Employee Engagement Aspects and Strategies

Employee engagement is a crucial concept in human resources management, as it contributes to organizational performance, employee motivation, and customer service. A thorough understanding of employee engagement could thus assist managers in ensuring the success of their company. The present report will seek to investigate the concept of employee engagement and explain the characteristics of engaged employees. The paper will also provide tools and strategies that organizations could use to measure and increase employee engagement.

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What Is Engagement?

Employee engagement is a rather broad concept that has variable definitions. Robinson, Perryman, and Hayday (2004) define employee engagement as “a positive attitude held by the employee towards the organization and its values” (p. ix). High employee engagement also means that employees are willing to contribute to the organization’s success, whether or not it will impact them directly through financial benefits.

Employee engagement can be confused with similar concepts in the field of human resources management. However, researchers argue that employee engagement should be considered both independently and in line with other human resources concepts. Hence, the present section will define the differences between employee engagement, organizational commitment, employer involvement, and job satisfaction.

Organizational Commitment

Organizational commitment and employee engagement are often used in relation to one another, as both concepts imply the workers’ willingness to contribute to the company’s success. However, organizational commitment “represents a force that binds an individual to the organization and to a course of action of relevance to that target” (Lapointe & Vandenberghe 2018, p. 101). The definition of employee engagement, on the other hand, emphasizes that the worker’s commitment to the organization’s goals is due to his or her positive attitude towards the company. Thus, whereas organizational commitment focuses on the link between the organization and its workers, employee engagement relates to workers’ attitudes.

Employee Involvement and Employer Involvement

Employee involvement is also a concept related to employee engagement. As opposed to engagement, which addresses the emotional attitudes of employees, employee involvement describes the degree of participation in decision-making (Robinson 2007). Similarly, employer involvement is a term used to discuss the extent to which the employer influences employees’ use of corporate insurance, training, and other processes indirectly related to work.

Job Satisfaction

Finally, employee engagement is often connected to job satisfaction. Nevertheless, as explained by Cook (2008), even employees who are fully satisfied with their job can have a low level of engagement. Thus, the two concepts are also different. This is mainly because job satisfaction reflects the extent to which the employee’s job fulfills his or her individual needs. Employee engagement, on the other hand, links the employee not just to his or her job but to the organization in general.

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Customer Service and Employee Engagement

One reason for the profound effect that employee engagement has on organizational performance is that it enhances customer service. According to Cook (2008), engaged employees are more likely to provide excellent customer service and adhere to the company’s standards of service. This connection has been proven by many empirical studies. For instance, Heymann (2015) reviews prior research on employee engagement, concluding that it improves customer service, thus contributing to customer loyalty. This explains the link between employee engagement and organizational performance: by providing excellent customer service, engaged employees enhance the customers’ experiences with the company, thus stimulating future purchase decisions.

Employee Satisfaction and Organisational Success

Although job satisfaction and employee engagement are different concepts, engagement strategies used by the management should still consider employee satisfaction. The relationship between organizational success and employee satisfaction is outlined in the service-profit chain theory, developed by Heskett, Sasser, and Schelsinger (1997). The theory argues that employee satisfaction and employee retention lead to a higher quality of customer service, thus contributing to the profitability and growth of the company. Therefore, both employee satisfaction and employee involvement improve customer service and promote organizational success.

An Engaged Employee

Defining the characteristics of an engaged employee is useful, as it establishes goals to be achieved through engagement strategies. There are several approaches to identifying an engaged employee. The present section will outline the critical approaches to describing an engaged employee that can be used by organizations in evaluating and setting the goals for employee engagement.

The ‘Three Mindsets’ of an Engaged Employee

The three mindsets of an engaged employee include affective commitment, continuance commitment, and normative commitment. Each of these mindsets has a different influence on the organization and its workforce. For instance, affective commitment is described as the employee’s emotional attachment to the company. Affective commitment has a strong positive influence on the organization, as it is linked to the employee’s desire to act in the company’s interests (Lapointe & Vandenberghe 2018). Employees with high levels of affective commitment are interested in seeing the company grow and develop, and thus they are also likely to offer suggestions for improving products, services, or operations (Lapointe & Vandenberghe 2018). Thus, affective commitment leads to organizational success by enhancing productivity and facilitating innovation.

Continuance commitment, on the other hand, is born out of the employee’s job satisfaction. Employees with high levels of continuance commitment feel like working for a particular company fulfills their social needs, and quitting their job would result in losses, both financial and non-financial. Continuance commitment is also essential, as it promotes retention (Lapointe & Vandenberghe 2018). Higher retention rates, in turn, reduce expenses associated with training and recruitment, thus also contributing to the company’s financial health. However, in contrast to affective commitment, continuance commitment alone does not motivate employees to be more productive.

Lastly, normative commitment refers to the employee’s feelings of obligation to the company. These feelings usually arise out of excellent working conditions, a favorable organizational climate, and good relationships with the management. Normative commitment contributes to corporate success in two ways. First of all, it prevents antisocial behaviors, as employees with high normative commitment levels are unlikely to cause damage to other employees or the company’s property (Lapointe & Vandenberghe 2018). Secondly, normative commitment could persuade employees to do extra work, thus facilitating better performance.

Overall, each mindset of an engaged employee contributes to the organization differently. Ensuring a stable level of employee engagement would help organizations to facilitate all three mindsets in their employees. This, in turn, would guarantee appropriate employee behavior, high retention rates, and outstanding workforce performance.

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The Flow

The notion of the ‘flow’ was first introduced by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi. The author defines the Flow as a holistic sensation felt by individuals with high levels of engagement (Czikszentmihalyi 1990). In the context of human resources management, the Flow can be understood as the employee’s proactive contribution that is not triggered by monetary rewards and benefits. When employees are in this state, it is much easier for the company to achieve its goals regarding performance. Moreover, the concept of the ‘flow’ suggests that the company could cut the costs of human resources by improving employee engagement.

Aspects of Employee Engagement

It is also possible to define the characteristics of an engaged employee based on the elements of employee engagement. Cook (2008) argues that there are three critical aspects of employee engagement: cognitive engagement, emotional engagement, and physical engagement. Cognitive engagement is the worker’s focus on his or her duties (Cook 2008). It ensures that the employee is highly energetic at work, rarely gets distracted, and works hard on completing his or her tasks.

Emotional engagement, on the other hand, is the extent to which an employee is engrossed in work. According to Cook (2008), emotional engagement means that employees are highly invested in their job. For example, if the employee completes all of the tasks on time and asks for more work, it is likely that he or she is emotionally engaged.

Lastly, physical engagement is the degree of effort put into work by an employee. Cook (2008) explains that employees are physically engaged when they are “willing to go the extra mile, not just in terms of customer service but also for themselves” (p. 10). An example of physical engagement would be the employee’s commitment to finding a better way of completing a particular task or learning skills that would be useful for the job. In other words, a physically engaged employee is willing to invest extra time and effort into the work.

Model of Engagement Levels

The model of engagement levels proposed by Cook (2008) can also assist in identifying engaged employees. As shown in Table 1, the model l serves to assign employees in 4 different groups, based on their attitudes and energy levels: yes, men, stars, victims, and cynics. For instance, an enthusiastic employee with a positive attitude towards customers, colleagues, and the organization would be a ‘star.’ However, an employee who has a positive attitude but a low energy level would be classified as a ‘yes man. Based on this model’s representation of stars, it is possible to outline the essential characteristics of highly engaged employees, including enthusiasm, focus on customers, excellent communication skills, and high productivity.

Table 1. A Model of Engagement Levels. (Cook 2008, p. 11).

Positive Attitude Yes Men

Agree to perform tasks, but fail to overcome obstacles and barriers;
Avoid getting involved in decision-making;
Do not take responsibility for their performance.

Stars

Willing to contribute to organizational performance;
Suggest ways of improving processes;
Deliver excellent performance outcomes.

Negative Attitude Victims

Low energy levels and low motivation;
Often fail to complete tasks;
Offer poor customer service.

Cynics

Criticize the organization and work processes instead of improving them;
Avoid taking responsibility for their failures;
Motivated by personal gain, low organizational commitment.

Inaction Active

Besides their main characteristics, employees with various levels of engagement can be identified by their characteristic phrases. Cook (2008) shows that the ‘stars’ often say phrases such as “I will” or “I can”, whereas ‘yes men’ usually replace those phrases with “I would” or “I could”. Victims’ characteristic phrases include “I won’t” or “I can’t”, and cynics would often say “It won’t” or “It can’t” (Cook, 2008). Using characteristic phrases, it is also possible to understand the difference between disengaged and engaged employees. For example, the ‘victims’, characterised by a low level of engagement, often feel difficulties with new or unfamiliar tasks and could refuse change. The ‘stars’, on the contrary, embrace change and would take on any opportunity to improve. The ‘cynics’ may be motivated to perform better, but they have a negative attitude towards the organisation or its processes. Lastly, ‘yes men’ value the organisation, its customers, and colleagues, but are not motivated to perform better. Hence, the model of engagement levels can be used by managers to assess the overall levels of engagement and identify employees who are highly engaged or disengaged.

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Principle Drivers of Employee Engagement

In order to develop successful strategies for improving employee engagement, it is critical to understand its key drivers. Robinson, Perryman, and Hayday (2004) produced a report aiming to define the principle drivers of employee engagement. According to the engagement model provided by the authors, there are four critical drivers of engagement: well-being, information, fairness, and involvement.

First of all, the employer should demonstrate concern about employees’ well-being. Commitment to employee well-being, according to Robinson, Perryman, and Hayday (2004) can be shown by “taking health and safety seriously, working to minimise accidents, injuries, violence and harassment, and taking effective action should a problem occur” (p. 24). Indeed, when employers are concerned about their employees’ health and wellness causes employees to feel valued and important. This, in turn, could lead to normative commitment, which is an essential component of employee engagement. In other words, seeing that the employer takes their well-being seriously, employees are more likely to develop a feeling of obligation to the company, thus becoming more productive and loyal.

Another critical factor in stimulating employee engagement is information. In particular, Robinson, Perryman, and Hayday (2004) stress the importance of two-way, open communication. The authors’ idea of information sharing thus includes two aspects. First, the employees should be allowed to voice their opinions and suggestions, and the management should take the information shared by employees seriously (Robinson, Perryman & Hayday 2004). On the one hand, this would allow the company to improve its operations, thus increasing productivity. On the other hand, listening to employees contributes to engagement by enhancing their attitudes towards the management and the company overall. The second aspect of information sharing suggested in the report is transparency (Robinson, Perryman & Hayday 2004). The leaders should keep employees informed about relevant work processes, organisational changes, and their contribution to the company. By promoting transparency, the managers could facilitate employee loyalty, which also drives engagement.

The third principal driver of employee engagement is fairness. This concept should be integral to the company’s human resources management strategy, influencing pay, benefits, and career development opportunities (Robinson, Perryman & Hayday 2004). Fair treatment of employees adds to all three levels of commitment (affective, continuance, and normative). For instance, by providing fair promotional opportunities to all employees, the company can fulfil their needs for self-actualisation, stimulating employees’ continuance commitment. Thus, fairness also drives employee engagement by fostering loyalty to the organisation.

Lastly, the degree to which employees are involved in decision-making affects their engagement. As noted by Robinson, Perryman, and Hayday (2004), by involving employees in decision-making, the management shows them that they are important and valued. Fostering a sense of involvement can contribute to information sharing within the organisation, while also promoting positive attitudes towards the management and the company in general. Furthermore, including employees from various organisational levels in decision-making could offer valuable insight into work processes. This would allow the management to make more effective, well-informed decisions, thus leading to organisational success.

Benefits to the Organisation

Strategies for improved employee engagement have a significant positive effect on the organisation. While they help to increase the levels of engagement, they could also be useful in enhancing motivation, performance, and the nature of work, thus leading to rewards shared by both the workers and the company. The present section will outline the benefits of employee engagement strategies for organisations.

An enhanced approach to motivation is one of the key benefits of improved employee engagement. According to McLeod and Clarke (2009), employee engagement and worker motivation are tightly connected. By using strategies for improving employee engagement, organisations could thus achieve higher levels of motivation. Furthermore, focusing on employee engagement provides the management with a more comprehensive view of motivation, which positively impacts the company’s approach to motivation.

Also, increased employee engagement leads to higher worker performance. Robinson (2007) states that performance appraisals are among the most important factors contributing to employee engagement. Moreover, the level of employee engagement is positively associated with productivity and efficiency and thus leads to better financial performance (Alfes et al. 2010; Towers Perrin 2009). Therefore, by using employee engagement strategies, organisations will also benefit from a higher financial performance.

The nature of work can also be positively influenced by employee engagement strategies. According to ACAS (2010), when measuring employee attitudes as part of employee engagement surveys, organisations should also include questions about the employees’ satisfaction with the nature of work. This concept consists of a variety of components, such as autonomy, responsibility, and control (ACAS 2010). Receiving feedback from employees enables the management to take steps towards improving the nature of work. Hence, efforts for achieving higher employee engagement could also help to enhance the nature of work.

Finally, the benefits offered by employee engagement strategies are shared by the employees and the company. Employees are rewarded with improved workplace climate, equal opportunities, and fair working condition. Moreover, working for a company that they are emotionally attached to improve their motivation and energy levels. Companies, on the other hand, yield benefits associated with increased employee engagement, such as better performance, greater financial stability, and employee loyalty.

Aligning an Employee Engagement Strategy with Business Objectives

While developing an employee engagement strategy, it is critical to align it with business objectives. Cook (2008) explains that this would help to ensure that the strategy fulfils its goals and contributes to organisational success. In addition, the author outlines the essential steps towards securing alignment between the two functions.

Outlining the organisation’s vision, mission, values, and key objectives should be the first step in developing an employee engagement strategy (Cook 2008). This step allows the company to make sure that the employee engagement strategy does not contradict its core values and goals, thus contributing to the alignment between the two. Then, the management should define the employee engagement strategy and explain how it supports the company’s vision, mission, values, and key objectives (Cook 2008). This stage helps to ensure alignment by eliminating parts of the strategy that will not contribute to organisational success.

Before beginning to implement the strategy, the company should also determine specific goals and measures of success (Cook 2008). For instance, if the purpose of an employee engagement strategy is to raise employee performance, the management should set performance goals and create tools for measuring progress. Firstly, this allows tracking the process of implementation and altering the strategy if needed. Secondly, setting goals and performance measures strengthens the link between employee engagement and business objectives.

The last step is to detail the process of achieving employee engagement goals. As noted by Cook (2008), it is crucial to define the exact actions, processes, places, and responsible persons. This step could assist in ensuring the effectiveness of the strategy by setting clear instructions and establishing the chain of responsibility.

Diagnostic Tools

Reliable diagnostic tools can help the company to measure employee attitudes, thus assisting in implementing engagement strategies. There are four main diagnostic tools suitable for measuring employee engagement: surveys, HR statistics, interviews, and social media. Surveys are the most common method of measuring employee attitudes, as they allow collecting meaningful data that can be easily analysed (McLeod & Clarke 2009). Moreover, due to the latest technical developments, companies can choose between traditional periodic surveys or comment boxes and the new survey methods, such as pulse surveys, which allow tracking employee attitudes in real time (Beagrie 2015). Although surveys are often used by companies to measure employee engagement, they have some limitations, including longer processing times, high costs, and low reliability.

HR statistics and interviews can also be used to measure employee engagement. However, HR statistics do not provide specific data on engagement, instead focusing on performance metrics, absences, and other HR data. Interviews, although more detailed and potentially useful, are time-consuming and expensive. A viable alternative to these diagnostic tools is social media. As reported by Silverman, Bakhshalian, and Hillman (2013), the popularity of social media should not be ignored by employers. Instead, companies should use social media as a platform for communicating with employees and receiving valuable feedback. Using various social media tools, such as graphical user interfaces or gamification, companies can efficiently obtain data on employee engagement (Silverman, Bakhshalian & Hillman 2013). Moreover, ensuring effective communication on social media could contribute to employee engagement by facilitating two-way information sharing.

