That's a simple-sounding question but with a lot of different answers. Even well-regarded sources like Gallup, Gartner and the CIPD have considerably different opinions on what employee engagement is:
- Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.
- Gartner says that employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization and put discretionary effort into their work.
- The CIPD calls employee engagement an umbrella term describing a broad area of people strategy, and referring to narrower constructs & such as work engagement or organisational commitment & when you need to be more specific.
Three of the biggest names in employee engagement, with three significantly different definitions. Not exactly helpful, and they're not alone. This 2009 study found more than fifty separate definitions for employee engagement, which is ludicrous.
Separating truth from misconception is frustratingly difficult
The CIPD published findings in January 2021 highlighting four categories for definitions:
- Personal role engagement refers to an employee's ability to 'express their preferred selves in their work.' Employee engagement is comprised of physical, cognitive and emotional aspects and is largely a psychological construct.
- Work engagement or Task engagement frames engagement as the opposite of burnout. It refers to the levels of vigour, dedication, and absorption in work. But, as many as 30% of highly engaged employees are at risk of burnout, suggesting these are not two mutually exclusive states.
- Multidimensional engagement makes the important distinction between how employees engage with their specific roles, versus how they engage with the organisation in general. Bear this in mind, as it's vital for creating one unified engagement definition.
- Self-engagement with performance is based on how important employees regard high performance. Essentially, it means helping employees to keep themselves engaged using their own performance as a benchmark.
A much simpler way to describe employee engagement
In our opinion,
Employee engagement is the level of emotional affection and commitment an employee has to their work, the company's goals and purpose, and their peers.
There are some clearly measurable variables (affection and commitment) and factors with which to measure against (our work, our employers, their goals/purpose, and our colleagues).
Using frequent feedback through a Weekly10 employee check-in, you’re able to ask pertinent questions that investigate these variables on a regular cadence.
Then using analytical tools like sentiment analysis, semiotics, and statistical models we can quantify – and therefore impact – engagement.
Sure, under the bonnet there are multiple factors impacting each of these. But what this definition does is provide a solid starting block for any HR pro to take into all employee engagement activity moving forward.
And that's something we can all benefit from.