Unraveling and Practicing Employee Engagement: Feature Article; V4 Issue 3

Understanding Employee Engagement

Does Employee Engagement seem like another buzz word to you? And yet you must be experiencing the presence or absence of it every day at your workplace. Employee Engagement is nothing but involving an employee’s mind and heart completely when he/she is at work which in turn enriches the employee and the organization. It is about an employee experiencing high job satisfaction while contributing effectively to the organization. Employee Engagement has been defined differently by different organizations doing research in this area as given below.

I personally like the definition provided by Tim Rutledge, owner and publisher of Mattanie Press and author of ‘Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty’. He says‘truly engaged employees are: attracted to and inspired by their work (‘I want to do this’), committed (‘I am dedicated to the success of what I am doing’), and fascinated (‘I love what I am doing’).’

Levels of Employee Engagement: 

In a study conducted by Towers Perrin in 2003 representing the views of more than 35,000 employees in U.S companies it was found that there are following types of employees. 

  • Highly engaged: A small percentage of employees freely give extra effort on an ongoing basis. The opportunity for an organization lies with this small group of people, who can become role models for their peers, helping build the kind of environment and work experience that does engage greater numbers of people.

  • Disengaged: An equally small percentage of employees who have “checked out” from their work constitute this group.

  • “Moderately” engaged: The remainder of the employees ie, roughly two-thirds forms this group. The challenge lies with this group. Left to their own, these employees could easily become disengaged, causing a dramatic fall in productivity and morale. Strengthening this group’s level of engagement is the most critical task virtually every employer faces.


Benefits of Employee Engagement and its evolution

Hewitt has been conducting Best Employers studies around the world. Their research shows that Best Employers excel at employee engagement. As a result they enjoy a bigger pool of talent from which to select employees, lower employee turnover, lower absenteeism rate, increased customer satisfaction, higher economic returns, and greater sustainability in the face of business challenge. And Best Employers are better positioned to take advantage of business opportunities and weather business cycles effectively.

Prior to the 1990’s ‘employee surveys’ were focused on employee satisfaction. However it was found that there was no guarantee that satisfied employees would contribute more to the organization. The concept of employee engagement was developed in response to increasing globalization. Global competition forced businesses to become more flexible in responding to employee needs. There was also a rising interest in employee engagement due to the dotcom bubble burst in 2000 which caused the economy to dip and created unemployment. Then came the Millennials, a new generation of workers who demanded more from their employer than just pay. During the recent recession many organizations have had to cut costs, lose staff and demand more from their remaining employees. Technology continues to revolutionize not only how work gets done, but also how people access their work and each other. As the economy changes and employee needs evolve, employee engagement becomes more and more essential in increasing productivity while satisfying employee needs. 

What drives Employee Engagement and how can you drive it?

Frederick Herzberg observed over 40 years ago that the same employees who complained about poor working conditions, such as cold, dirt and dim lighting were quite happy to work on their cars in a dingy, dusty garage at home. So there was something else which was driving engagement. In fact there are several factors which drive employee engagement. Let us look at how as a manager you can help in creating employee engagement in your team by doing your bit in each of these factors, which come to think of it is quite a bit.

