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So, what actually is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is about how we as business owners create the conditions in which our staff offer up more of their capability and potential.

David Macleod, Engage for Success

It may seem like a simple question. We certainly know employee engagement is a key focus for the vast majority of HR Directors, CEOs and CHROs out there. We too have seen the hundreds of blog posts, tweets, and stylish infographics all about it. And yes, we’ve watched the TED talks also!

We also know about all the benefits, with both academic research and real-world findings highlighting the correlation between engagement scores and boosts to productivity, job satisfaction, discretionary effort and reductions in employee turnover.

But the question remains, what exactly is employee engagement?

See, from the meetings we have with clients, the discussions we have at expos (next up, London Law Expo!) and the articles we read online, there seems to be a huge number of different definitions of exactly what engagement is. Not to mention the, literally, hundreds of vastly different approaches for how to improve employee engagement that are available out there.

So, we thought we’d help straighten things out (or add to the confusion depending on your point of view) by adding our two pennies worth.

Beware the snake oil!

The first place to start is with the oft-overlooked consideration that yes while we humans are all alike in many ways, we are hugely individual. It may sound cliché but no two of us are exactly alike and whilst we may have similar wants and desires, be wary of any ‘employee engagement’ specialist who claims to have a one-size-fits-all approach to defining, measuring and improving your staff engagement levels.

What works for one company, might not work for the next. Our culture, life events, motivations, individual outlooks and social groups all impact how we feel about work beyond the things that sit within the influence of employers and managers.

The best we can do (like any service looking to elicit personal behaviour change – increased productivity, improved retention, boosted morale, etc.) is to apply some evidence-based rules of thumb in our approach, measure and adapt as required.

What it isn’t…

Next up, let’s have a quick look at some of the things that employee engagement is not:

  • Employee engagement is not the same as employee happiness
    • Yes, an employee may well be happy, but that does not mean they care about your company
  • Employee engagement is not the same as employee attendance
    • Yes, an employee may be reliable and always on time, but that does not mean they are being productive
  • Employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction
    • Yes, an employee may be very satisfied with their remuneration but that doesn’t mean they won’t accept a call from a recruiter on a tough Thursday afternoon.

What we thought it was…

The traditionalists out there will define employee engagement quite simply as the level of enthusiasm and connection employees have with the organisation they work for. While this is a solid definition, it is a little light in helping us understand the levels and complexities involved within engagement.

The traditionalists out there will define employee engagement quite simply as the level of enthusiasm and connection employees have with the organisation they work for. While this is a solid definition, it is a little light in helping us understand the levels and complexities involved within engagement.

A more detailed but still somewhat lacking definition from the founder of ‘Engage for Success’, David Macleod states:

“Employee engagement is about how we as business owners create the conditions in which our staff offer up more of their capability and potential. It is based on trust, integrity, two-way commitment and communication between an organisation and its members.”

Whilst David’s definition goes into some more detail about the metrics and characteristics that go into engagement (and mentions some absolutely key mechanics such as trust and communication) some key areas are still absent.

What can research add?

Dr Christina Kirsch based in Sydney, Australia, has recently published her work looking at the key markers for engagement across a multi-industry sample of more than 2000.

She outlines 5 key scales of engagement in the workplace:

  • Emotional engagement
  • Rational identification
  • Team orientation
  • Motivation
  • Compatibility
    • Job fit
    • Loyalty/commitment

Performance on each of these scales is defined by a host of metrics, often differing from person to person, so it’s important you look at your workforce, measure performance against each of these metrics and adjust your engagement strategy accordingly.

This multi-faceted approach to what employee engagement is, mirrors the thinking of the CIPD who similarly break things down into numerous parts to measure against albeit with slightly different names; motivation, commitment, job satisfaction, wellbeing and performance.

The Weekly10 approach…

These latter two definitions are more aligned to the approach we here at Weekly10 take toward cracking the employee engagement conundrum for our global client base. We treat every company uniquely, understanding that not only are they likely different in many ways to any of our other clients, but also their people will vary wildly.

Our data-driven approach targets key elements of the scales and components of engagement. We target areas including communication, recognition, visibility through exposure and performance management, in order to track, analyse and improve engagement and thus a host of business-relevant KPIs, such as affective commitment, productivity, staff retention, and discretionary effort.

Interested in knowing more about employee engagement or fancy a no-obligation demo of the Weekly10 platform? Why not get in touch today.

Head of People Science