannick Jarlaud, Director of the Survey with Ayming's HR Performance Business Line:

"European employees have multiple profiles, their approach to work is multifaceted and their assessment of their motivation and their commitment to their company is inevitably influenced by their nationality. However, this first pan-European qualitative study on the mobilisation and commitment of employees allows us to identify strong common multicultural management strategies on which European companies must focus their efforts."

“Workplace attendance” rates: substantial disparities


On average, 72% of European employees surveyed on their absence from work – excluding maternity and paternity leave - say they were present all year in 2015. However, these statistics allow for the “denial of absence” (where employees forget they were absent) margin, the existence of which has been proven.







Who are the employees who are “always present” in the UK?


Employees in the United Kingdom have the highest rate of attendance at work of any country in Europe, with 84% of employees surveyed stating they didn’t miss a day of work in 2015. This high rate of attendance is a reflection of British employees' approach to work.


For employees who were absent once during 2015, the average duration of absence was in line with other countries in Europe. However, the rate of long term absenteeism was lower than that of short or medium term absenteeism, while the rate of medium and short term absence is the same. This specific British feature, where the rate of short term absence is lower than medium term absence suggests absenteeism as a result of “serious” reasons that require employees to be absent from work for longer than one week.


British employees are less often absent for short periods of time (for less “serious” reasons), than employees in other European countries.

Duration of absence in the UK


Work attendance by age

As with other European countries, the rate of employees' attendance in the United Kingdom increases in line with their age.

However, young employees (under 25) have a higher rate of attendance at work, which suggests these employees are reluctant to miss work at an early stage of their careers.


Blue-collar workers (93%) and non-executive employees (85%) had high attendance levels, with which is as high as executives in management roles. These rates are higher than those of technicians and supervisors. This is the case in numerous countries, representative of the fact that first-line managers have more stringent work constraints.



Executives in non-management roles had lower attendance levels, with an “always present” rate of 74%. This may be due to a lack of recognition especially in countries where taking a more senior management position is one of the pillars of professional evolution.


Paradoxically, the “always present” rate in the United Kingdom is the reverse of that of other countries in the European Union in terms of employment status. However, the difference is not significant.

Employees on fixed-term contracts have a lower attendance rate.  

What about European employees?

The study shows that British employees have the highest “always present” rate (84%), just ahead of Dutch employees (82%) and German employees (81%).

On the contrary, only 41% of Italian employees said that they are always present. Are they more honest and less affected by the denial of absence syndrome or are they really absent more often? The main reason is that Italian legislation provides numerous rights pertaining to the concept of “justified absence”. In other European countries, these rights are no longer included in the concept of “justified absence” and have a “paid leave” dimension. For example, taking leave for training is considered as a justified absence in Italy. Consequently, Italians include numerous days in their assessment of their absence that other European employees do not consider as “days of absence”.

Belgian and French employees rank slightly lower than average at 71%. While 79% of Spanish employees say they are “always present”.

These variations are related to 2 main aspects:

  • The concept of workplace attendance that varies from country to country: in certain countries, being absent means “not being present at your work station”, including during holidays.  In other countries, it means “being at home”. Legislation in each country is built around these concepts.
  • Notable differences in the behaviour of employees with regards to work can be observed between countries. The study demonstrates a considerable difference between the countries located in the North of the region surveyed (Germany, the Netherlands, United Kingdom) and those in the South (Spain, Italy, France).


Majority of reasons for staff absence in Europe a result of work life conditions (55%) 

When European employees are asked the reasons for their absence, they say that their health or that of their family takes precedence over everything else.

But the reasons related to work and what they experience at work are also relevant. Staff absence for “personal” and “professional” reasons shows that 45% of European employees' absence is related to their health and that of their family, and the remaining 55% is related to a professional reason.

Reasons for staff absence

Absenteeism is therefore not inevitable; companies can find solutions to prevent work-related causes.

