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Rule Number 1 - Define Employee Engagement

January 10, 2011

Employee engagement is difficult to define. In fact, David Guest, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Kings College London says that the concept of employee engagement needs to be ‘defined more clearly’ as it is currently ‘muddled’ (McLeod & Clarke, 2008). When the ‘Engaging for Success’, a report to Government was written in 2008, the researchers found more than 50 definitions.  The Employee Engagement Network have created an e-book where 120 people have written their own definitions for employee engagement in 6 words; definitions are diverse across authors.

Quite often people quote the phrase ‘going the extra mile’ when they talk about employee engagement, but what does this actually mean for organisations and how can we harness it? The first rule therefore really needs to be to define employee engagement, understand it – this may mean defining it in terms of what fits for your organisations’ values but the first step is to create a definition, one that all those in the organisation can refer to.

Research suggests that employee engagement is a combination of organisational commitment, job satisfaction and organisational citizenship behaviour. The CIPD clearly state that employee engagement is ‘something the employee has to offer: it cannot be required as part of the employment contract’.

The Best Companies organisation has spent a number of years analysing data to develop a model for employee engagement, which they claim is as a result of a ‘highly rigorous methodology’. They state that there are eight critical factors in workplace engagement, found via factor analysis of immense amounts of organisational data:

1.    Leadership – how employees feel about those at the helm of the organisation, including the company values

2.    Line Management - how employees feel about and communicate with their direct manager

3.    Personal Growth – what employees feel about future opportunities such as promotion and training

4.    Wellbeing – employee views on issues such as stress and work-life balance

5.    Team work – the extent to which employees feel they work well with their colleagues

6.    Giving Something Back – perspective on the organisations impact on the wider society

7.    Company - the level of engagement employees have for their job and organisation

8.    Fair Deal  - extent to which employees are satisfied with their pay and benefits

Employee Feedback have recognised, from our extensive work with clients on employee engagement projects, that the above categories are important to the employee engagment survey process. From our client work it is clear that employee engagement appears on many levels throughout the organisation and a single definition needs to take into account the many factors to really ascertain why engaged employees perform better than others.

Whilst it is clear that employee engagement is difficult to define, it is crucial that when looking at developing an employee engagement strategy that employee engagement be approached from the same angle by all those involved; a crucial first step into aligning those on the project and something to come back to during the process.

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