The Essentials of Employee Engagement in Organization


Simeon S. Simon
Asst. Professor
Karunya School of Management
Karunya University


Employee engagement is what we get when an employee is motivated by the job and is successful in the job and is well managed by the supervisor and paid fairly by management.

  • Good employees who are successful and managed and paid well will be engaged even if not fully satisfied.
  • Good employees who are successful but not managed well or paid well will not be engaged and will not be satisfied.
  • ¥Bad employees who are unsuccessful even though they are well managed and well paid will not be engaged even if fully satisfied.

Research suggests that engagement is more than a passing fad - it brings clear business benefits. Engagement is seen, as bringing real competitive advantage. However, raising engagement levels, and maintaining them, takes time, effort, commitment and investment - it is not for the half-hearted.  Positive responses to the engagement statements indicate a positive attitude towards, and pride in, the organization belief in the organization's products. Organizations need to work hard to prevent, and minimize the impact of, bad experiences. They also need to ensure that employees' development needs (including the special needs of professionals) are taken seriously; pay attention to, and value the roles of, support staff; and to maintain the interest of longer-serving employees.


Since the organizational success has been well predicted and understood by the study of   the employee engagement, it is very vital to study the essentials of employee engagement. Research has shown that when engagement scores are high, employees are more satisfied, they are less likely to leave the organization, and more productive. Many studies have shown that investments in people (i.e., HR-related practices) have a reliable impact on the performance of organizations. The Bureau of Labour conducted a comprehensive review of more than 100 studies and found that people practices have significant relationships to improvements in productivity, satisfaction, and financial performance. Each organization is different and there are many factors that affect bottom-line outcomes; however, engagement scores can serve as meaningful predictors of long-term success. Some organizations use engagement scores as lead measures in their HR scorecards. When an organization can show the relationship between engagement scores and bottom-line outcomes, everyone pays attention to the engagement index. Establishing this critical link between people and performance helps HR professionals prove that people-related interventions are a worthwhile investment.


Current studies show that organizations are focusing as to how to make employees more engaged. Employees feel engaged when they find personal meaning and motivation in their work, receive positive interpersonal support, and operate in an efficient work environment. What brought engagement to the forefront and why is everyone interested in it? Most likely, the tight economy has refocused attention on maximizing employee output and making the most of organizational resources. When organizations focus attention on their people, they are making an investment in their most important resource. You can cut all the costs you want, but if you neglect your people, cutting costs won't make much of a difference. Engagement is all about getting employees to "give it their all." Some of the most successful organizations are known for their unique work environments in which employees are motivated to do their very best. These great places to work have been recognized in such lists as Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For.

The concept of engagement is a natural evolution of past research on high-involvement, empowerment, job motivation, organizational commitment, and trust. All of these research streams focus on the perceptions and attitudes of employees about the work environment. In some ways, there are variations on the same fundamental issue. What predicts employees "giving their all?" Obviously, all organizations want their employees to be engaged in their work.


IES defines engagement as:

'A positive attitude held by the employee towards the organisation and its values. An engaged employee is aware of business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organisation. The organisation must work to develop and nurture engagement, which requires a two-way relationship between employer and employee.'

Engagement was conceptualized by Kahn, (1990) as the 'harnessing of organizational members' selves to their work roles. In engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances.

Employee engagement is thus the level of commitment and involvement an employee has towards their organizations and its values. An engaged employee is aware of business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of organization. The organization must work to develop and nature engagement, which requires two-way relationship between employer and employee.' Thus employee engagement is a barometer that determines the association of a person with the organization.

Engagement is important for managers to cultivate given that disengagement or alienation is central to the problem of worker's lack of commitment and motivation (AKtouf). Meaningless work is often associated with apathy and detachment from ones works (Thomas and  Velthouse). In such conditions, individuals are thought to be estranged from their selves (Seeman, 1972). Other research using a different resource of engagement (involvement and enthusiasm) has linked it to such variables as employee turnover, customer satisfaction – loyalty, safety and to a lesser degree, productivity and profitability criteria (Harter, Schnidt & Hayes, 2002).