4 in 10 European employees say they are “happy and motivated”

73% of European employees surveyed say they are currently “happy” at work and are satisfied with their working life. In this regard, Dutch employees rank highest with 82% of positive replies, followed by British employees (80%) and German employees (78%).

Happy workers are more motivated


French employees (68%), Spanish employees (67%) and Italian employees (66%), who may feel they have an ethical obligation to work harder than in other countries and have high rates of unemployment, seem to endure their work and fewer say they are “happy” at work.

A direct correlation between happiness at work and motivation.

Among the “happy” European employees, 55% say they are motivated by the future of their company, compared to just 26% of employees who say they are “not happy” at work. Employees who are “happy” in their work are twice as likely to be motivated as employees who are “not happy”.

The overall champions of happiness at work and professional motivation: the Netherlands, with a rate of happy and motivated mobilised employees of 54%, followed by Germany (46%), Italy (45%) and Spain (44%). Belgium (38%) and France (35%) rank lower than the European average.

The English have the highest rate of employees who are “happy” at work, but also the lowest rate of employees who are “motivated” for their employer.

This data confirms the relationship envisaged between “happiness in the workplace” and “commitment”.  Endeavouring to make European employees happy and fulfilled at work therefore seems to be a best management practice to improve teams' mobilisation, involvement and performance.

The British “happy and motivated” employee

The qualitative study conducted among 3,000 European employees analyses the respective behaviour of two main categories of employees: employees who are “happy (satisfied with their work life) and motivated (for the future of their company)” on the one hand, and those who are “not concerned (by the development of their company) and not happy (dissatisfied with their work life)” on the other hand. The behaviour and motivation of employees in these two categories are sometimes diametrically opposed.

At the bottom of the list of European countries, the United Kingdom has just 23% of employees who are happy and motivated by their work.

The typical “happy and motivated” employee naturally varies according to countries. In the United Kingdom this employee is:

  • a man (57%) aged between 31 and 40,
  • working mainly on a permanent contract (82%) for less than 6 years.
  • working in Greater London in a SME that employs between 50 and 250 employees in the Services sector.


Motivation across Europe

1: They are ready to give more of themselves for their work.

Motivated employees are employees who are more inclined to increase their efforts in their work (76%) than other categories (60%), especially more than “not happy and not concerned” employees (24%).

This is the trend in all European countries.

The countries where employees say they are ready to invest themselves more in their work are: France, the United Kingdom and Belgium. On the contrary, Germany and the Netherlands, where employee commitment is already very high, have relatively low rates of intention to make greater efforts at 53 and 52%.

2: They recommend their employer more often to others.

Employees who say they are “happy and motivated” are a source of recommendation for their employer. So the “employer brand” and more specifically the attractiveness of their company are consequently increased.

This variation in recommendation exists in all countries.





Happy and motivated employees are a factor of attractiveness for European companies.

In the United Kingdom, this correlation is one of the most substantial, with 87% of happy & motivated employees recommending their employer. In a country where the talent war has been declared, this indicator is vital for HR Managers.

The correlation is not so strong in Belgium. At a national level, the rate at which employees recommend their employers is lower than in Europe and does not seem to be part of Belgian tradition. Although happy and motivated Belgian employees do recommend their employer more often (a trait of this population), they do not reach the same level as in the rest of Europe.

In Spain and Italy, where the national average is among the lowest in Europe but similar to the average European level, we can see that Not Concerned and Not Happy employees have a comparatively high rate of recommendation.

This is most likely due to cultural and economic aspects in these countries, where the work value is “it's important to have a job” and unemployment rates are high - almost 3 out of 10 people are unemployed. So NHNC employees continue to recommend their employer to help their family and close friends get a job, even if the employer does not enable them to be happy and motivated at work.

3:“Motivated and happy” employees do not have the same reasons for being absent

The main two reasons for potential work absence of employees who are happy and motivated at work are state of health (25%) and a “personal situation” (13%). Far fewer (7%) point to remuneration and poor atmosphere at work as potential sources of absence. Absence of this category of employees is therefore mainly due to major personal events that are unrelated to the company.

