What is employee engagement?

We all know that organisations are having to be more agile, innovative and productive than ever before to compete in a business landscape where the only constant is change. One solution offered to boost productivity and competitive advantage is employee engagement.

In 2017, Gallup reported organisations with engaged employees outperform those with poor employee engagement by as much as 17 percent in terms of productivity and 21 percent in terms of profitability.

Of course, the notion of employee engagement has been with us for some time – William Kahn coined the term in his influential 1990 study.

However, in the current productivity-focused environment, the term is finding more and more traction with business leaders – offering HR and Internal Communication professionals an exciting opportunity to drive their priorities up the agenda.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is only one of a long line of buzzwords to find its way into the parlance of HR professionals. And the problem with buzzwords is they get thrown around without too much consideration about what they actually mean – thereby devaluing their impact over time.

So what exactly do we mean by employee engagement?

Kahn has said “I used ‘engagement’ and ‘disengagement’ because those words evoke very clearly the movements that people make toward and away from their work, other people and the roles that they had.  Engagement is a word that suggests betrothal — the decision to commit to a role, an identity and a relationship that offers fulfilment.”

Writing in Forbes, Kevin Kruse suggests “employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals”. The simplicity of Kruse’s definition is appealing, but it misses some of the nuances of the concept.

Different types of employee engagement

A report by the Kingston Business School Consortium on Employee Engagement identified three different dimensions to employee engagement:

  • Intellectual engagement: thinking hard about the job and how to do it better
  • Affective engagement: feeling positively about doing a good job
  • Social engagement: actively taking opportunities to discuss work-related improvements with others at work

Employees may display varying levels of each – depending on factors such as their own personalities, the work environment and engagement activities being pursued.

How are employees engaged?

The Consortium on Employee Engagement also makes it clear there is a difference between emotional engagement and transactional engagement, making the point, “people might be emotionally engaged, displaying an emotional attachment to one or more aspects of their work, or transactionally engaged, happy to exhibit the behaviour of engagement, do what is required or expected as long as promised rewards such as promotion or training are forthcoming, but not committed to the job or the organisation and willing to leave if a better offer appears elsewhere.”

The findings of the Consortium on Employee Engagement have implications for HR directors and managers who are planning employee engagement strategies – and how to measure the impact of those strategies.

With what are employees engaged?

To complicate matters further, the CIPD makes the point that an employee can display different levels of engagement with different aspects of their job. For example, the job role itself, their relationship with colleagues, their satisfaction with the organisation as a whole, their relationship with people outside the organisation may all engender differing levels of intellectual, affective and social engagement.

However, CIPD also acknowledges what HR managers already know: that the real value of the term is its use to “bring together a range of established concepts, including job satisfaction, motivation, work effort, organisational commitment, shared purpose, energy and ‘flow’. It describes an internal state of being – both physical, mental and emotional – but can also include behaviour such as commitment and ‘going the extra mile’.”

What’s the Caburn Hope view?

The Caburn Hope view is a distillation of client demands over the past 25 years and its simple – an engaged employee is a productive employee. Emotion, commitment, happiness, well-being, self-fulfillment, self-worth, aspiration, reward and other important principles all play a vital role in improving an individual’s behavioural approach to work. Get the communication right, then the individual is productive and will continue to be so.