Some researchers conclude that personal impact, focused work, and interpersonal harmony comprise engagement. Each of these three components has sub-components that further define the meaning of engagement.

PERSONAL IMPACT- Employees feel more engaged when they are able to make a unique contribution, experience empowerment, and have opportunities for personal growth. Past research (e.g., Conger and Kanugo, 1988; Thomas and Velthouse, 1990) concurs that issues such as the ability to impact the work environment and making meaningful choices in the workplace are critical components of employee empowerment. Development Dimensions International's (DDI) research on retaining talent (Bernthal and Wellins, 2000) found that the perception of meaningful work is one of the most influential factors determining employees' willingness to stay with the organization.

FOCUSED WORK- Employees feel more engaged when they have clear direction, performance accountability, and an efficient work environment. Aside from the personal drive and motivation to make a contribution, employees need to understand where to focus their efforts. Without a clear strategy and direction from senior leadership, employees will waste their time on the activities that do not make a difference for the organization's success. Additionally, even when direction is in place, employees must receive feedback to ensure that they are on track and being held accountable for their progress. In particular, employees need to feel that low performance is not acceptable and that there are consequences for poor performance. Finally, employees want to work in an environment that is efficient in terms of its time, resources, and budget. Employees lose faith in the organization when they see excessive waste. For example, employees become frustrated when they are asked to operate without the necessary resources or waste time in unnecessary meetings.

INTERPERSONAL HARMONY- Employees feel more engaged when they work in a safe and cooperative environment. By safety, we mean that employee trust one another and quickly resolve conflicts when they arise. Employees want to be able to rely on each other and focus their attention on the tasks that really matter. Conflict wastes time and energy and needs to be dealt with quickly. Some researchers also find that trust and interpersonal harmony is a fundamental underlying principle in the best organizations. Employees also need to cooperate to get the job done. Partnerships across departments and within the work group ensure that employees stay informed and get the support they need to do their jobs.


* A positive attitude towards, and pride in, the organization
* Belief in the organization's products/services
* A perception that the organization enables the employee to perform well
* A willingness to behave altruistically and be a good team player
* An understanding of the bigger picture and a willingness to go beyond the requirements of the job.


Often organizations fail to use the talent available to them to the fullest extent. This is mainly because they fall short of creating a work culture that stimulates people to give their best.

In order to unlock the human potential that is present in a latent state in the organization, the top leadership must make efforts to engage people not just with their minds but with their hearts as well. Shared vision and shared values play a key role in creating intellectual and emotional engagement in people.


Vision statements and values   do exist .In most of the organizations. But care is not taken to explain these to everybody in the organization.  Truly great organizations however realize the importance of sharing the vision and values with their people.  In fact this is a key factor that underpins their success.  They  often  take  great  pains  to make  people understand the direction in  which the  organization  is going,  what it want to achieve and why. They also let their people realize how they can   meaningfully contribute towards those goals. Employee engagement is crucial to achieve high productivity and profitability. Without engagement   organizations cannot hope to retain their best talent.  But employee   engagement is not something that remains stable at a particular level. It keeps fluctuating because several factors influence it. Only   the organizations   that do business   both successfully and meaningfully can hope to maintain it at a high level.

Employee's emotional bonding with the organization often determines how hard they are willing to work and hope long they intend to stay with it.  Emotional engagement of employees can be best achieved through alignment of social values.

Research  indicates  that more  employees  today  seek  to work meaningfully  and contribute  in  some way  to the  society. This  implies  that organizations  should  not  only have a sound  economic mission that  endeavours to produce  financial  benefits to the  employees, it   should also have  social  goals that  inspire   its people  to serve the  community   in an  important   manner.


Social responsibility   initiatives often get positive response from the employees.  While creation and communication of values and vision has a big impact on the development of employee engagement, another key factor that helps to sustain it is alignment of leadership behaviors with these values. To gain employee trust and engagement organizations should see that their leader behaviours match with written values and vision statements and the communications around those.

It is important for leaders to walk   the talk. They should establish trust through the organizations on the basis of their personal creditability and integrity.  In recent times there have been several instances where leaders have acted questionably in organizations across the globe.

