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The definition of employee engagement in South Africa

The variable of employee engagement is not new and has become one of the most researched concepts in the 21st century in South Africa and internationally. It involves issues of employee’s relationship with the management and their colleagues. In this case, the way employees are connected with the organisation will somehow determine their level of commitment within the organisation. Harris (1996) states that this is based on the fact that:

“connected employees are confident that they will receive timely information on things that affect both their particular area and the [organisation] at large; and that connection results in employee [engagement], not just compliance" (p. 39).

Employees engage in organisation’s activities if they are motivated to do so and understand the needs of the management and the organisation as a whole. Employee engagement is evident when employees work with passion (Sainthouse, 2010).“Engaged employees are dedicated to their jobs, they are less likely to leave the organisation, they are more productive, and they have a strong desire to know the expectations for their roles so they can meet those expectations” (Sainthouse, 2010). Sainthouse (2010) further stipulates that disengaged employees are highly likely to leave the organisation due to the fact that they are unhappy at work. Their unhappiness within the organisation occurs whereby they are either unhappy with their colleagues or management or that the kind of work they are doing is not meaningful to them. As a result they “undermine what the engaged employees try to accomplish” (Sainthouse, 2010).

This concept of engagement has been used alternatively with commitment, participation, involvement and inclusion (Ferguson, 2004, p. 8). This concept has been growing rapidly in the last few years. It has become a global issue in which organisations has to pay attention to. This is based on the fact that nowadays organisations rely on people rather than machines. Therefore, these organisations have to make sure that their employees engage and works with each other in order achieve the goals of the organisation. Achieving the goals of an organisation cannot be possible if the goalsare not clear and communicated to the employees. Therefore, the onus is on the management to communicate the goals to the employees and state clearly how those goals will be achieved.

Therefore, to explore this variable further, the researcher will define this concept and discuss its importance in an organisational point of view. In order to ensure that employee engagement is discussed thoroughly, the researcher will also discuss the concept of disengagement and the importance of employee engagement in organisations. Therefore, the following section focus on the definition of employee engagement.

2.3.2 Definition of Employee Engagement ended

Having employees that are fully engaged in their work is an issue in which organisations has to pay close attention to. Berger (2008) believes that the term engagement refers to “unleashing the full energy and talents of people in the workplace”. This is whereby employees use their energy and skills to benefit the organisation. This result in them being motivated to the kinds of work they are doing. Berger also believes that improving employee engagement is possible. To achieve this, organisations should encourage their employees to share their views in the decision making process of the organisation. Involving employees in decision making process builds their loyalty towards the organisation and it also improves the levels of commitment (Berger, 2008). Berger (2008) also states that through improved loyalty and commitment, the effective communication among employees and the management and the quality of decisions could be noticed.

Moreover, Thackray (no date) believes that “engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organisation forward” (p. 1). This has been supported by Ferguson (2004, p. 8)when stipulating that engaged employees’ work is extraordinary and those engaged employees usually reap benefits through improvements of skills and knowledge within their scope of work. When employees pay attention towards colleagues and management and if they have the organisation at heart they dedicate themselves towards completing the task at hand with distinctions (Lanphear, 2004, p. 2).Furthermore, Ferguson (2004, p. 8) describes employee engagement as a two-way relationship that occurs between the employer and the employee. Specifically, in a large organisation the relationship occurs between the colleagues and the management. Lanphear (2004, p. 2) also defines employee engagement as the connection and attachment employees have to their colleagues, the management and the organisation as a whole.

Olson (no date) believes that the concept of employee engagement can be distinguished in three key dimensions of engagement. These are physical engagement, cognitive engagement and emotional engagement. In his definition of employee engagement, Olson (no date) states that employee engagement occurs whereby employees are given responsibilities to improve their job performance and be committed to it. He classified that definition with emotional engagement because it is the employees’ emotional state that motivates them to improve their performances and their obligations within the organisation. In his argument Olson believes that in order for employees to improve their levels of engagement the management should be engaged thus creating the engaging environment. This means that managers need to improve the way they communicate with their subordinates and motivate them through giving certain responsibilities (empowerment) and responding to their concerns.

