There is a tremendous amount of literature available today that addresses employee or worker engagement, and organizations such as Gallup have spent large amounts of money, time, and other resources to identify components and impacts of engagement. It’s so important that organizations such as retail giant Best Buy and bottling and drink company MolsonCoors, Inc. have reported impacts to their respective businesses due to an increased focus on and measured increase in employee engagement. It can be quite confusing to read through all the available information without some guidance about what it all means, or what theory is correct. Unfortunately, the answer is slightly more difficult than a simple “this or that”. In a recent edition of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (2011), there is an excellent article that discusses these myriad theories of employee engagement. The title of the article is “Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce” and it covers some really important topics. Most importantly the authors, Shawn Serrano and Rebecca Reichard, add some definition to the definition of employee engagement. So let’s start with that here.
The two components that seem to overlap no matter which theory is used are energy and involvement. As Serrano and Reichard (2011) so eloquently put it, “energy is displayed as individuals fully deploy their physical, cognitive and emotional resources into a work role or task,” and “involvement occurs as individuals display competence and a positive attached response to the job, thus resulting in remarkable dedication and intense absorption in the task at hand.” So now we have a relatively clear idea of what represents employee engagement, but how do we achieve this?
Again, Serrano and Reichard (2011) have some excellent suggestions; ultimately, leaders are tasked with:
- Designing Meaningful and Motivating Work
- Supporting and Coaching Employees
- Enhancing Employee’s Personal Resources
- Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations
Most of us would agree that if these things were in our workplace, we would feel more engaged. I think there is a really good reason for this, going back to when we were very young. The role of parents, our leaders through childhood, provided many of these things for us to get us where we are today. Most parents provide activities and tasks for children to do and accomplish that will help them feel good about what they have accomplished, and will support and coach them along the way. Even if the task is challenging parents are there to help them, but not necessarily complete the task for them. Organizational leaders serve the same role. Ensuring that children have the necessary components to succeed in their daily tasks, school projects, sports endeavors, or other activities is truly crucial as most children can not achieve these things on their own. Again, organizational leaders must provide that same type of support to their workforce. In many cases, workers do not have the ability to get the necessary resources on their own. It doesn’t mean giving someone everything that they ask for, but rather providing them with what they need to accomplish what they are working on and striving for.
The last component, Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations, is very similar to the act of parents facilitating “play dates” or other social activities for their children to become more socialized. Ultimately, parents are responsible for assisting their children in achieving this development, and organizational leaders have much of the same responsibility. This teaches people to communicate and interact successfully, which can help across many facets of business.
This isn’t to say that business leaders need to treat employees like children, but we need to have the same type of compassion for one another as we would for children and leaders especially need to understand the great responsibility that they have for their employees. When thinking about what the workforce needs, ask if they have the components above and if you are helping them to grow and develop, or if perhaps you are viewing them as simply a part in a process. How are you engaging your workforce family, and how are you being engaged?
Serrano, S.A., & Reichard, R.J. (2011). Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(3), 176-189. doi: 10.1037/a0025621