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What do engagement measures really
mean?
Angela Baron

Abstract
Purpose – This paper aims to discuss how and with what employees engage at work. It seeks to offer an explanation of ‘‘locus of engagement’’ – what aspects of their work individuals engage with to a lesser or greater extent – and ‘‘emotional’’ and ‘‘transactional’’ engagement – demonstrating that people can engage at different levels, both of which might result in performance but also in very different behaviors.

Angela Baron is Adviser,
Engagement and
Organisational
Development at CIPD,
Wimbledon, UK.

Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on research completed for CIPD by The Kingston Engagement Consortium drawing on both quantative and qualitative data collected from member companies over a six-year period of study.

Findings – The paper argues that managers need a deeper understanding of how employees are engaging with their work to effectively leverage performance through engagement. It finds that despite much work on engagement, the issues of with what and at what level people are engaging is still relatively unexplored. It also finds that how and with what people engage can have implications for their performance and other behavior which will impact on the success of the organization. Originality/value – This has practical implications for managers and demonstrates that engagement surveys alone will not give sufficient information to enable them to manage engagement effectively. Keywords Engagement, Management behaviour, Citizenship behaviour, Managers, Employers Paper type Research paper

‘‘There has been much written about employee engagement [. . .] However, ‘what’ employees engage with has as yet received limited attention.’’ (CIPD, 2011a).

Engagement is good; engaged staff work harder, perform better, give better service and as a result contribute more to the bottom line. All true, according to the wealth of evidence generated by research into engagement, most of which can be found in David McLeod and Nita Clarke’s excellent review of the topic and its literature published in 2009 (McLeod and Clarke, 2009). Yet still we have limited knowledge about what engagement actually means in different settings.

How and with what people engage at work is still open to question and too many organizations are still confusing the elements of engagement, such as job satisfaction or commitment, with engagement itself. As a result, although employees are being surveyed more than ever before on their attitudes, their views about the organization as an employer and the workplace and their well-being, much of the data collected is open to interpretation. This article argues that data alone is not enough to understand engagement. A deeper understanding that gets behind and explains the figures are needed to really leverage performance through people. This article is based on the findings of work carried out for the CIPD by the Kingston Engagement Consortium, which is part of Kingston University School of Management. The results were published by the CIPD in 2011 and 2012.

DOI 10.1108/14754391311282450

VOL. 12 NO. 1 2013, pp. 21-25, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1475-4398

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STRATEGIC HR REVIEW

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PAGE 21

‘‘ Transactionally engaged employees are not disengaged but they do have less emotional attachment to their job or
employer. ’’

What is engagement?
It may seem a trivial question given the numerous definitions and weight of literature on the subject, but the reality is that engagement means different things in different contexts and the drivers of engagement will vary considerably across both organizations and industries. As a recent T&D journal article points out ‘‘there is no cookie-cutter approach to engagement’’ (Maylett and Nielsen, 2012), in other words what triggers engagement in one organization might not work in another.

CIPD’s work on people and performance (Purcell et al., 2003), and numerous other...
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