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Employee Engagement: More than Just Buzzwords

If you read articles about improving your business, you’ve probably come across the words “employee engagement.” I’ve already blogged about how firms can gain a competitive advantage through people, but how can a manager really engage with employees in order to leverage their skills? Is this just a trendy catch phrase of buzzwords, or are there actual steps we can take?

As an academic, I like to go beyond buzzwords and see what the research literature says about hot topics such this. Research gives us this definition of employee engagement: “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption” that is “not focused on any particular object, event, individual or behavior” (Schaufeli et al. 2002, p. 72 & p. 74). In other words, this state of mind keeps employees motivated, committed, and focused. And these feelings aren’t present or absent because of one or two incidences, but are there as a reaction to the long-term interaction with the employer.

But does engagement matter in terms of actual work behavior? According to large scale research, it does. In a study by Saks (2006), data indicated that employee engagement was positively related to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and organizational citizenship behavior (those behaviors that are above and beyond the job description that help the company succeed). Engagement was also negatively related to employees’ intentions to quit their jobs. More importantly, recent studies indicate that engagement is a strong predictor of job performance (Rich, LePine, & Crawford, 2010).

So, how do we increase our employee engagement? Research indicates that the biggest predictor of employee engagement is the employees’ perceived organizational support—the degree to which the organization values employee contributions and cares about their well-being. One way organizations can communicate their care and concern for employees is through employee focus groups or surveys. These give a two-fold benefit. First, employees feel valued when their opinion is sought, and that feeling leads them to reciprocate with increased engagement. Second, organizational leaders can use the information they get from employees to create policies and programs that demonstrate their support for employees. Seeking employee input is a cost-effective and quick way to maximize employee engagement.

If your organization is considering focus groups or employee attitude surveys, email me at or call 318-278-0097. You can also learn more about our survey services or view a sample survey that I created.

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