Sunday, 6 January 2013

Employee Engagement – Exploring the theory

This post is inspired by the book 'Exploring Internal Communication. Towards Informed Employee Voice' edited by Kevin Ruck. I do like this book. It reports all the latest developments of theories and concepts regarding employee engagement and internal communications.

With these marginalia I would like to bring you back to the origins of the term 'employee engagement'. In fact, 'employee engagement' is a term which is now widely used but, where does it come from? I believe it is important to look back in order to better understand the present.
The below notes are extrapolated from the chapter 'Internal Communication and Employee Engagement Theories':
It began in the 1990s with academic work on personal engagement. The decade was characterised by the beginnings of practitioner interest and the term employee engagement came into use, widely credited as being coined by consultancy Gallup in 1999.
In 1990-92, Kahn, in his original study that outlines the basis for employee engagement, reported a psychological perspective of engagement: 'in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively and emotionally during role performance'. Kahn reiterated the determinants of engagement: meaningfulness, safety and availability and his work emphasised that engagement is dynamic and subject to fluctuation.
During the wave 2000-2005, with the emergence of the positive psychology movement, there was a switched focus from negative consequences of attitude to work (e.g. burnout) to positive drivers, like engagement.
In 2002, Luthans and Peterson argued that manager self-efficacy is a significant component of engagement 'because as the manager's employees become more engaged (cognitively and emotionally) in their work, the manager acquires confidence and belief in her/his abilities to create and build an engaged team successfully'. This emphasised the importance of creating an environment that enables employees to become engaged.
In 2004, Robinson at al. (Robinson, Perryman and Hayday) defined the concept as a 'positive employee attitude towards the organisation and its values, involving awareness of the business context, and work to improve job and organisational effectiveness. They stressed the two-way nature of employee engagement.
In 2006, Saks extended the employee engagement concept to encompass both job engagement and organisation engagement. Social exchange theory – a communication theory – is proposed as a theoretical base, with its foundation in reciprocal relationships. So, for example, employees are engaged because of the reciprocal exchanges, both at supervisor and organisational levels. The implication for practice included the suggestion that organisations that address employees' concerns and demonstrates caring attitudes towards employees create a culture whereby this is reciprocated through higher level of engagement.
In 2008, Bakker and Demerouti stated that engagement is characterised by 'vigor, dedication and absorption', while Macey and Schneider suggested that engagement is a set of constructs that integrates: state engagement (passion, energy, enthusiasm, activation), behavioural engagement (adaptive behaviour) and trait engagement (personality attributes).
In 2009, in a practitioner-oriented review of employee engagement in the UK, MacLeod and Clarke came across 50 definitions. They concluded that: 'We believe it is most helpful to see employee engagement as a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation's goal and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being'.
In 2010, Alfes et al. (Alfes, Truss, Soane, Rees and Gatenby) defined engagement as 'being positively present during the performance of work by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections to others'. They highlighted a set of drivers and the two most important were meaningful of work and voice – being able to feed your view upwards.
In 2012, Gourlay et el. (Gourlay, Alfes, Bull, Baron, Petrov and Georgellis) distinguished between different levels of engagement, described as 'transactional' and 'emotional': 'transactional engagement is shaped by employees' concern to earn a living, to meet minimal expectations of the employer and their co-workers, and so on. Emotional engagement is driven by a desire on the part of employees to do more for (and to receive more – a greater psychological contract – from) the organisation than is normally expected'.”.
Indeed, the above list is not complete. The book reports so many more contributions, definition, concepts and all their valuable implications for those who deal with the subject - both academically and in practice terms - that I would strongly recommend reading it.
It is very interesting for me to see the development of these studies, the many disciplines (communication, psychology, business, sociology, etc.) that all come together and add some value on to each others.
As I like to look back to better understand the present, I equally – an excitedly – look forward to the future.
With this, sometimes I wonder: What kind of marginalia will I write in x-year time? What will the future developments of this important and very fascinating discipline be? Let's continue exploring...