Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice


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Workplace Engagement Drivers

The CIPD a have identified three related aspects of engagement that are also helpful in thinking about policies and practices that need to be in place to ensure these are facilitated:. Different parties in the employment relations arena have held varying views on the quest for employee engagement.

In some union quarters, engagement has been suspiciously regarded as yet another route towards job enlargement and work intensification. Other organisational actors have either dismissed engagement as yet another fad, or have not fully understood what it involves in terms of management competencies. The following quote highlights some of these issues. What will turn employee engagement into another short lived fad is if it is used by employers as a method to get people to work harder.

It has been reported that there is some hesitation in trade union quarters to the engagement agenda since the emphasis on discretionary behaviour can be seen as merely working harder or giving more effort, in unpaid overtime for example. And it is true that in some cases of poor implementation of high performance working there have been incidents of increased stress and the intensification of work.

Employee Engagement Theory – The Different Approaches

If some managers take the view that employee engagement is about getting employees to work harder, union reluctance will be well founded, but the overwhelming evidence is of mutual gains. There is also evidence that some managers think that employee engagement is just about listening to their employees via an engagement attitude survey as a form of two way communication. This will kill off the interest in employee engagement quickly as employees realise it is a sham form of communication.

Employee engagement is about much more than this. Two aspects of the Purcell quote above are worth noting. First, it highlights the concepts of trust and voice in building an engaged workforce.

Employee Engagement - Who's Sinking Your Boat?

These are important facets of engagement; their relationships with engagement are explored in more depth in later sections of this course. Second, the focus in the Purcell quote above is largely on the impacts of engagement at the level of the individual, indeed, much of the literature on engagement focuses on the construct at the level of the individual.

Research has suggested that both individual and collaborative engagement can lead to positive outcomes.


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Collaborative engagement is associated with partnerships between managers, unions and employees. Partnership between unions, management and employees can be seen as one route to collaborative mutual gains and engagement, although the goals must include the mutual gains and also the intermediate goals of improving the relationships Townsend et al. A partnership requires a commitment from both parties to ensure institutional architecture is in place.


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Just as high performance HRM requires training and development to be in place, so too successful partnership requires space for the collaboration and partnership to take place. It needs to go beyond a formal document and live through the daily interactions between managers, employees and unions in the workplace.

Employment relations and employee engagement: View as single page

Townsend et al. The first involves the skills of line managers in collaborating and organising their line responsibilities, and the second is the nature of the relationships between managers and the union, when there is one present. Managers can work very hard at collaborating with employees, however, if there is a union present and the relationship is not a respectful, collaborative one, then employees are not as likely to respond as positively towards managerial initiatives.

In short, collaboration or partnership with a union leads to much better outcomes for engagement than conflictual relationships with the union. Existing literature and research makes a distinction made between engagement regarded as a positive state for both self and work performance and disengagement regarded as a negative state.

Engagement is defined by the extent to which people employ physical, cognitive and emotional degrees of themselves in their work. From this perspective it is difficult to see engagement as anything other than good for both employees and organisations. Although low levels of engagement, or disengagement, have been viewed within the literature as problematic: for individuals, in that they have been associated with impaired well-being, and for organisations, as they are linked with low levels of performance. Another view is that high levels of engagement may be equally problematic; according to George , p.

George goes on to argue that rising levels of productivity are associated with work intensification and income inequality, and questions the legitimacy of organisations deliberately soliciting high engagement levels but failing to reward workers appropriately. An additional problem is the probability of impaired work—life balance for engaged workers. Against this background, engagement may not always be uniformly beneficial to employees.

In particular there is concern about the possibility of detrimental effects for both individuals and organisations of over-engagement Bakker et al. Presenteeism , the tendency to spend longer in the workplace than is necessary for the completion of work activity, has also been identified as a form of over-engagement Griffiths and Karanika-Murray, Over time, over-engagement has been linked to issues of workaholism a psychological addiction to work resulting from extreme and prolonged over-engagement and burnout Griffiths and Karanika-Murray, Some research has explored this relationship between employment engagement and burnout.

In their review of the literature on burnout and the emergence of engagement, Maslach et al. This thinking was part of the turn to positive psychology and indicated an increased interest in employee well-being. Despite such concerns, employee engagement has developed into a considerable industry in its own right Welbourne et al. In Activity 1 we explore a challenging view on the positive impact of engagement at work. Warren usefully draws attention to the commercialisation of engagement within the broader framework of positive psychology at work.

This is linked to notions of continuous improvement and self-advancement at both organisational and individual levels. Your diary will be personal to you and include reflections that you might find useful to add to your personal development record. You might also want to return to this as we continue to explore the concept of employee engagement and the challenges it provides for HRM practice in the following sections. Employee engagement requires employees to show engagement through extra effort, via the following dimensions:.

