'LEADERSHIP' has been ranked the most important employee engagement driver in Singapore, while 'career development' was a close second, according to a Towers Watson survey.

Towers Watson senior consultant for organisational surveys & insights, Amrita Prasad, said that engaged employees tend to stick with the organisation when they feel strongly that the leadership is doing the right job.

According to the consultancy's 2010 global workforce study, some of the top qualities that employees look for in a leader include 'trustworthiness' with a 67 per cent of the vote, followed by 'caring about the well-being of others' at 61 per cent, though statistics showed that most leaders fell short on employees' expectations.

Given that there are strong links between employee engagement and business performance, companies should see leadership development expenditures as a viable investment rather than an added constraint on human resource budgets in the current uncertain business climate.

Towers Watson senior consultant for organisational surveys & insights, Amrita Prasad, said that high levels of employee engagement help drive business results and objectives, leading to increased profitability and financial metrics.

This is reflected in statistics from a three-year study across 40 global companies conducted by Towers Watson, which shows that companies with high employee engagement yielded a higher net profit margin of 2.06 per cent, as opposed to companies with low employee engagement that posted a negative margin of 1.38 per cent.

In terms of financial performance, a 5 per cent increase in employee engagement would result in a 2.1 per cent increase in sales.

By undertaking highly supported efforts to address employee engagement issues, companies stand to reap benefits such as reduced absenteeism and increased customer retention.

However, she noted that most organisations would be tempted to seek 'quick fixes', but should instead consider the long-term goal of retaining key talent.

She also added that although pay is a key driver in employee attraction, it is an external pull factor and companies have little or no control over market offering rates.

Hence, organisations should focus on more tractable sustainable employee engagement concepts such as wellness, which would prevent employee burnout thus increasing productivity.

Similarly, Mira Gajraj Mohan, regional practice director for talent management & organisational alignment of Towers Watson, added that sustaining employee engagement and energy takes time and effort and not just money, particularly since Singapore has 'a very mobile workforce that is flexible and willing to move'.