The World of Work Project

Employee Engagement

Employee Engagement is the term used to describe the relationship that employees have with their work and the organizations they work for. Engaged employees are enthusiastic and positive about their work, disengaged employees are not.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Employee Engagement

Organizations have for many years been interested in understanding how their employees feel about their working experiences and their work.

Over the years organizations have focused on morale, job satisfaction, employee satisfaction and employee sentiment. They current focus is Employee Engagement (perhaps becoming employee experience), but the underlying purpose remains the same. Whatever terms they are using, organizations mainly use employee surveys to try and understand how their employees feel about the work experience.

Engaged employees are a good thing. They are happier and their organizations are more productive.

The reason that employee engagement is considered to be so important is that there is a belief that the more positively employees feel about their work and their organizations, the more productive they will be and the more they will contribute. As a result, organizations are always seeking to measure and then improve their employee engagement, primarily with a view to improving their organizational performance.

Societal Employee Engagement

It’s not only organizations who seek to measure the engagement of their employees. Polling bodies and government organizations also seek to understand employee engagement as national and sector levels as well. Some of the findings of these organizations have made interesting reading over the past decade, and many of them have been used to drive specific narratives about our relationships with work and the future of work.

For example, in 2018 Gallup reported that 34% of employees in the US were engaged, and that only 13% were actively disengaged. So far so good. However, according to Forbes these stats also mean that 64% of US employees are not actively engaged in their work which costs the US economy $550 billion a year. Or perhaps $605 billion if we read

Employee engaged provides benefits and profits, but it also comes at a cost to organizations.

Anyway, you get the point. Efforts are being made at a national level to assess employee engagement and to link it to lost income (or output) through the assumption that it correlates with productivity. As a result of all this narrative and calculation, the world is full of people looking to help improve engagement and thus productivity.

The World of Work Project View

We think that understanding the relationships that employees have with their organizations and their work is a very good thing to do, despite the sort of tongue-in-cheek nature of this post. We also genuinely believe that the more engaged employees are, the more productive they will be. And furthermore, we fully believe that engaged employees don’t just benefit their employers, they also have better qualities of life and benefit wider society.

However, despite these beliefs we are slightly tongue-in-cheek about this subject. And the reason is that we think that intention matters. When organizations set out to improve employee engagement so that they can profit from it, it yields different results to when they set out to improve employee experience for the sake of improving the quality of existence for their employees.

Perhaps, fundamentally, we think that there is a fair bit of hypocrisy in this space. Most people, and most large organizations, know how to create engaging working environments and cultures for their teams. The challenge though is doing so in a cost-efficient way that provides strong returns to shareholders. And, often, it is the shareholders (or whoever controls capital) who win these battles, not the employees. As ever, a lot of work in the organizational psychology and engagement space boils down to efforts to get employees to work harder for less reward. And this is perhaps a bit jading.

In no way are we trying to say that employee engagement isn’t a good thing to improve. We’re simply saying that if organizations genuinely want to improve engagement, they can do so. However to do so they need to be genuine in their intentions to do so, and to stop giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

There, as ever, is a lot of original work behind the concepts of employee engagement. This post, though, is based on our own experiences, conversations and general reading, so there is no source reference for it.


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