This has an adverse impact on employee trust level and also severely damages their engagement.

Good companies take measures to continuously enhance the engagement and commitment level of their employees.  They frequently take their pulse of employees by asking them if they understand the company mission and perceive how their individual roles fit into the overall big picture.

They also try to find out if their employees care to take action when needed and if they know how to handle difficult situations.  They gather information on what the employees like most about the organization and what values they would like to uphold. Good companies also do regular surveys to find out how their organizations top leadership is faring. They give importance to strong business ethics.

Through 360-degree feedbacks and systems, they monitor the leadership   behaviors and adherence to ethical, social and business values.

Shared vision and shared values help the leadership and employees of an organization to focus on the company's strategic goals and also learn the way they are expected to work to reach those goals. When employee and organizational values match, talent utilization soars to a new high. 


* Engagement levels decline as employees get older – until they reach the oldest group (60 plus), where levels suddenly rise, and show this oldest group to be the most engaged of all

* Minority ethnic respondents have higher engagement levels than their white colleagues

* managers and professionals tend to have higher engagement levels than their colleagues in supporting roles, although people in the latter group appear to owe greater loyalty to their profession than to the organisation in which they practice their craft

* Engagement levels decline as length of service increases

* having an accident or an injury at work or experiencing harassment (particularly if the manager is the source of the harassment) both have a big negative impact on engagement

* Employees who have a personal development plan, and who have received a formal performance appraisal within the past year, have significantly higher engagement levels than those who have not.


* Good quality line management

* Two-way communication

* Effective internal co-operation

* A development focus

* Commitment to employee wellbeing

* Clear, accessible HR policies and practices, to which managers at all levels are committed


S– Your spirit or spirituality, regardless of what beliefs, faith, religion you support

H – Your heart, the passion you show for what you do

A – Your abilities, HOW you show your spirit and heart

P – Your personality, the unique traits that make you who you are, distinct from everyone else

E – Your experiences, the area we typically share first with others (job, hobbies, etc


Research shows that committed employees perform better. If we accept that engagement, as many believe, is 'one step up' from commitment, it is clearly in the organisation's interests to understand the drivers of engagement. Study data indicates that opinions about, and experiences of, many aspects of working life are strongly correlated with engagement levels. However, the strongest driver of all is a sense of feeling valued and involved. This has several key components

* Involvement in decision making

* The extent to which employees feel able to voice their ideas, and managers listen to these views, and value employees contribution

* The opportunities employees have to develop in their jobs

* The extent to which the organization is concerned for employees' health and wellbeing


The companies that do not address the employee's insecurity are likely to be surprised to see the destructive consequences. One of the crucial leadership questions today is how to improve the employee engagement within the companies when there are    disquieting developments rising recently. It is fact that there are good   policies in the employee manuals. But the management capability to engage the workforce and to implement the policies practically seems quiet opposite.  This is true because the management looks at tangent focussing on corporate benefit alone.

Job description failure is one of the popular reasons behind wrong hires, work over load and high employee turnover. Bad job descriptions show up in many forms. For example, a job description for the role of an editor goes like 'should have excellent return and verbal communication skills, good grasp of medical/pharmaceutical sciences, ability to check the consistency for fonts and page breaks' here the description is more about the required skill set rather than the responsibilities of the role. Another example is 'keep the company's user records database fast, consistent and reliable'

Prevention of injustice is very different from pursuit of perfect justice. They are two sides of the same coin, but their value perception is different. So far as the Indian legislative frame work is concerned, laws pertaining to worker relations have for long needed to be updated. Labour reforms have been widely discussed, but the subject remains on the pending agenda.

Evidence of pressure:  consider the evidence that employees do suffer from a feeling of unfair treatment, resulting in desperation and depression among employees of both developed and emerging markets.

Well- known French companies such as franch telecom, Renault, Peugeot have experienced increasing suicides among workers in the last two years. The cynic may observe that the French suicide rate is generally high compared to Britain, Germany, and the US. That is true. However, even in us, the rate of suicides has increased by 28% in the last two years.