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Hence employees are not just required to feel engaged, they are also expected to show they feel engaged. Essentially this highlights that in many work contexts it is not sufficient for an employee to perform a particular task; rather the task must be performed in a certain way.


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In particular it is the visible emotional performance that is significant in generating organisational benefit; that is to say that profit comes from service with a smile. Although this is about appropriate and required emotional displays rather than simply smiling, consider for example the appropriate gravitas and solemnity required by funeral directors to perform their role effectively Rafaeli and Sutton, Performances of trust, integrity and fairness are highlighted as particularly demanding in certain employment relations processes e.

While in the case of the HRM practitioners studied above, there was seen to be a professional emphasis on certain displays, elsewhere organisations actively promote and encourage aspects of emotional labour, often incorporating this into expectations of employee engagement — see the case study in Box 1. This study highlights the risk of programmes which attempt to engender employee engagement and manage emotional labour. We will further explore these challenges later in this course, particularly when considering resistance to change. The principles of emotional labour have been developed as researchers suggest other forms of labouring, including aesthetic labour.

This is seen as particularly pertinent as the image of employees has become a part of the organisational branding. Explore these ideas further in Activity 2. Recent changes have seen a shift in both the marketing and positioning of store roles. Nevertheless, the recruitment pages of the website replicate the same strong marketing aesthetic of the brand. Image, in terms of association with the brand and poise, feature in front of house role descriptions but are less present in back-room roles.

It also includes the rich differences between individuals such as race, gender, family, sexual orientation, work experience, physical ability, and religion. However it appears that while this suggests a commitment to recruiting people from diverse backgrounds and different cultures, it does not rule out applying a judgement to ensure that they are all beautiful!

Having considered these issues of emotional and aesthetic labour it is not too much of a leap to suggest that employee engagement is somewhat more complex than it might first appear. Guest is amongst those highlighting that many of the policies and practices that are said to help deliver employee engagement are difficult to distinguish from human resource management more broadly.

This might lead us to question whether a focus on engagement offers anything new or different for HRM professionals. We will explore this issue further in Activity 3. A key tool used is the measurement of engagement through surveys. If your organisation is new to this area then using a reputable existing survey can be more cost effective than developing your own. As discussed above, employee engagement is generally regarded as an individual psychological construct. However there is also a recognition that many of the influences on engagement and related notions such as burnout are contextual Bakker et al.

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That is to say they relate to the nature of the job and other aspects of the work environment. Here we use an understanding of organisational climate to explore these issues in more detail.

Certainly it seems that employee engagement should only ever be one consideration in the design of HRM policies and practices. However, many commentators seem to agree on the importance of leadership in providing an effective strategic narrative Breevaart et al. Looking in more detail, some research has suggested that different styles or approaches to leadership might facilitate different engagement outcomes. For example, Sarti finds that participative leadership styles are related to dedication and vigour dimensions of engagement and an authoritative leadership style is related to absorption and vigour.

A participative leadership style is one in which leaders involve subordinates in decision-making and act to clarify and coordinate roles Sarti, , while in contrast, authoritative leaders tend to focus on routines and setting clear performance expectations for subordinates. The shared perceptions of and the meaning attached to the policies, practices, and procedures employees experience and the behaviours they observe getting rewarded and that are supported and expected.

This is related to the more general conception of organisational culture which Schneider et al. The shared basic assumptions, values, and beliefs that characterise a setting and are taught to newcomers as the proper way to think and feel, communicated by the myths and stories people tell about how the organisation came to be the way it is as it solved problems associated with external adaptation and internal integration.

Schneider et al. Questionnaire-based research dominates empirical studies of climate, while qualitative and case study approaches are more commonly used by culture researchers. Macey et al.

Workplace Engagement Drivers

A further characteristic of research has been the examination of particular forms of climate which prioritise certain organisational outcomes. Examples include:. Cummings and Bromiley define trust in the following way:. The rationale for this definition of trust rests on the socially embedded, subjective, and optimistic nature of most interactions within and between organisations that involve trust. Much of organisational interaction rests strongly on these three characteristics and thus makes trust so centrally important. Both individual and group trust matter in organisations and are embedded within understandings of climate and culture.

Organisational culture impacts the extent to which employees trust the organisation while climate impacts trust at group and team level. Underpinning the value of trust is the importance of effective cooperation in organisational life. In the simplest of terms, trust is key because it enables cooperation Tyler, While cooperation has always been important in organisations, emerging trends in organisational dynamics have pushed this to the foreground.

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Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice
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Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice

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