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What Is Employee Engagement?

If you’re interested in learning about employee engagement, it’s probably because something's not quite right at work. People talk about leaving as soon as the economy improves. They no longer speak well of the company to each other or to potential recruits. It's as though people are just getting through the day, the week, or the month — that they're only there for the paycheck.

There's a growing sense among employees that they've become easily replaceable commodities — or, worse, that their positions could simply be eliminated to “save payroll.”

Or maybe things aren't so dire — people don't seem to be complaining, but your organization or department just lacks oomph. No one seems to be putting in the extra effort. Your colleagues seem to run out the door at quitting time.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, what you're witnessing is a lack of engagement among employees. And you're not alone. In recent years, companies all over the world have seen employees tune out.

Whether due to the changing global economy, job instability, changes in the world of work, changes in society as a whole, or any number of other reasons, this lack of employee engagement is a serious problem for businesses and workers alike!

A 2013 report released by Gallup, titled “State of the American Workplace Report,” concludes that only 30 percent of workers are engaged, 52 percent are disengaged, and 18 percent are actively disengaged.

Author Mark Crowley of Fast Company likens the workforce to a crew team. On this team, three of the rowers are paddling like crazy, five are casually taking in the scenery, and two are actively trying to sink the boat. Obviously, this team will not win the regatta!

It's not just Americans whose boats are sinking, so to speak. A 2013 survey on engagement by Dale Carnegie Training found that, globally, 34 percent of workers are engaged, 48 percent are disengaged, and 18 percent are actively disengaged.

Fortunately, lack of engagement is a problem that you can solve. You can take any number of steps to engage your employees.

So, what is employee engagement anyway? One common definition, which has become the gold standard, describes employee engagement as “the capture of discretionary effort.” Discretionary effort refers to employees going above and beyond. This is in contrast to the ordinary effort required to simply get the job done without attracting negative attention.

Other definitions or descriptions you're likely to hear include the following:

  • The capture of an employee's head and heart

  • Employees who have their hearts and minds in the business

  • Intellectual understanding and emotional commitment

  • Employees who go the extra mile in loyalty and ambassadorship

  • Employees who say, stay, and strive

  • Employees who think and act as business people

One super definition, though, is:

Employee engagement is the mutual commitment between an organization and an employee, in which the organization helps the employee meet his or her potential and the employee helps the organization meet its goals.

This mutual commitment is what truly defines employee engagement and results in discretionary effort. It's also what makes employee engagement a win-win for both the employer and the employee.

Although engagement is about capturing your employees’ discretionary effort, it isn't based on workaholism!

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