“Employee Engagement is an emotional state where we feel passionate, energetic, and committed toward our work. In turn, we fully invest our best selves-our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands-in the work we do.”
-Tracy M. Maylett, Ed.D., author of ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations
There are many different definitions of employee engagement that tend cloud organization people initiatives. Rewards and recognition, learning and development, health and fitness, perks and benefits are all categories that commonly use employee engagement to describe their initiatives. Here, we will sort through the various definitions and competing ideas to provide more clarity.
What Employee Engagement is Not
First, it’s important to identify what employee engagement is not. Sometimes any type of positive employee attitude or behavior is considered employee engagement, while anything contrary is considered a disengaged employee. However, it’s not always that black and white. For example, employee engagement is not employee happiness, satisfaction, motivation, or empowerment. Now that we have a good understanding of what employee engagement isn’t, let’s take a look at some different ways people have gone about defining employee engagement.
Different Definitions of Employee Engagement
If you search for “employee engagement definition,” you’ll come up with a seemingly unending list of definitions from consultants to multinational corporate conglomerates—and everyone in between. Here’s a selection of some of the best (or most curious) employee engagement definitions we’ve seen:
- “The emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” Kevin Kruse, Forbes Contributor and NY Times Best Selling Author
- “The art of getting people to believe what you want them to believe.” Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat
- “Emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employment organization, which tends to influence his or her behaviors and level of effort in work-related activities.” Business Dictionary
- “A business management concept that describes the level of enthusiasm and dedication a worker feels toward his/her job. Engaged employees care about their work and about the performance of the company, and feel that their efforts make a difference.” Investopedia
- ” Employee engagement is the emotional attachment employees feel towards their place of work, job role, position within the company, colleagues and culture and the effect this attachment has on wellbeing and productivity. ” HR ZONE
- “An emergent and working condition as a positive cognitive, emotional, and behavioral state directed toward organizational outcomes.” Michael Shuck and Karen Wallard
The DecisionWise Definition of Employee Engagement
DecisionWise defines employee engagement as:
“An emotional state where we feel passionate, energetic, and committed toward our work. In turn, we fully invest our best selves-our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands-in the work we do.”
When you see engagement, you know it. However, it is often hard to put into words. For example, in 2001 Douglas Conant took over as CEO of Campbell’s Soup and called it a “bad” company. Its products were bleeding market share, and research showed that 62 percent of the company’s managers did not consider themselves actively engaged in their jobs. Yet by 2009, 68 percent of the company’s employees said they were actively engaged, while just 3 percent considered themselves actively disengaged.
How did Conant do it? He made a commitment to his people, embodied in the phrase “Campbell valuing people, people valuing Campbell.” Conant improved the physical surroundings by removing the barbed wire fence around the offices and focused on improving manager communication. Conant also instituted programs to celebrate individual success, from sending them personal thank-you notes to having lunch with employees.
Campbell’s built a culture of employee engagement. This resulted in an engaged workforce. It had nothing to do with air-hockey tables in the break rooms or on-site clinics. People engage with people, and they give more when they feel heard, empowered, and appreciated.
How the Psychological Contract Between the Employee and the Company Defines Engagement
The Psychological Contract has the greatest potential influence on employee engagement and as a result, the overall employee experience. Hidden in our hearts are the ideas, hopes, and dreams that truly define us. These expectations cannot be addressed adequately by clauses in an employment contract or hiring slogans that attempt to align expectations. These expectations are part of the psychological contract. The Psychological Contract is the unwritten, implicit set of expectations and obligations that define the terms of exchange in a relationship.
What’s Different Between a Satisfied and an Engaged Employee?
Many leaders mistakenly think that increasing employee satisfaction will increase employee engagement and motivation. Satisfaction is transactional and contractual. In return for their work, you promise to provide employees with the basics: compensations, tools, and resources, physical safety, dignity, and respect. Both the organization and the employee must continue to make constant deposits in the relationship “bank account.”
Satisfied employees put out as much effort as they are compensated for, and no more. They deliver what is asked of them, as long as you deliver on your part of the deal. They show up and do their work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to say no to other offers. A satisfied employee does not equal workforce engagement.
Changing Our Minds About Engagement
When it comes to the all-important bottom line, employee engagement (not job satisfaction or employee happiness) matters. This is why it’s so important to get employee feedback on their engagement levels by conducting an employee engagement survey. These survey results provide you with engagement scores that give you a better idea of where your workplace falls under the employee engagement spectrum. Ultimately this will allow you to create an employee engagement strategy to improve your work engagement.
It’s a powerful engine for not only improving your company culture but for growth and profit. When defining employee engagement, it is important to recognize that it is a 50/50 proposition with the responsibility to become engaged between the employee and the responsibility to create an engaging environment on the organization. Employee engagement is creating a workplace culture where both the organization and the employees become engaged.
Read the authoritative book on employee engagement: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations.