Have you ever wondered why there were so many definitions of employee engagement? Organizations around the globe are striving to build a culture of engagement, yet the various definitions often cloud their efforts. Rewards and recognition, learning and development, health and fitness, perks and benefits are all categories that commonly use employee engagement to describe their initiatives.
Definitions of employee engagement
If you search for “definition of employee engagement,” 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 a some of the best (or most curious) 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
- “The illusive force that motivates employees to higher (or lower) levels of performance.” Workforce Performance Solutions
- “An emergent and working condition as a positive cognitive, emotional, and behavioral state directed toward organizational outcomes.” Michael Shuck and Karen Wallard
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 – the the work we do.
Know it when you see it
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% of the company’s managers did not consider themselves actively engaged in their jobs. Yet by 2009, 68% of the company’s employees said they were actively engaged, while just 3% 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 engagement. 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.
The psychological contract
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.
Many leaders mistakenly think that increasing employee satisfaction will increase employee motivation and engagement. 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 will 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.
When it comes to the all-important bottom line, employee engagement (not satisfaction or happiness) matters. It’s a powerful engine for growth and profit. Engagement is a 50/50 proposition with the responsibility to become engaged on the employee and the responsibility to create an engaged environment on the organization. A culture of engagement is created when both the organization and the individuals are becoming engaged.
This article originally published on the DecisionWise blog.