Employee engagement is jargon

About the author

Kevin is a co-founder of PR Academy and editor/co-author of Exploring Internal Communication published by Routledge. Kevin leads the CIPR Internal Communication Diploma course. PhD, MBA, BA Hons, PGCE, FCIPR, CMgr, MCMI.

Employee engagement remains high on the agenda of organisations and according to an article in the Guardian on 22 August 2010:

“Large companies claim that they are doing more than ever before to listen to their staff and improve relationships. “Employee engagement” – the jargon for firms’ efforts to communicate and build good relations with their workforces – is a hot topic in management circles.”

It’s great to see that the “Engaging for Success” report completed for government in 2009 is making an impact, though co-author, Nita Clarke, also says that “It’s amazing how little attention the investment community pays to the fact that employee engagement has a real impact on medium- and long-term company performance.”

I’m currently researching internal communication and employee engagement measurement and what I’m finding is that the term “employee engagement” itself is problematic. Whether it is jargon or not is a moot point; it is certainly banded around a lot but means different things to different people.

Two schools of thought are emerging in the academic world. One is focused on work engagement, or immersion in work through “vigor, dedication and absorption”. This has led to the development of the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale by academics Schaufeli and Bakker.

Other academics, such as Macey and Schneider in the US point to wider, organisational identification factors. It is this approach that is more interesting to internal communicators as it is where our work can add most value to employee engagement. It is interesting to see that this is also closer to the common understanding of “communicating and building good relations” used in the Guardian article.

In the meantime, comparing levels of engagement is not very constructive. Firstly, the questions may differ according to the understanding of engagement or the consultancy used. Secondly, a figure of 80 per cent at one company (for example Molson Coors),  impressive as it is, cannot easily be compared with any other organisation as the situation will always be different, depending on the sector, the culture and the level of change the organisation is going through.

Macey and Scheider claim that most current attempts to measure engagement get the construct wrong, so perhaps it is time for a new approach?