For employees who are “not concerned and not happy” with their work life, the reasons for absence listed point more directly to the company, its working conditions as reasons for absence. Work load (10%), dissatisfaction with remuneration and working conditions and organisation (9%) emerge as the main causes of potential absenteeism, ahead of their own state of health (17%).


This hierarchy of reasons for missing work between “happy and motivated” employees and “unhappy and unconcerned employees exists in all of the countries surveyed.

In the United Kingdom, as employees have a high rate of attendance, the causes of absence are less clear-cut than in the rest of Europe. British employees are less absent for health reasons than their European counterparts.

Let us note that despite everything, absence for health reasons is the highest absence both for “happy and mobilised” employees and “not concerned and not happy” employees. Among the “not happy and not motivated” employees, causes of absence relating to work are also higher than the average of their European counterparts.


4: They have a higher attendance rate than others…

Dutch and German employees, who are at the top of the list of employees who are both the happiest and the most motivated, are also those with the highest workplace attendance rate (89% and 82% of the “motivated and happy” population. In France, although the level is lower, the correlation between being “motivated and happy” and “always present” is also very strong.

French and Belgian employees' responses are at the average level of those of European employees (75% and 72%). 

The origins of employees' motivations are therefore multiple and closely related to the culture, organisation of work, types of contracts and economic environment that exist in each country. For some employees, identification with the values and strategy of the company is very important. Other, more pragmatic, employees, have a colder attitude to work and their employer

Yet again, three countries stand out: Italy, which demonstrates that employees can be happy and motivated without having a high rate of attendance, the United Kingdom, where - with high rates of employees who are always present (84%) and satisfied (80%) - employees nevertheless express the lowest rate of motivation (23%), and Spain, where “not Happy and not concerned” employees are more present than “Happy and motivated” employees (who are miss more days of work than the national average).

These results illustrate the fact that countries' cultures have a significant impact on approaches to work. So in Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain, absenteeism is not a key indicator of commitment to be taken into consideration. Companies in these countries must base their commitment strategies on other indicators and work on absenteeism (present despite everything) in a specific manner.

British employees are not absent from their work stations, but this does not mean they are motivated employees who are happy to come to work.

British HR Managers must therefore meet the challenges of working on sources of motivation, as well as the attractiveness of their company, so that they can increase their performance. Presenteeism (being physically present at work but with a low level of productivity) may be a syndrome, especially in British companies.

The three pillars of commitment in the United Kingdom

In Great Britain, employees point to three sources of motivation as pillars of commitment (especially for “motivated and happy” employees, and also confirmed by “not happy and not motivated” employees:

  • work content (86%),
  • workplace relationships (84%),
  • recognition from the company (83%).

For this category of employees, the meaning and interest of their work, as well as the independence they are given, are essential for their professional accomplishment and fulfilment. This quest for meaning also requires good quality relationships within teams and organisations. For effort and commitment to be sustainable, they must be recognised and, if possible, rewarded.

To perfect their “well-being” at work, the most satisfied and committed employees say they would also appreciate greater flexibility (82%) and an improvement in their “physical” environment (79%) for health in the workplace.

The group of “not motivated and not happy” at work could also be motivated by an improvement in flexibility (36%) or in work content (32%). These improvements can in fact open up new career prospects (mobility, creation of new positions, etc.). This increased flexibility in the organisation of work could enable them to have greater balance between their professional and personal life.

Another source of potential remobilisation of this group of employees: workplace relationships (25%), which are a source of commitment for these populations who are not very happy and not concerned by their company.  These employees do not expect recognition. It is clear that they do not believe in their motivation regarding this aspect of their quality of work life.

The three pillars of commitment for the commitment of the employees mentioned above are vital to improve the quality of work and motivation of employees.

The work-content, recognition and workplace relationships triangle must therefore guide the managerial policies of Italian companies and organisations that are convinced their economic success and growth resides first and foremost in their human capital.

