The concept of employee engagement unto itself is something of a holy grail for many businesses. Indeed, the prevailing notion seems to be that a business with employees who are thoroughly engaged in their work will work to that businesses' advantage almost every time. However, the difficulty with employee engagement is finding a way to attain it in the first place, as it can be challenging to offer the correct incentives to properly engage employees. This often leads to businesses hitting a brick wall of sorts between themselves and the rest of their employees. Thankfully, there are measures that can be taken by businesses to increase the likelihood of employee engagement. Although it is impossible to predict what causes employee engagement all of the time, there are certain indicators and methods that have proven effective in identifying catalysts of employee engagement and efficiency. In order to determine just how this works, it is necessary to examine the findings and opinions of a number of different sources on the matter in order to gain a retrospective understanding of the concept of employee engagement.
The underlying concept behind employee engagement is simple: make an employee so enthusiastic and devoted to their work that they will work tirelessly at their job to further their own interests as well as the businesses' (Macey & Schneider, 2008). One article maintains that employee engagement is a crucial component of corporate social responsibility and that the two concepts, corporate social responsibility and employee engagement, necessarily go hand-in-hand with one another (Mirvis, 2012). To that end, the author believes that employee engagement is a duty of a business and that employees, by the same token, should be enthusiastic about their particular job no matter what it is (Mirvis, 2012). However, this is simply not the case a large portion of the time. For instance, the same article found that a mere 21 percent of employees in a study of 90,000 were fully engaged while on the job, with the remainder being merely enrolled, at 41 percent, disenchanted, 31 percent, or disconnected, at 8 percent (Mirvis, 2012). This dichotomy between how businesses and employees should behave and feel about one another represents a sobering reality about businesses: that many employees simply do not care about their jobs.
These findings are in contrast to another study that found that many of the factors that lead to what is considered the opposite of employee engagement: employee disconnection, being external, or outside of the company itself, often within the lives of the employees themselves (Lewis, 2012). One example of this is one of the largest demographics of employees who work more than 45 hours per week, men aged 30-49 with children, have little time for family, and are more likely to be disengaged from the company as a result (Lewis, 2012). This study also lists the deterioration of the economy as one of the strongest factors that adversely affect employee engagement (Lewis, 2012). Indeed, the economy is a force that no single entity can change, and thus, represents a factor that is outside of both the business and the employees themselves; a sad fact of modern life. However, this same study also finds the same factors at play that lead to employee engagement. That is to say, that a business that focuses on employee engagement by making it one of its highest priorities will see at least some increase in employee engagement (Lewis, 2012). The author would also agree with the previous author that employee engagement is one of the most crucial aspects of a company. "Engagement seems to be a more holistic approach, focusing on all actors in the cycle of improved performance" (Lewis, 2012 p.30). This means that having employees that are engaged in their work leads to general performance increases across the board, making it even more of a priority for businesses, at least in theory. The author takes this concept a step further and suggests that employee engagement affects the employees on a much deeper level. "…In other words, employee engagement is imperative in conceptualizing as well as evaluating the effect of human capital in companies and involves employee satisfaction, motivation, commitment, and psychological contract" (Lewis, 2012 p.30). This author certainly seems to believe employee engagement is one of the most important concepts in business.
However, another author would disagree with this assessment. Mona N. Moussa believes that employee engagement is a necessity, not a privilege, within an organization, and that without it, employees are sure to quit the job (2013). Furthermore, this study found that the greatest contributing factors toward employee engagement were not any sort of reward or offering by the company but a virtue of the very job itself (Moussa, 2013). This implies that employee engagement begins and ends at the job itself and that only by improving the working conditions or relocating to a different department can employee engagement be increased. The study also found that rewards by the business did have a positive effect on employees, but only on organizational engagement, not employee engagement (Moussa, 2013). This study also found similar findings as the previous one, which is that there are a number of external factors, or factors within the employees themselves, which leads them to be disconnected from their jobs (Moussa, 2013).
One prominent example of this is the immigration comes from Saudi Arabia, which relies largely on migrant labor, and that many of these migrants are disconnected from their work because of factors within the employees themselves, factors such as culture shock and homesickness, in all likelihood (Moussa, 2013). In that respect, this article takes a somewhat pessimistic approach to the concept of employee engagement. Indeed, while these factors are able to be remedied, it would require a deep reworking of the Saudi Arabian economic and political climate, since the nation struggles with a number of socio-economic issues, such as a lack of employment for women (Moussa, 2013). This situation is not unique specifically to Saudi Arabia, either. Many other businesses struggle with their own economic, social, or political factors that all lead to decreased employee engagement, such as the United States' economic woes.
Another article questions just how important employee engagement is to the overall process of both making employees happy and improving business in general, which the other articles found to be the case. More surprisingly, the study found that, contrary to the others, that "…the relationship between job satisfaction and overall job performance is in the low to moderate range" (Dalal et al., 2012, p.E297). The article also believes that while job satisfaction and employee engagement do indeed go hand-in-hand with one another, the issue of job satisfaction is much more important at the end of the day, although the author seems to question the importance of either of them (Dalal et al., 2012). These results, backed by a number of studies, fly in the face of both the previous studies and conventional wisdom, which states that an employee who is happy and performs their job well will invariably bring increased productivity and profits to a business. This article also segregates employee engagement into different definitions, such as satiation or contentment, absorption to the job, or enthusiasm in the work (Dalal et al., 2012). This brings up an interesting point regarding employee engagement: that perhaps a better strategy is to break it into different parts and focus on which of those parts work best for each employee, or, perhaps better yet, which of those parts yield the most efficient results. That is to say, focusing on the contentment aspect of it, for example, would make employees happier and improve productivity, but would not require the sweeping changes as the collective of employee engagement often does.