Employees feel that they are expected to offer loyalty to their employer, but they do not receive an equal commitment from the employer to protect their jobs. Managers are so focused on corporate survival that they seem to have a limited bandwidth to attend to the employees feeling of injustice. Employees everywhere say that they are 'in distress' or that they are 'stressed out'.

 It is imperative that there should be complete transparency between employees and the Management. Employees should feel that they are not under security threat and they must be able to trust the employer through and through and this is possible only when employer exercises honesty, integrity, transparency in all their dealings apart from the good policy manuals.  Sometimes the decisions taken by the management can be one-sided focussing on the corporate benefit alone.

Surveys in the US over the last few years show that indices like loyalty and trust have collapsed from the 80% levels to 30% levels. More than half the respondents feel a sense of stagnation and disinterest in their work. The recession has increased uncertainty simultaneously with a perceived 'onslaught' by managers to increase workforce productivity.

All in all, in the developed countries permanent workers are unhappy and are disenchanted with both their work and their employer's attitude. Temporary workers too, have their own grievances. In South Korea, industrial action by temporaries has been experienced at Ssangyong and Don Ghee. In Japan, the president of Rengo has stated his disapproval of "temporaries being treated the same as robots".

In India too, we have witnessed hyper cases of industrial action recently. After many decades of relative labour tranquillity, company executives have been killed at Grazino in the north and Pricol in the south. Strikes have occured at gurgaon- manesar, Chennai and Coimbatore.

Employees in the emerging markets are deeply concerned about inflation, food and security. Prices of essential commodities have already increased supply. Food experts predict that the rise in food prices is only the beginning of a serious, new threat. Richard Henry, chief economist at IFC'S agribusiness department, believes that "last years food crisis was a fairly small one- and was cut short by the global financial crisis- the next one is bound to be more prolonged". In emerging countries, such forecasts cause very deep concerns.

Universally, employees are a worried lot. All of these are alarming trends and need to be taken seriously. Solutions must be found and implemented at the firm level. Within the firm, it must be focused upon at the departmental level and at the level of the individual relationship. Employees feel engaged or disengaged at the transactional level within departments.


1. The subject of employee engagement needs to be driven down the company by the CEO. There is a general lack of awareness of the problem down the line. It is also mixed up with the general economic downturn. Poor employee engagement, it must be clearly understood, is a precursor to some other problem which is brewing. That is why there needs to be top-level engagement. If enough employees feel disengaged, the consequences will certainly be disruptive. Operating managers have to act. It cannot be left to the HR department.

2. There must be the action to measure and track employee engagement. Techniques are available and excellent companies already track their employee engagement scores. However the extent to which such companies act on the results is unclear. Further, it is suspected that very few companies measure employee engagement and prefer to get a qualitative feel; so their agenda to respond is also too general. The general approach may have worked in the past, but will not be good enough for the future.

3.  Operating managers need a refresher training on empathy and listening skills. Unions have been quiet for over two decades now with the passing of labour leaders like Data Samant and Kuchelar. A whole new generation of managers has taken leadership roles without any direct experience of dealing with employee discontent. Listening skills are difficult to develop especially when manager's career thus far has not required him to do much of it. There need to be powerful conversations at the operating level, where employees feel they have been listened to even if all their suggestions have not been accepted.

4. And last, the top leadership of the company must institutionalise ways to connect directly with the lower levels of employees. Many Tata companies practice a monthly dialogue or two way webcast. Many formal and informal models of listening downwards have been practised. These need to be brushed up and implemented earnestly.


1. Employee Engagement, Job Satisfaction, Retention and Stress
   Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D:
2.  Some Useful Company Engagement Programs -Russell Consulting. Inc:
3.  Green Spot: Stonyfeild Farm: A Culture Of Leadership:4.  The   Economic Times:
5. Principles of Employee Engagement- David Zinger, Jan 7, 2008 Monday Morning Percolator
6. Twenty-One Ways Leaders Can Energize Themselves For Employee Engagement- 
David Zinger, June 9, 2008 , Monday Morning Percolator

Simeon S. Simon
Asst. Professor
Karunya School of Management
Karunya University

Source: E-mail October 12, 2010


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