Yannick Jarlaud comments "We are convinced that the economic success of European companies is driven by their human capital.  By integrating these themes into their policies, companies are sure to succeed in improving their economic ​​performance and their growth"

Motivating and generating the commitment of employees: how?

1: Focus on the most motivated employees

Happy and motivated people are the ones who will be even more motivated and who recommend your company. 

When Italian employees are asked if they will invest themselves more in their work in the coming months, 65% reply “Yes”.

84% of Happy and Motivated employees state they will be more invested in their work.

On the other hand, only 16% of Not happy and Not concerned employees say they will be more invested.

Proportion of employees in the UK who are invested in their work

The company must ensure that these populations of employees are valued and serve as leaders for the work collective.

Proportion of employees in the UK who would recommend their employer, broken down by if they are happy and motivated at work

In addition, “Happy and Motivated” employees are a source of value and attractiveness for their employer compared to the national average or compared to “Not happy and Not concerned” employees.

87% of them recommend their employer to their family and close friends compared to 9%.

A “happy and motivated” British employee is a source of attractiveness and growth for the “employer brand”. This specific feature that also exists in Europe is especially strong and accentuated in Great Britain.



2: Examining signs of disengagement

If Italian employees were to become disengaged, the first signs they would give to their employer would correspond to their degree of commitment to the company.

However, absence in Great Britain is not a sign of British employees' disengagement.

Absence comes last in the list of possible actions British employees would take if they became disengaged. However, absence is not a sign of Disengagement in Great Britain. Disengaged employees have a different type of behaviour.

Possible action for employees if they were to become disengaged

So the company must implement solutions to monitor and be alerted when these weak signals appear.

Happy and motivated employees are inclined to talk about it by quickly requesting an interview.

In general, British employees express requesting a meeting as their 3rd option, after remaining passive and just doing their work.

In the case of “not happy and not concerned” employees, their behaviour is identical.

We can see that their disengagement is not expressed clearly by requesting an interview.



3: Listening to employees and their perceptions

Questioned regarding their current working conditions, British employees express two weak points: personal development and recognition.

Issues at work for British employees – what’s having an impact on engagement levels 


So HR Managers must improve commitment strategies in these areas.







We can see significant variations per sector.


In retail/transport, flexibility is recognised as the least satisfactory by British employees. Work content is considered satisfactory by 60% of employees.








In industry/construction, professional development is the main area of dissatisfaction for employees. The impetus for possible development, training and career opportunities seems to be broken. Working conditions (health and safety) are considered satisfactory by British employees.






In the Health and Services sectors, the main areas for improvement are personal development and recognition, which are considered less satisfactory by employees.

Work content is the main asset for this sector of activity.





To improve the commitment of their employees, British HR Managers must therefore know how employees perceive the Quality of their Work Life. Because of notable differences between sectors, it is necessary to adapt a company's strategy to its realities.


4: Reacting and implementing motivating actions

British HR Managers are facing issues that are different to those in other European countries: preventing absenteeism is not a key focus, making employees Happy and Motivated to make them committed to the future of their company is the key issue for British companies.

The 10 actions considered most effective by British employees among 40 proposals are:


In brief, British companies' performance can be achieved by strengthening employees' happiness at work and, consequently, their commitment.



Methodology of the study: the panel of employees surveyed as part of this qualitative study comprised 3,000 employees in the private sector who are representative of the working population in the 7 countries studied – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. 56% of employees are men and 44% are women, the majority (62%) aged between 31 and 50. Almost one out of every two employees (49%) is employed by a company with less than 50 employees. 61% have been working in their company for less than 10 years. 63% are non-executive employees or blue-collar workers and 37% are executives, technicians and supervisors. 26% in the services sector (excluding Health), 26% work in industry, 17% in retail, 12% in construction, 10% in transport and 9% in health. These employees were surveyed by telephone by TNS Sofres between 13 June and 1 July 2016.


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