  1. Relationship with manager and Managerial support: Very often when employees leave an organization, they are leaving their manager. It is not dissatisfaction with the company but dissatisfaction with the manager that causes them to resign. So it is important that you develop a strong and positive relationship with your team members to ensure high levels of engagement in your team. Which means you need to be engaged yourself to engage others. If you are highly stretched at work and don’t energize yourself, you will not have the energy to initiate or sustain engagement efforts. As manager you need to provide your team with required direction and resources to support work processes and activities. Ensure employees balance between work and home life. Be supportive of the engagement initiative while monitoring the work-life balance of employees. Highly engaged people run the risk of burnout by becoming too eager and too passionate about their work.
  2. Role clarity: This factor refers to whether employees know what is expected from them. As their manager you are the best person to provide this clarity by defining clear and specific goals. Also make them understand how their goals relate to company goals and make them understand how their unit/department contributes to company success. This line of sight between individual actions on the job and broader company objectives is important for engaging an employee. Helping employees clearly understand the mutual responsibility and accountability is at the heart of an effective employer/employee relationship.
  3. Challenging work: Being able to do something interesting and meaningful helps create a sense of personal inspiration and accomplishment, leading to pride in one’s work and one’s company. There are certain things you can do to help promote a more stimulating and challenging environment for your subordinates. Encourage people to take initiative, be open to change, tolerate uncertainty. Coach and develop people’s skills, and hold people accountable for their performance. These become even more important where the work itself is relatively routine work.
  4. Performance feedback and recognition: Regular, specific performance feedback is a powerful tool to engage people. When one knows where one can improve one is more actively involved in doing something about it and reaches ones’ goals. As important as pay and benefits are in attracting and retaining people, they are less important in engaging people in their work. Though pay does not drive engagement, any form of recognition for good work does. So, offer recognition for employees who excel or who demonstrate a strong passion for their work and organization.
  5. Career development opportunities: Employees look at their jobs and careers as more than a means to gain money. By working they hope to gain both professional and personal skills. Training and coaching is important to achieve this. Get to know your employees as well as their goals and aspirations, so that together you can develop a clear path for advancement and opportunities for growth. Ensure that high performers in your team advance in the organization.
    Not everybody speaks well and not everybody can put people at ease. These are talents unique to individuals. Identify the talents of your team members and provide them with work opportunities where they get to use these talents. Being good at a job bolsters confidence and ensures both the organization and the employee achieves individual and collective goals.
  6. A sense of ‘team’: This refers to the camaraderie, intimacy and the ability to be oneself that one experiences at work. Have a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Foster a sense of community and team work. People’s positive emotions are strongly influenced by the people they work with day to day, by collaboration, teamwork and shared goals, and by a sense of a purpose in work. Emphasizing team goals can be of help here.
  7. Communication: Effective communication is not just about disseminating basic information. Rather it is providing context, commentary and ensuring a two-way dialogue. Employees want to know what management thinks and believes and how it plans to act. And they also want forums to give their input. Communication means not only articulating a vision for the future but also being honest and forthright in dealings with the workforce. Its part of creating the environment of mutual trust, accountability and responsibility that’s important in engaging people and winning discretionary effort. Engage employees through direct communication by involving them in important decisions and keeping them informed of new developments or changes within the company. According to the Institute of Employment Studies (IES), the main driver of engagement is a sense of feeling valued and involved. Listen to employees and act on their suggestions. Just listening and not acknowledging, responding or acting on what is being heard can damage credibility and engagement.
  8. Control: This refers to the freedom to make decisions relating to one’s job. Employees should have appropriate decision-making authority and appropriate decision-making input to be truly engaged. People are much more willing to accept increased risk if they perceive they also have control over decisions relating to that risk as well as relevant information and tools to make good decisions. If you consistently keep your team members fully informed, you are providing them the necessary foundation for them to behave responsibly and accept accountability for making their own decisions. Even when workloads are heavy, being able to control the flow and pace of their work can relieve pressure on employees. So can a feeling that they can turn to managers for resources and support when they need it.
  9. Leadership: A clear vision from senior management about future success and senior management taking steps to ensure company’s long-term success are important in driving engagement. You need to understand and share this vision and action plan with your team. Leadership’s interest in employee well-being also helps increase employee engagement. As a manager you can keep your team updated on what the leadership team is doing to take care of employees. Also don’t miss conveying their message if they specifically ask about a person’s well being. I know every time the MD asks about my team member and I tell her about it how thrilled she looks.
  10. Company credibility: The reputation of a company as an employer, as a corporate citizen and as an industry leader also creates engagement. This determines whether employees take pride in working for the company. Organizations that proactively manage their reputations also enjoy higher levels of employee engagement. Employees distance themselves from the business when they believe their company does not have a good reputation. By talking positively about the company and its practices and by correcting any wrong negative perceptions that employees have about the company, you can contribute to employee engagement.

    Fairness is also important in creating credibility. This refers to acting with equity in sharing rewards, being impartial while hiring and promoting people, being fair in people practices and policies and how well employees are treated in terms of pay and benefits compared to similar organizations. You can ensure fairness in your areas of accountability ie, while making hiring, promotion, performance rating decisions.


You must have figured out by now that building employee engagement is a process that never ends and is a lot of hard work. All the employee engagement drivers are related to the kind of culture and work environment a company creates and nourishes over time. It takes commitment, consistency, trust in employees’ judgment, strong leadership practices and programs that align with and support the desired culture create to create a meaningful and emotionally enriching work experience. Most importantly it takes strong day-to-day management. Yes you, as a manger, are an important factor. You will be the one who will set the tone for your team, taking cues from leadership and the prevailing culture. So, understand employee engagement and practice employee engagement for the risks of not doing so are very high.


  1. ‘Motivating and Retaining Top Talent through Employee Engagement’ August 05, 2008
  2. 'Becoming a Best Employer'
  3. 'Working Today : Understanding What Drives Employee Engagement. The 2003 Towers Perrin Talent Report’