What is Employee Engagement

What is Employee Engagement

Dictionary.com defines engagement as "to occupy the attention or efforts of a person." The word's origins can be found in the French word engager meaning "to pledge." If we combine the definition with the origin, we find that a person must pledge their attention and effort to the overarching cause in order to achieve a state of engagement. Stated another way: to be completely engaged, a person must be enriched at an emotional level by the task they are performing — truly, "their heart must be in it".

Have you ever watched a spors team in the dying minutes of a game that they will surely lose and found yourself saying, "their heart is just not in it"? It is true to say that it is exactly the same for a disengaged team member in an organisation. They have lost the connection between head and heart. They know what they are supposed to be doing, but have lost the emotional energy to do it at their best.

heart not in it

Because we are all motivated by different things, engagement is a deeply personal experience. After all, we are giving our hearts and minds to the task. By tapping into our emotional energy we can release the unlimited potential of "discretionary effort."

If we explore the two parts of the term "discretionary effort" we see:

Discretionary effort is defined as for any use or purpose one chooses; not earmarked for a particular purpose. Effort is defined as exertion of physical or mental power.

When combined, discretionary effort is the exertion of physical or mental power for a purpose of one's own choosing. Thus, discretionary effort is not something for an organisation to take, but something for an individual to give. Engagement is being so connected to a goal that we are willing to give more than we are compensated to do. It means we find our own intrinsic reward in performing the task, and are wiling to give more of ourselves to experience those personal rewards.

In the literary review we have conducted, we have found 6 factors that seem to appear time and again when describing engagement and how to encourage it. These factors are:

Employee Engagement - 6 Factors

These are by no means the only factors that contribute to engagement, they are simply the ones that seem to appear most often. Having spent the time to do the research, our engagement series of blog posts will provide you with some of the highlights and "best of the web" based on our research.


“So what's the difference between employee engagement and employee commitment?”

“Hi Tony

Thank you for such a great question. In the research we have been doing we have found ourselves asking the exact same question and we even started another post about this very thing!

While some have argued that they are the exact same thing, based on our research we would distinguish them in this way:

Job Commitment - is more of a rational connection a person has with their work. They understand their role, its functions and how it applies to the greater organisation, however it does not necessarily ignite the "fire in their belly". We can be committed to a job i.e. know it is important, but not necessarily be engaged by it.

Engagement - is more of an emotional connection a person has with their job, colleagues, customers and the organisation as a whole. They understand their role, its contribution to the organisation and it resonates at an emotional level for them. Their work actually energises and invigorates them.

The core distinction we would make is that commitment is more rational and engagement is more emotional. There is a really interesting discussion from a LinkedIn group - particularly the second comment from Marc. You can find it by searching "Engagement vs commitment : how would you differentiate both terms" into Google.

Thanks for your comments!

Trevor and the DTS Team”

“As I understand your distinction, the captain of that Italian cruise ship that was sinking was engaged.
That USAir pilot who put his plane safely down in the Hudson River was definitely committed.”

“Hi Rod

Thanks for the comment and thoughtful application of the distinction. I have to admit this one really got me thinking!

Before replying I would like to note that I am not an expert on the two events that you refer to. I have seen some fragmented news reports and read a few news pieces on each however think it is important to note I would not call myself "well informed" on all the surrounding circumstances to each event.

I would tend to agree with you that the Italian Ship Captain was engaged. The problem was it was not his job he was engaged in/by but the prospects of saving his own skin. Although I have no experience similar to this to gauge by I am sure this was an exceptionally frightening and confusing experience. In the midst of all this the Captain appears to have lost his commitment to his job and directed his emotional energy into the task of saving his own hide.

In contrast the pilot of the US Air flight who safely guided the plane into the Hudson River was both engaged and committed to his job. Even though he also faced a similarly frightening and confusing experience he managed to remain committed to his job and direct the emotional energy he was experiencing into successfully landing the plane.

In both situations we are talking about highly emotionally charged environments and to some extent outside the "normal" working environment. That is, we are talking about a specific event with a short lifespan not the job as a whole. It is hard to say based on the information we have if each of these men were engaged by their job as a whole. None the less, it is easy to see how our definitions/distinction might fit into both situations as you describe. Perhaps it is important for us to add to the definition that the emotional energy must be productively applied to the defined outcomes/responsibilities of the role to be considered engaged.

Thanks again for the comment and making us think about our definitions/distinctions in this way.

Trevor and the DTS Team”

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