Employee engagement

Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An “engaged employee” is defined as one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests. An engaged employee has a positive attitude towards the organization and its values.

An organization with “high” employee engagement might therefore be expected to outperform those with “low” employee engagement

Employee engagement first appeared as a concept in management theory in the 1990s, becoming widespread in management practice in the 2000s, but it remains contested. It stands in an unspecified relationship to earlier constructs such as morale and job satisfaction. Despite academic critiques, employee-engagement practices are well established in the management of human resources and of internal communications.

Employee engagement today has become synonymous with terms like ’employee experience’ and ’employee satisfaction’. The relevance is much more due to the vast majority of new generation professionals in the workforce who have a higher propensity to be ‘distracted’ and ‘disengaged’ at work. A recent statistic by InspireOne suggests that employees today are more likely (83%) to be involved in an employee listening program than ever before.

Every year, the Employee Engagement Awards provide a platform to recognize excellence in engagement. The next ceremony takes place at Wembley Stadium on January 25, 2018.

Definitions
William Kahn provided the first formal definition of personnel engagement as “the harnessing of organisation members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances.”

In 1993, Schmidt et al. proposed a bridge between the pre-existing concept of ‘job satisfaction’ and employee engagement with the definition: “an employee’s involvement with, commitment to, and satisfaction with work. Employee engagement is a part of employee retention.” This definition integrates the classic constructs of job satisfaction (Smith et al., 1969), and organizational commitment (Meyer & Allen, 1991).

Defining employee engagement remains problematic. In their review of the literature in 2011, Wollard and Shuck identify four main sub-concepts within the term:

1. “Needs satisfying” approach, in which engagement is the expression of one’s preferred self in task behaviors.
2. “Burnout antithesis” approach, in which energy, involvement, efficacy are presented as the opposites of established “burnout” constructs: exhaustion, cynicism and lack of accomplishment.
3. Satisfaction-engagement approach, in which engagement is a more technical version of job satisfaction, evidenced by The Gallup Company’s own Q12 engagement survey which gives an r=.91 correlation with one (job satisfaction) measure.
4. The multidimensional approach, in which a clear distinction is maintained between job and organisational engagement, usually with the primary focus on antecedents and consequent to role performance rather than organisational identification.

Definitions of engagement vary in the weight they give to the individual vs the organisation in creating engagement. Recent practice has situated the drivers of engagement across this spectrum, from within the psyche of the individual employee (for example, promising recruitment services that will filter out ‘disengaged’ job applicants) to focusing mainly on the actions and investments the organisation makes to support engagement.

These definitional issues are potentially severe for practitioners. With different (and often proprietary) definitions of the object being measured, statistics from different sources are not readily comparable. Engagement work remains open to the challenge that its basic assumptions are, as Tom Keenoy describes them, ‘normative’ and ‘aspirational’, rather than analytic or operational – and so risk being seen by other organizational participants as “motherhood and apple pie” rhetoric. Source: Wikipedia

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