How Do You Define Employee Engagement?

“Employee Engagement” has become a hot term in today’s business lexicon, especially among human resource professionals.  An “engaged” workforce gives an organization a competitive edge by enhancing employee loyalty, productivity, customer service and profits while reducing staff turnover.

With lower training, education and hiring budgets, employee retention has become more important than ever. Thus, an entire industry of specialized consultants has blossomed in recent years to help organizations assess employee engagement and tailor specific plans to bolster it.

However, as researchers William Macey and Benjamin Schneider write in their pioneering 2008 study, the meaning of the relatively new term is often “ambiguous among both academic researchers and among practitioners who use it in conversations with clients.” They assert that when most business people talk about employee engagement, they’re actually speaking of a concept with three distinct dimensions:

  • Trait Engagement — finding, training and retaining employees showing positive views of life and work, especially exhibited in proactive and conscientious personalities.
  • State Engagement — promoting workplace conditions that produce employee feelings of “energy and absorption” in their work (notably feelings of satisfaction, involvement, commitment and empowerment).
  • Behavioral Engagement — actually affecting employee willingness to act as “organizational citizens” and exhibit personal initiative, adaptation and role expansion.

Unfortunately, say the authors, there’s no universal “silver bullet” or time-tested methodology for effective employee engagement. Essentially, each organization must devise its own unique plan, which includes hiring the right people with the appropriate business and human resources education and training. However, the authors agree that “companies that get these conditions right will have accomplished something that competitors will find very difficult to imitate.”

Other research has suggested that organizations should aim to:

  • Affect employee desire to “do the work” (creating an environment of job satisfaction through rewarding and inspiring work, etc.)
  • Affect employee knowledge of “what to do at work” (understanding the organization’s vision, job expectations and individual contributions toward organizational goals).

To accomplish this, many in the field have come to rely on regular, expert-designed employee surveys to assess an organization’s efforts in these areas. A historically popular starting point is the Q12 inventory, conceived by Gallup in recent years. (For its part, Gallup claims its 30-year research involving more than 17 million employees conclusively demonstrates that “actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues in the process. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.”) 

With so much focus on employee engagement, there’s a pressing need for managers of all levels versed in the theories surrounding this important topic. Although up to now employee engagement has been principally the territory of human resource professionals, all of an organization’s managers are increasingly called upon to grasp these concepts for a competitive edge.

At American Sentinel University, affordable online degree programs in business can delve into the complexities of employee engagement. Employees who have advanced education, such as a business administration degree or human resource management degree, will have an advantage in the workplace. They can provide expertise that will make them top commodities in any organization.