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Portugal’s secret to colleague engagement

Increased employee engagement is a common goal for businesses. However, if raising wages or reducing working hours isn’t a plausible option for you, Portugal proves there are alternative approaches you can take.

Increases in colleague engagement can often be explained by traditional improvements to a business, such as higher wages, reduced working hours and better leadership. Occasionally an anomaly arises, providing a unique insight into other areas, and when it does we must seize it with both hands.

Employers in Portugal have been doing just that. Between 2013 and 2016, the average employee in Portugal was working longer and earning less, in worse working environments and under lower quality leadership.

However, there has also been an increase in colleague engagement during the same period. This contrasts greatly to their European neighbours, whose increased or decreased engagement correlates directly to the wages of colleagues and hours worked.*

Nadim Habib, Visiting Professor at the Nova School of Business and Economics in Lisbon, said: “The Portuguese financial crisis effectively killed off the weaker organisations in the country. In contrast, the organisations that survived have come out stronger, with a more international outlook and with better management structures and practices.”

While we would advise it best to avoid a country-wide financial crisis to shake up the way you boost engagement within your company, the key changes that the period brought about can be acknowledged and adopted to reap the same benefits.

According to Professor Habib, lower salaries force organisations to seek other ways to provide employees with a sense of purpose and engagement.

These include:
• Sharing and discussing strategy with all employees
• Giving colleagues the freedom to figure out the solutions to projects themselves, contributing to company successes
• Having more meaningful conversations about career prospects
• Allowing employees to have more involvement in cross departmental projects
• Celebrating good work.

Cultural elements have also affected the engagement levels of colleagues in Portuguese businesses.

“Portugal still has a significant number of large family businesses who bring a family logic to the organisation, making employees feel part of something bigger,” explained Professor Habib.

“Because we are a small country, we are closer to each other and therefore good management practices are easier to see and copy. This speeds up adoption of good employee engagement methodologies.”

* Effectory International and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)