Michaelson and Nakamura (2001) specify that engaged employees are those that “can devote themselves with genuine passion” (p. 5) towards achieving the goals and objectives of the organisation.But for employees to put more energy to what they do they need effective communication among each other. This is testifiedby Axelrod (2002) when saying that:

“When people connect with each other and to powerful ideas, creativity and action are ensured. Barriers to the flow of information and new ideas are lowered as people forge links with others” (p. 33-34).

Goddard (1999) defines employee engagement as occurring whereby employees are physically and mentally at work thus working together to achieve goals of the organisation.in support of that definition Kahn (1990) defines employee engagement as “the harnessing of organisation members’ selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and expressthemselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances” (p. 694).

2.3.3 Importance of Employee Engagement

This section will discuss the importance of employee engagement. These will be divided into two parts: individual and organisational importance of employee engagement.

2.3.3.1 Engagement as an individual concept

At an individual level the employee engagement help those engaged employees to enhance their skills and knowledge within the scope of their work. According to (Myatt, 2010) engaged employees do not just enhance their skills and knowledge but they are also motivated to pursue their career goals. What happens is that these employees are also eager to support their colleagues and enjoy integrating their ideas for the benefit of the organisation. Furthermore, engaged employees rip the benefits from their engagement through earning themselves promotion opportunities, rewards, increases in the salary scheme and recognition within the scope of their work. Based on their hard work and dedication, they are perceived as the best employees in that particular field.

Engaged employees are open to new ideas and are not afraid of challenges their jobs might come with, they set goals and strive to achieve them, they make sure that their personal lives do not interfere with their work (e.g. they stay strong during the times of death in the family), they develop connections or networking channels with the successful leaders and managers which helps them to learn from the knowledge and skills of those leaders and managers (Vazirani, no date). Engaged employees are also confident and always believe that they have the ability to succeed in achieving their goals.

According to (Vazirani, no date) there are six factors that lead to employee engagement within the organisation. These are:

Career development-opportunities for personal development: this occurs whereby organisations provide their employees with opportunities to improve their skills and knowledge within the framework of their work (p. 7).

Career development-effective management of employee talent: occurs whereby organisations realise that their employees have talent in a specific field thus ensuring that those employees are retained in the organisation (p. 7).

Leadership-clarity of company values: refers to an employee state of mind that the goals and values of the organisation are communicated throughout the organisation and are also clear (p. 8)

Leadership-respectful treatment of employees: occurs whereby each employee’s contribution and views are considered and respected by the colleagues and management regardless of an employee’s level of occupation (p. 8).

Leadership-company’s standards of ethical behaviour: managers are encouraged to eliminate the levels of gossip in the workplace so that employees would feel free to express themselves (p. 8).

Empowerment: occurs whereby employees are given opportunities (empowered)to state their views and concerns with regards to the decision making process of the organisation (p. 8).

The above literature shows that employee engagement has positive results towards an individual employee. However, this is not always the case. This is because engaged employee might, at times, feel demotivated when disengaged employees turn down their ideas towards achieving organisational goals. Furthermore, engaged employees normally feel bad when the organisation does not produce the products at an expected amount. This occurs when disengaged employees’ productivity is not up to standards whereas engaged employees on the other hand work hard to ensure that the quality and productivity is improved. When this happens, engaged employees begin to feel that they are not powerful enough to drive the organisation into the greater success. This affects them emotionally and reduces their performance levels.

Having discussed employee engagement in an individual context, the following section will look at how the employee engagement benefits the organisation.

