How Do You Define Employee Engagement?

This week I’ll be looking at some recent research in the employee engagement and strategic recognition space.

The MacLeod employee engagement report (official title – “Engaging for Success: Enhancing Performance through Employee Engagement”) came out last month. While there was a quick burst of news articles and blogger response to the report, I wanted to sit back, fully digest the report and reaction to it. Common themes from comments include: (1) there’s nothing new here; (2) there are not enough concrete examples of how to build engagement in organizations.

While there may be merit in these themes, one of the main problems with the concept and adoption of employee engagement is that there is no single, common accepted definition of what it is, how you measure it, and when you know you’ve achieved it. As the report asks, “Is it an attitude, a behavior or an outcome?” Some are saying that the answer – “Yes, to all three” – does little to alleviate the confusion. I disagree.

Employee engagement is a complex concept that must not be taken lightly. Too many give up on the effort because they don’t want to go to the time or trouble of convincing their executives of the importance and value of engagement (another key problem of engagement) or believe they have attempted employee engagement initiatives but not seen the impact they desire. Driving employee engagement is not a one-time project. It is something that must be pursued – relentlessly and endlessly – to achieve the results you want. However, you must also clearly define what you do want to achieve, how you will measure it, and what behaviors you will reward in employees who are helping to achieve your engagement goals.

So what definition does the report give for engagement? “A workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.”

Boil that down to – commitment, understanding, motivation, satisfaction. Are your employees committed to your company’s success? Do they even know how that success is defined, e.g., your goals and values? Are they motivated to deliver that? Are they happy in their work and satisfied to be with your organization?

If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions, you need to work on your engagement strategy and the tools you will need to achieve it. Need tips for how to do this? Check out these best practices.

4 comment(s):

At August 26, 2009 4:38 PM, Carl H. Martens said...

I like your interpretation and your thoughts on the subject.

I feel that engagement begins by establishing and identifying a culture of recognition within an organization. That doesn't mean that the company needs to have a recogniton program using awards, it could be something simple such as the recognition from acknowledgment of a job well done.

I feel that everyday recognition will create engaged employees.

At August 26, 2009 4:41 PM, Derek Irvine said...

Exactly, Carl. We are in complete agreement and excellent clarification point.

At November 19, 2009 3:18 PM, Stuart H. Marion, Partner said...

I enjoyed reading your post. As we read more and more about employee engagement, many tend to forget that management has a critical role to play. When asking employees why they feel a certain way about something, that comment or suggestion takes on a life of its own. When management is presented with these issues, responses or suggestions, how do they communicate their understanding? What about ownership and accountability? More and more employees are engaged by management acknowledging internal issues while communicating what can be done to resolve that concern. Even if there is nothing that can be done, in some way, any acknowledgement will still further employee engagement as the employees learn of your willingness to listen, and where possible or practical, act.

At November 19, 2009 3:25 PM, Derek Irvine said...

Exactly, Stuart. Employees need and want recognition. By "recognition" we often mean "well done" but we cannot forget recognition also means "I hear you. I see you. Your thoughts and points are valid."