Another interesting study agrees with the assertions of most of the other authors in that employee engagement is a crucial part of any business interested in sticking around for the long term. However, this study believes that the financial benefits of employee engagement are its most important attributes, rather than the actual happiness or satisfaction with employees. In fact, the study found that researchers have discovered that they "have established a conclusive, compelling relationship between engagement and profitability through higher productivity, sales, customer satisfaction, and employee retention" (Macey & Schneider, 2008 p.3). What's more, the study takes a more abstract approach to the concept of employee engagement altogether, with referenced studies referring to employee engagement as a mere psychological construct or an affective state (Macey & Schneider, 2008). While it may seem that this study, compared to the others, is trivializing the concept of employee engagement, this is not the case. The study is approaching the concept from a different, much more personal level. This study believes that there are a number of different psychological and emotional "states," with a clear, linear path through them, with one leading to another (Macey & Schneider, 2008). For example, psychological state engagement (or the part of a job that actively engages the employee's psyche), is a direct antecedent of behavioral engagement, which is the observable impact that psychological state engagement has on the employee (Macey & Schneider, 2008). Again, the process of segmenting the concept of employee engagement into parts is beneficial to understanding the concept more effectively. To that end, the study finds that certain workplace factors, such as work attributes, variety of work, challenge, and autonomy, have a direct impact on the behavioral engagement of the employee, which ultimately leads to a feeling of trust in the employee (Macey & Schneider, 2008).
Another study takes a more objective approach to employee engagement, and, in doing so, uncovers findings that differ greatly from the assertions made in previous studies. The article references many of the studies made about employee engagement in the past, stating that their findings, such as that engagement was significantly related to meaningfulness, safety, and availability, were commonplace, but that the truth might be a bit more complicated (Saks, 2006). The author also reinforces the studies that find that negative connotations of a job, such as burnout, are strongly associated with a lack of employee engagement with his or her job; a finding that was discussed in a previous article as well. However, in the study conducted by the author of 102 employees who had been at their jobs for about four years, the findings were a bit different (Saks, 2006). This study segregated employee engagement into two categories: job engagement and organization engagement. The study found that job characteristics were the greatest benefit for job engagement by far, yet had a meager benefit on organization engagement (Saks, 2006 p.611). However, the greatest factor of all, according to the study, is perceived organizational support, which had as great an effect on job engagement as job characteristics did, and an even greater impact on organization engagement, making it the only variable to have profound positive impacts on both (Saks, 2006 p.611). Perceived organizational support is essentially how the employee feels the company is treating them as a person, such as if the company strongly considers the employee's goals and values (Saks, 2006). Through this study, it seems apparent that, as the study by Macey and Schnieder found, the best way of defining employee engagement is to break it into simpler parts and attempt to find a solution for each of those parts individually.
Another study takes the opposite approach and opts to look at employee engagement as a smaller part of a much bigger picture. To that end, the article performed a study that measured the satisfaction of customers, their loyalty, overall profitability and productivity, safety, as well as turnover rate, against employee engagement and satisfaction with the work (Harter et al, 2002). The study showed a strong correlation between employee engagement and satisfaction and virtually every facet of a business, including customer satisfaction and safety (Harter et al, 2002 p.273). These diverse factors help to demonstrate the numerous indirect effects employee engagement has on a business, and how the motivations behind it are much greater than merely increased profits.
Finally, another article echoes many of the previous studies, stating that employee engagement is not only crucial for business but that the lack of employee engagement found in many businesses is the source of their failure (Seigts & Crim, 2006). The article also found that over half of all employees have mentally "checked out" of their jobs, and were, as the article calls them, "sleepwalking" through the workday; a bleak future, to be sure (Seigts & Crim, 2006). However, the article, rather than continue to spell doom and gloom in the field of employee engagement, offers solutions to the problem. The most important step, the article states, is to connect with the employees (Seigts & Crim, 2006). This echoes another study in that perceived organizational support; essentially, a company's connection with its employees, is the greatest step a business can take to having employees that are engaged.
These studies all share the common theme that employee engagement is a crucial and often-overlooked aspect of business. However, they differ greatly in the methods of identifying it, as well as measures to remedy it. One common theme that can be observed from the studies is that showing a personal interest in the employees of a company is an effective way of ensuring employee engagement, regardless of external factors such as the employee's personal life or economic situation. The studies also differ in just what goes into employee engagement, with many believing it to be a mere effect of the job on the employee, and others stating that it is a state of mind. Nevertheless, one aspect of these studies that is both consistent and profound is that a business and its employees must work together in order to achieve both profits as well as employees that are satisfied and thoroughly love their jobs. Doing this is the surest way of making all parties happy, since having satisfied employees, as another study showed, leads to benefits within the company in virtually every area.
Dalal, R. S., Baysinger, M., Brummel, B. J., & LeBreton, J. M. (2012). The relative importance of employee engagement, other job attitudes, and trait affect as predictors of job performance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42(S1), E295-E325.
Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 268-275.
Lewis, A., Thomas, B., & Bradley, O. (2012). Employee socialisation: A platform for employee engagement? International Journal of Employment Studies, 20(1). 25-53.
Macey, W. H., & Schneider, B. (2008). The meaning of employee engagement. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1(1), 3-30.
Mirvis, P. (2012). Employee engagement and CSR: Transactional, relational, and developmental approaches. California Management Review, 54(4). 93-109.
Moussa, M. N. (2013). Investigating the high turnover of Saudi nationals versus non-nationals in private sector companies using selected antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. International Journal of Business & Management, 8(18). 41-50.
Saks, A. M. (2006). Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21(7), 600-619.
Seijts, G. H., & Crim, D. (2006). What engages employees the most or, the Ten C’s of employee engagement. Ivey Business Journal, 70(4), 1-5.