2.3.3.2 Engagement as the organisational concept

An organisation must ensure that it has engaged employees in order for it to stay competitive in the global market for a long time. This is because employee engagement results to improved levels of one's performance thus improving organisations’ productivity, increasing sales and also improving organisations’ profits (Myatt, 2010). According to (Myatt, 2010) having high performing workforce can be attained if the concepts of teamwork and communication from management to subordinates are encouraged. If employees are engaged they care about achieving organisations’ goals thus putting more efforts in ensuring that those goals are achieved. This means that they are willing to invest their skills, knowledge and dedication to the future of the organisation (Myatt, 2010). In this regard, engaged employees generate organisations’ sustainable progress which plays a vital role in recognition and respect given to the brand of the organisation throughout the world (Pech and Slade, 2006: p.20).

As quoted from (Myatt, 2010) the advantages of having engaged employees are that:

“Engaged employees will stay with the company, be an advocate of the company and its products and services, and contribute to bottom line business success.

They will normally perform better and are more motivated.

There is a significant link between employee engagement and profitability.

They form an emotional connection with the company. This impacts their attitude

towards the company’s clients, and thereby improves customer satisfaction and

service levels.

It builds passion, commitment and alignment with the organisation’s strategies

and goals.

Increases employees’ trust in the organisation.

Creates a sense of loyalty in a competitive environment.

Provides a high-energy working environment.

Boosts business growth.

Makes the employees effective brand ambassadors for the company”

In testifying his argument (Myatt, 2010) believes that engaged employees always do their work exceptionally well and they do not have limits. This means that engaged employees do their work beyond their prospects from the management and/or supervisors. They do their work very well that they do not need much supervision and attention from the management. However, they do not boast but accept the fact that nobody knows everything; they also have weaknesses like everybody else.

The section on employee disengagement is following below.

2.3.4 The Concept of Disengagement

The concept of employee disengagement appears to be correlated with conditions whereby there is an existing lack of psychological identification and psychological meaningfulness in employees (Pech and Slade, 2006: p.21). Disengagement also appears to be increased under conditions of poor leadership and when levels of trust between managers and employees are low (Pech and Slade, 2006: p.21). This implies the fact that a positive relationship between management and their subordinates is very important because it also enhances positive outcomes in the production process. Employees like to be given freedom so that they can express themselves and it also encourages them if their work is identified and rewarded and their views are recognised.Pech and Slade (2006) also argue that:

“a disengaged employee is still able to contribute, particularly if employed to perform repetitive tasks requiring little cognitive involvement, however, if employees at the strategic level of the firm become disengaged, the impact can be debilitating” (p.21).

As a result, they may think of leaving the organisation and find the organisation that will acknowledge their competence and efforts. Furthermore, Schreuder and Coetzee (2006: p.312) agree that employees need to understand to what extent the organisation supports the development of their careers, be given tools and services to help them formulate career plans, know the direction of the organisation and the skills that will be required in future and to understand what methods are available to them for keeping their skills up to date.

This is also testified byKular, Gatenby, Rees, Soane and Truss (2008, p. 16) when stating that employees tend to leave the organisation if the organisation’s process and communications do not live up to their expectations, if there is no feedback and reward systems given to them as a way of recognising and applauding their work, if the chances of them being promoted and advancement towards their careers are slim and also employees leave the organisation when they have lost trust towards their management. This implies the fact that employees need not to feel threatened within the organisation but should perceive their work as a challenge. A disengaged employee separate himself with the goals and objectives of the organisation and lacks motivation and withdraw their support to the work roles (Kularet al, 2008, p. 16). Although disengaged employees also do their work, they do not care of whether the organisation's goals have been achieved. They are at work simply because they have not found employment opportunities outside the organisation. These employees do not perform at their best thus resulting in the slow process in production.

Kular, Gatenby, Rees, Soane and Truss (2008, p. 16) suggest that employees will lack engagement at work if the working environment is not conducive to their work. In this case, a conducive working environment can be conceptualised as a safety, clear and with no hazards that might endanger the lives of the employees.


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