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Defining Employee Engagement

3 minute read

Organizations spend nearly 750 million dollars every year on improving employee engagement. However, when managers are asked what employee engagement means, the answers vary widely.

This question has troubled many academics, consultants and managers over the past years. Their interpretations go from the simple “discretionary effort” to the mind-bending “complex nomological network encompassing trait, state, and behavioral constructs”. This uncertainty is a problem, because engagement clearly needs to be managed, whichever way you define it. A Gallup survey showed that companies with high employee engagement had 25-65% less turnover than their competitors and had heightened productivity and improved customer satisfaction. Defining engagement more clearly is not just a theoretical matter, it actually has a significant impact at the frontline.

Organizations often view personal satisfaction as an equivalent to engagement, thereby making the matter way too simple and missing behavioural signs. E.g. What good are positive thoughts towards the manager, if the employee is not giving 100% at work every day? Many companies measure employee engagement by examining their behaviours and organizational performance, but don’t take the employee’s attitude into account. An individual may be interacting with clients outside work, but he may be suppressing his frustration and just acting content.

It is important to consider employee’s behaviours and perceptions and how they affect the overall performance, in order to asses how to really get your workforce engaged. But the steps that need to be taken will not be the same for every employee.

Measuring Employee Engagement

The Harvard Business Review conducts studies and surveys to measure employee perception in six areas: culture, job function, advancement, company leadership, management, and total rewards. They also examine self-reported behaviors in six categories: level of effort, personal development, company loyalty, recreation, relationships, and temperament. These parameters were established on the basis of academic literature about employee engagement and interviews with employees on what they actually do, such as going above and beyond direct job responsibilities.

These kind of surveys allow companies without the means to analyse their employees, to see the connections between the perceptions and actions of their workers. Even if the organization already gathers behavioral data on their personnel, the surveys can still provide additional information, for example whether or not their employees are seeking new employment. Over longer periods of time, companies can analyze how the employee engagement changes and how these changes affect key performance indicators (KPIs), such as sales, customer satisfaction and attrition.

If employee engagement is measured just by perceptions and behaviours, it could be mischaracterized. One example is an employee that has a positive view of her manager, but only does just enough to get by, doesn’t support her colleagues and doesn’t accept learning and development opportunities. She may be perceived as a motivated and engaged employee at the beginning, but is actually just doing the minimum and needs some more encouragement. Also, engaging with clients outside of work may give the impression of a highly engaged employee, when actually he is suffering in silence. The employees attitude, the meaning of their work, advancement opportunities and total compensation need to be considered too.

A holistic approach to analyzing employee engagement can give a more detailed understanding of what makes employees give their all at the workplace. There is no simple low, medium and high engagement, but rather various perceptions of engaged employees that are related to their behaviour. Organizations need to understand how these factors drive frontline performance. Companies need to dig deep in order to fully understand their employees and enjoy the benefits of high engagement.

Katy is shaping the new voice of Speakap. When she's not writing for work, she's writing for fun. When she's not writing, then she's probably out looking for the best taco in the city.

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