There is just so much being said about employee engagement all around the world. The amount of information on the internet is just overwhelming. Here’s a snapshot of my google newsfeed alerts on employee engagement:

Notice how there is something going on every single day!

With so much of noise around the subject, and so many so called ‘experts’ it is very easy to get lost in the jargon.

After reading for hours on the subject, I was more confused about it than I was before.It made me think!

How many of us really understand what employee engagement is?

This why I decided to write an article on it. (Ironic?)

And NO this article does not have ALL the definitions of employee engagement on the internet. Because that would make this equally noisy as them. 

What it has is some of the most referred definitions of the term Employee Engagement with crisp and clear explanation of each of them.

I’ve broken down each definition into the multiple aspects it covers and explained them in detail for thorough understanding.

Bonus point: If you’re short of time, click here and skip to the end of the article to read a final summary of all these definitions. Just a little TLDR for you.

What is employee engagement?

If the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear employee engagement is an enthusiastic, employee that works overtime without being asked to, then you’re wrong.

If you thought of a happy employee, satisfied, fairly regular with decent performance, then you’re wrong again!

Employee engagement definition with employee commitment in focus.

Kevin Kruse from Forbes says, “… before understanding what employee engagement is, it helps to understand what it’s not!”

Employee Engagement is not equal to Employee Happiness
Because happiness doesn’t imply productivity. Some people are happy while they slack, some are happy because of the ping pong table. While these employees are happy, they add no value to the organization. Happiness is not everything.

Employee Engagement is not equal to Employee Satisfaction
Because not every employee wants to perform. Some are happy in the cozy no-work niche they’ve created. Some are satisfied with their average performance scores. The enthusiasm and voluntary extra effort is missing! Satisfaction is not enough either.

Well then what is employee engagement?

Kruse defines it as, “The emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

What his definition implies that when employees are emotionally one with the business goals they have been assigned, they are engaged.

This definition works on the underlying assumption of discretionary effort by emotionally connected employees.

What is discretionary effort?

Discretionary effort is the over and above effort an employee puts in the work which isn’t expected from the role. Think of the time you stayed beyond office hours to make a project work, not because your boss told you to. But because you wanted to. That’s discretionary effort.

Kruse assumes that emotionally committed employees, towards their goals in the organization, exhibit discretionary effort. Such employees are engaged!

Sounds good but it doesn’t work! Because

  • Employees do not just happen to feel emotionally connected to the business goals. Employees care about themselves! They have their personal goals too.

Kruse isn’t the only person on this faulty boat though.

Here is a similar/rephrased definition of employee engagement by Engage for Success:

“Employee engagement is the workplace approach resulting in the right conditions for all the members of an organization to give their best each day, committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, with an enhanced sense of their own wellbeing.”

Long. But the same. Committed employees, and a feeling of wellbeing.

Employee Engagement Definition with Sense of Purpose in focus

Since commitment alone is not enough, and not warranted on its own. A better definition is made on the basis of Purpose.

Red Hat’s CEO Jim Whitehurst beautifully defined this sense of purpose and its role in employee engagement in a talk:

“Somebody once told me – and this is the best advice I ever got – that for any business there are three levels of leadership.

One is getting somebody to do what you want them to do.

The second is getting people to think what you want them to think. If their thoughts are in sync with yours, then you don’t have to worry about actions because they will figure it out.

But the best is getting people to believe what you want them to believe. If people believe in your cause they will walk through walls for it. They will do anything.”

Besides the way it is worded, this definition is also amazing because it goes deeper than commitment. Employees will only commit to the organization’s goals when they see the purpose in it.

Anything could resonate with the employee as a sense of purpose. Some employees are enthused about the goals the organization wants to achieve. Some are enthused about the personal goals they achieve as they do their role in the organization.

What Jim implies is that employee engagement is about aligning the motivation and commitment of the employee towards the organization’s goals. This is done by creating a sense of purpose.

The very popular X-model of engagement is also based on this balance between employees’ personal goals and organization’s goals.

You can watch this short video to understand it better.

While purpose definitely goes beyond commitment, it still isn’t adequate!

  • Because there is lot more to engagement than just commitment and purpose. There are many other aspects that together define what it is. There’s Pride, Belonging, Participation and many more.
  • Because engagement looks and means completely different from the perspective of a manager and an employee.

And because when you have these multiple aspects and a layer of multiple perspectives on a term, it doesn’t remain linear anymore. Employee engagement is no more a behavioral or psychological metric of the employee’s consciousness.

It is an active and dynamic system, a homeostasis with multiple stakeholders and metrics working towards a fixed goal within the organization.

That being said, here is TeamGraph’s take on Employee Engagement:

Employee Engagement is a state of being in the organization when all the stakeholders – managers, employees, leaders and everyone at the workplace:

  • are actively giving positive performance output towards the organization goal
  • because they experience these 6 key aspects that are cyclical in nature:

Engagement starts right at the top of the company. The leadership and their policies define the engagement of a company. This is reflected in the company’s culture. Company policies, infrastructure and HR architecture should be made keeping in mind three important aspects:

  1. Free and open communication
  2. Strong peer relationship
  3. Good relationship with manager

With these three set in place, employees can be welcomed into a company and their engagement can be targeted further.

From an employee’s perspective, engagement is defined with these aspects:

  1. Everyday life and work should be seamless and optimally challenging to perform. Routine processes and policies should be well defined within the company.
  2. A career trajectory should be clearly visible in sight. And employees must feel a sense of growth and advancement
  3. Work life synergy should be maintained for personal space and time availability.

Once these basic satisfaction needs of an employee are met, only then can the meaning shift towards Commitment and Involvement of the Employees.

Employees with a sense of satisfaction, in an organization with the right culture, experience:

  1. Confidence in Leadership
  2. Pride in being part of the organization
  3. Organizational identification and a sense of ambassadorship towards it

This truly drives the voluntary commitment, participation and involvement of employees in the company.

Committed employees are not enough, their commitment should add value to the organization. From an employee’s perspective, some of the behavioral metrics that define their engagement are:

  1. Focus – Their internal ability to focus
  2. Stress – The level of stress they experience and how they cope with it
  3. Role Clarity – The clarity of their roles and how clearly they know what responsibilities they have

Recognition – Recognition is a looping metric in the sense that the right recognition is a must have for a continuously and sustainably engaged employee

Not just the employee, employers too have to play their part towards harnessing the commitment of the employee into productive output.

  1. This is ensured with Robust personal processes, so that there is no ambiguity in flow of control, and a smooth organizational workflow is maintained
  2. Employers must constantly provide two way feedback to help employees grow.
  3. Access to external resources and dependencies should be simplified and made swifter
  4. And finally, employees expect effective development and guidance from the employers.

Only when the employee and the employers play their part in an organization of committed employees and right culture, then we see productive output and performance.

And at last, this homeostasis is looped back to the first aspect by a sense of ownership and initiative in the employees:

  1. Engaged employees are aware of the big picture.
  2. They expect and exercise their autonomy and make decisions.
  3. And this participation makes them mini leaders within the organization

Such participation and the observations from these ground roots are fed back to the leaders and this defines the policies and culture of the organization.

This is employee engagement.

A cycle, a system, a homeostasis of 6 key steps that is constantly maintained in an engaged organization.

It takes care of the performance of the organization.

It takes care of the employees, managers, leaders and their expectations and roles.

And it takes care of everything in between.

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Aakrit Patel

Writer, digital marketer, entrepreneurship enthusiast and a mechanical engineer with a minor in finance.
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