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There is a huge amount of research into employee engagement but there is great confusion in the business and psychological literature as to what engagement is. Many consultancies have produced their own research that shows a link between engagement and performance and most of them have their own models of engagement.

Notwithstanding the confusing body of literature and different definitions of employee engagement (more of that later), the research is pretty consistent in finding that having engaged employees is a good thing.
Here is a selection of highlights from the research:Checkout employee engagement  for more info.

‘Highly engaged employees …’
Are twice as likely as their less engaged peers to be top performers.
They miss 20% fewer days of work.
About 75% of them exceed or far exceed expectations in their most recent performance review.
They tend to be more supportive of organizational change initiatives and resilient in the face of change.
(Driving Business Results Through Continuous Engagement 2008/2009 Work USA Survey Report Watson Wyatt)

‘ Improving employee engagement is important because engaged employees have’

51% lower turnover
27% less absenteeism
18% more productivity
12% higher profitability
(The Gallup Management Group 2008)

So what exactly is employee engagement? There is a great deal of confusion and little agreement about what the concept of engagement means. Different organisations define employee engagement differently. Some equate engagement with job satisfaction, others talk about emotional commitment to a person’s work and organisations, others use the notion of ‘discretionary effort’ as an indication that a person is engaged.
There is no universally agreed definition of engagement amongst the consultants and commentators. Here’s a selection that represent the most common definitions

‘Engagement represents the energy, effort, and initiative employees bring to their jobs’ (Harvard Business Review)
‘The psychology of how each employee connects with customers and with the organisation’ (Gallup)
‘Staff commitment and a sense of belonging to the organization.’ (Hewitt)
‘Employees’ commitment to the organization and motivation to contribute to the organization’s success.’ (Mercer) ‘Employees’ exertion of “discretionary effort”…going beyond meeting the minimum standards of the job.’ (Hay)

The term ’employee engagement’ is a relatively new one and as well as being decried by some as the latest HR fad it is a muddled and confusing area because of the lack of clarity of definition. There’s no wonder that those who are supposed to be responsible for employee engagement often struggle to work out what their job is about let alone what they are supposed to achieve. The fact is that it is a very complex area because so many different variables determine whether or not someone is engaged. Those variables include factors external to the person eg their manager, the culture of the organisation, the pay and reward system. They also include internal factors including the person’s personality type, their values and the meaning they make from their own work.