Determining the levels of engagement

Researchers in mainstream HRM field have long since been concerned with the question of how management can improve an organisation’s performance. Certainly this quest for understanding the link between engagement and performance has led to the overriding purpose of strategic HRM[1]. Perhaps engagement has gathered so much attention because of its promise of enhancing employee well-being and organisational performance. But despite the length of research into the topic, its meaning is susceptible to constant change. It is perhaps due to this that there is a growing disconnect between how engagement is perceived by academics (a psychological state) and that of practitioners (workforce strategy)[2].

The Institute of Employment Studies (IES)[3] defines employee engagement as:

“A positive attitude held by the employee towards the organisation and its values. An engaged employee is aware of business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organisation. The organisation must work to develop and nurture engagement, which requires a two-way relationship between employer and employee.”

The CIPD[4]  identified 3 main dimensions to engagement in the workplace:

  • Emotional engagement: feeling positively about the job and being emotionally engaged;
  • Cognitive engagement: thinking hard about the job and looking at ways in which to do it better;
  • Social engagement: actively taking opportunities to discuss work related improvements with others at work.

Employers want employees who will work hard and be willing to ‘go the extra mile’, whilst employees want to be inspired, feel worthwhile, have an increased sense of value and wellbeing. Purcell[5]  argued that positive engagement is linked to the employee’s ability to participate in workplace decisions and achieve a sense of accomplishment when the work is done. Negative on the other hand, results in increased organisational costs through absenteeism, presenteeism and lower levels of performance and productivity. There is a significant difference between those that do their job because they enjoy it and those that do it for rewards. The notion of employee engagement linked to that of both individual and organisational wellbeing is what drives the research agenda in this topic.

Organisations may pay lip service to the importance of their people but not many follow through on it. Bishop[6] argues that part of the problem is seeing the link between numbers and words; on one hand you have the hard measures like retention, productivity, profit and turnover. On the other hand you have engagement, motivation, wellbeing and satisfaction, so how can you connect the two?

Wellbeing, a Bottom Line Issue – Steelcase[7]:

The World Health Organisation[8] defines health as:

“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Given the desirability of having highly engaged employee’s Crawford, Lepine, & Rich[9] have argued that psychological conditions of meaningfulness, safety and availability determine levels of engagement. This in essence is linked to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs whose theory puts forward that meeting basic needs results in personal growth and development.  Recognition of an employees work shows them that they matter, helping to build an emotional connection between employee and employer. When employees feel valued and important they are more willing to take an ownership of their role, their enthusiasm and
engagement can actually inspire others to perform to their level[10].


Stress at work is a major issue affecting wellbeing, so why isn’t more attention given to tackling it? In 2015/16 the total number of days lost as a consequence of stress related issues was 11.7 million days. Workload; role uncertainty; lack of control; lack of support and changes at work are some of the factors which cause the most amount of stress[11]. Aon Hewitts[12] research found employees in high engagement companies experienced 28% of job related stress, compared to the 39% in those of low engagement. However despite these figures there is still the danger of being ‘too engaged’, as job demands can lead to burnout without the right supporting resources[8].

So how can you link numbers with words? Healthy workplace practices such as work life balance; employee growth and development opportunities; recognition; a healthy working environment and employee involvement can result in increased employee wellbeing. Reduced levels of stress and increased levels of motivation, job satisfaction and commitment will result in a happier workforce. And of course a happier workforce means an improved organisation leading to lower absenteeism and turnover, and increased competitive advantage, higher productivity levels and cost savings[13].




[1] Truss, C., Shantz, A., Soane, E., Alfes, K., & Delbridge, R. (2014). Employee engagement, organisational performance and individual well-being: exploring the evidence, developing the theory. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24(14), 2657 – 2669.

[2] Truss, C., Delbridge, R., Alfes, K., Shantz, A., & Soane, E. (2014). Employee engagement in theory and practice. London: Routledge.

[3] IES. (2017). Report Summary: The drivers of employee engagement. Retrieved from Institute for Employment Studies:

[4] CIPD. (2015, December 1). Employee engagement: an introduction. Retrieved from CIPD:

[5] Purcell, J. (2008). Building employee engagement: Acas policy discussion paper. London: Acas.

[6] Bishop, P. (2017, March 7). The missing link for motivation at work. Retrieved from WeThrive:

[7] Steelcase. (2014, February 10). Wellbeing, a Bottom Line Issue – Steelcase. Retrieved from YouTube:

[8] WHO. (2014, August). Mental health: a state of well-being. Retrieved from World Health Organisation:

[9] Crawford, E. R., Lepine, J. A., & Rich, B. L. (2010). Linking Job Demands and Resources to Employee Engagement and Burnout: A Theoretical Extension and Meta-Analytic Test. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(5), 834 – 848.

[10]Loyaltyworks. (2015). MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS AND EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT. Retrieved from Loyaltyworks:

[11] HSE. (2016, November Work related Stress, Anxiety and Depression Statistics in Great Britain 2016. Retrieved from Health and Safety Executive:

[12] Hewitt, A. (2012). Global employee engagement database. Aon Hewitt: London.

[13] Grawitch, M. J., Gottschalk, M., & Munz, D. C. (2006). The Path to a Healthy Workplace A Critical Review Linking Healthy Workplace Practices, Employee Well-being, and Organizational Improvements. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 58(3), 129 – 147.


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