Disecting Employee Engagement – The Definition

Today’s businesses focus a great deal of attention on employee engagement as its consequences are said to be far reaching on the success of the business. It has been reported that roughly half of the world workforce is not fully engaged. As a result this leads to an “engagement gap”[i] that costs organizations over $300 billion a year in lost productivity (Bates, 2004, Johnson, 2004; Kowalski, 2003).[ii] This concept closely ties various related constructs of organizational behaviour. The next few posts will depict various key components which create a model of employee engagement and motivation within organizations. They will draw on concepts of self-determination theory, self-efficacy theory, social exchange theory and engagement models. It is simply not sufficient to apply over-learned carrot-and-stick motivational strategies in today’s complex organizations. These findings will then be compared to real work global findings in employee engagement processes.  Is there  a best practice global model of shared ownership that can be proposed for future enhancements within organizations? How Human Resources can utilize positive organizational behaviour to build virtues that enable the organization to thrive?

 Before we can answer the questions set out above we must define what employee engagement is. Employee engagement is the combination of the capability of work (energy, vigour) and the willingness to work (involvement, dedication).[iii] It is known to be a set of motivating resources such as support and recognition from colleagues and supervisors, performance feedback, opportunities for learning and development and opportunities for skills use. It is also the commitment and extra–role behaviour that employees display, a state where employees feel vested interest in the company’s success and perform to a high standard.[iv]

Employee engagement, although not referred to as such in the earlier decades was reflected in Marx and Durkheim’s work. Marx argued that the deskilling of labour would enhance control over workers in the labour process[v], this lack of individual control over their own work and lack of autonomy, is closely linked with job dissatisfaction and disengagement.  Durkheim’s (1964) work on the other hand focused on a “collective conscious” and the impact that division of labour, class conflict will create a breakdown and alienation of collective of work processes. This breakdown leads to “personal consciousness”, breaking down the organic solidarity within the workplace. [vi]  As a result, Joanne Woodward (1958, 1965) and Robert Blauner (1964) argue that the widespread adoption of mass production technologies lead to worker alienation. They also note that there will be a loss of sense of identity through work, giving rise to impersonal bureaucratic workplaces.[vii] These impersonal bureaucratic workplaces led to isolated-ness, meaninglessness, estrangement, powerlessness, work overload, stress and fatigue.  As institutionalism changed over the years researchers discussed engagement based on two components, motivation and job satisfaction.

Herzberg et al.’s (1959) composed a two-factor theory of motivation that represented satisfaction and dissatisfaction were not opposite extremes of the same continuum.[viii] Building on these models and theories we see gaps in employee engagement between theory, research and practice. Self-determination theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000) and its various corollaries, self-concordance theory (SCT; Sheldon & Elliot, 1999), hierarchical theory (Vallerand et al. 2003) and passion theory (Vallerand et all., 2003)  try to merge the gaps overarching the various previously studies components giving greater justification to the conceptual model of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.[ix]



[i] Saks A, (2006) Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology Vol. 21 No.7, 2006

[ii] ibid

[iii] Bakker, A.B.  Albrecht, S.L. Leiter M.P(2011) Work engagement: Further reflections on the state of play. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 2011. 20(1) 74-88

[iv] Towers Perrin and Mercer HR (Gallup-12) accessed March 17th 2011.

[v] Godard, John (2000). Industrial Relations, the Economy and Society.  3rd Edition. Captus Press Inc. (2005) pp.35

[vi] Durkheim, Emile (1964). The Division of Labour in Society. New York: The Free Press

[vii] Woodward, Joanne (1958). Management and Technology. London: HMSO

Woodward, Joanne (1965). Industrial Organization. Oxford: Oxford University Press

[viii] Herzberg, F. Mausner, B. and Snyderman, B.B (1959). The Motivation to Work, 2nd ed. John Wiley & Sons, New   York, NY.

Furnham, A. Eracleous A, Chamorrow-Premuzi T (2009). Personality, motivation and job satisfaction: Hertzberg meets the Big Five. Journal of Managerial Psychology Vol.24. No. 8, 2009.

[ix] Meyer, J. Gagne M (2008). Employee Engagement From a Self-Determination Theory Perspective.

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