Employment Value Proposition

An employment value proposition (EVP) is a crucial aspect of an employee engagement strategy, as it promotes workforce loyalty and motivation. According to Heger (2007), a good EVP is connected to continuance commitment, thus contributing to employee engagement. There are several key components of a good EVP. Firstly, an example of a good EVP is providing a competitive salary and equal performance-based benefits to all employees (Manpower Services 2009). Secondly, a good EVP would include schemes for learning, training, and development. According to Manpower Services (2009), providing such schemes as part of an EVP could help in enhancing performance and motivation while also affecting employee loyalty. Thirdly, flexible working arrangements could also improve the organisation’s EVP. Flexible working arrangements help to strengthen the nature of work by increasing autonomy and responsibility, thus promoting employee engagement.

In addition, healthcare benefit is an integral part of a good EVP. Heger (2007) highlights that many workers believe excellent healthcare benefits to be an example of a great EVP. Similarly, a wellness programme, such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) could enhance the company’s EVP. Research by Compton and McManus (2015) showed that EAP benefits both the companies and their employees by providing numerous intangible benefits, including improved mental health and motivation. Furthermore, providing healthcare benefits and an EAP aids in making employees feel more valued and appreciated. As wellness is among the critical drivers of employee engagement, these EVP components increase its effectiveness.

To sum up, an example of a good EVP should offer both tangible benefits, such as a competitive salary and financial rewards, and intangible advantages, including healthcare, personal development opportunities, and mental health assistance. By developing an excellent EVP, employers can achieve higher levels of employee engagement, loyalty, and motivation.

Employee Engagement Strategies

Based on the results of the research presented above, there are several relevant employee engagement strategies that organisations should consider. First of all, regular engagement appraisals performed using appropriate diagnostic tools would be beneficial. An example of this strategy can be observed in the case of Serco, where engagement surveys helped to achieve increased performance and engagement (McLeod & Clarke 2009). This strategy works by ensuring a two-way communication between the employees and the management, which makes employees feel more valued. However, it is critical for organisations to take appropriate action as a result of engagement appraisals. For instance, if employees report dissatisfaction with the clarity of roles, the management should address the issue immediately.

Another important employee engagement strategy is providing opportunities for learning and development. This strategy was used by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre NHS Foundation Trust and resulted in improved workforce characteristics, including engagement (McLeod & Clarke 2009). This strategy contributes to the company’s EVP, thus increasing continuance commitment and enhancing employee engagement.

Promoting transparency and establishing two-way communication with employees is also among the useful employee engagement strategies. This strategy was used by The State Pension Forecasting & Pension Tracing Service Unit at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of its efforts in improving employee engagement (McLeod & Clarke 2009). The unit created a network of change agents, who were responsible for ensuring information sharing across the organisation. These employees would deliver information from the management to the employees, and deliver employees’ reflections and ideas back to the leaders. This strategy addresses information sharing, which is one of the principal drivers of employee engagement. Moreover, ideas obtained from the workers could help the management to promote fairness, wellness, and involvement, thus assuring a comprehensive approach to employee engagement.

While it is critical to develop and implement an appropriate employee engagement strategy, organisations should also seek to address barriers to employee engagement. In particular, poor workplace climate, ineffective health and safety regulations, harassment, and bullying could impair the company’s efforts in achieving higher employee engagement. In order to address these barriers, it is critical to include improving the workplace climate as part of the employee engagement strategy. For instance, the organisation could provide an additional appraisal of and training on health and safety in the workplace, while also establishing a zero-tolerance policy with regards to harassment or bullying. Apart from addressing potential barriers to engagement, such a strategy could help to fulfil the wellness component of employee engagement.

Conclusion

All in all, the present report discussed the key aspects of employee engagement. The research helped to define employee engagement as a separate concept and establish its relation to other notions in human resources management. Moreover, based on the characteristics of engaged employees and the drivers of employee engagement, the paper offered three recommended strategies for increasing employee engagement. Finally, the report provided examples of a good EVP, which can be used to support employee engagement efforts. By following the recommendations provided in the report, the management will be able to raise the levels of engagement throughout the company, thus achieving better employee productivity, motivation, and financial performance.

Reference List

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