Means and ways to increase the employee engagement in their organisations

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Employee engagement is gaining importance by the day and both the practitioners and the researchers are eager to determine means and ways to increase the employee engagement in their organisations to achieve the benefits that such an engagement promises to deliver. This paper first reviews the literature to capture the researchers' and practitioners' view on employee engagement. It then focuses on the concept of communication and communication satisfaction as seen in the literature. Finally the paper delves into the relationship between employee engagement and organisational communication and proposes that organisational communication has a positive impact on employee engagement.


The concept of engagement has become a rage among the researchers as well as the practitioners in the field of human resources in the recent times. Several initiatives have been taken up by the organisations for increasing employee engagement and many exploratory studies have been conducted to understand the concept, its drivers, its consequences and its significance. The importance of employee engagement has also been widely acknowledged and research has proved that it has a significant impact on the productivity of the organisations. Hay Group recent research found that companies with high levels of engagement show turnover rates at 40 percent lower than companies with low levels of engagement that engaged employees are 10 percent more likely to exceed performance expectations*. Employee engagement is closely linked to employee turnover, customer satisfaction, loyalty, productivity, safety and profitability criteria (Harter, Schmidt and Hayes 2002). Employee engagement researches and studies (Tower Perrin. USA 2003, 2007) linked the same to customer impact and financial results. The need to create development and career growth opportunities, appropriate leadership styles and work - life balance were deemed important to attract, retain and engage employees. If an organization wants to sustain in the long run then it is really essential for it to have an engaged workforce. This paper intends to bring together the view points of the researchers and the practitioners on the topic of employee engagement.

Engagement as viewed by researchers

William A. Kahn (1990) was conceptualized engagement at work as the `harnessing of organizational members' selves to their work roles. The most cited definitions of engagement in research are those given by Kahn(1990), Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) and Maslach and Leiter (1997).

Affective and Cognitive Dimensions of Engagement

Kahn's personal engagement and disengagement

Kahn (1990) developed the terms personal engagement and personal disengagement. They refer to the behaviours by which people bring in or leave out their personal selves during work role performances. He defined personal engagement as the harnessing of organization members' selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances. Personal disengagement was defined as the uncoupling of selves from work roles; in disengagement, people withdraw and defend themselves physically, cognitively, or emotionally during role performances. According to Kahn, people vary their personal engagements according to their perceptions of the benefits, or the meaningfulness, and the guarantees, or the safety, they perceive in situations. Engagement also varies according to the resources they perceive themselves to have-their availability. To be emotionally engaged is to form meaningful connections to others (e.g. co-workers and managers) and to experience empathy and concern for others' feelings. In contrast, being cognitively engaged refers to those who are acutely aware of their mission and role in their work environment. According to Kahn (1990, 1992), employees can be engaged on one dimension and not the other. However, the more engaged an employee is on each dimension, the higher his or her overall personal engagement. Thus Kahn focused on the cognitive and affective aspect of engagement.

Engagement vs. Burnout

Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) have described work engagement as the positive antipode of workplace burnout. Mental or physical exhaustion, cynicism and reduced professional efficacy characterised the syndrome of burnout (Maslach, Jackson and Leiter, 1996), and engagement was characterised by energy, involvement and efficacy - the direct opposites of the three dimensions of burnout (Maslach and Leiter, 1997). According to this conceptualisation, measure of engagement was the reverse pattern of scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey (MBI-GS) dimensions (Maslach, Schaufeli, and Leiter, 2001), which meant that low scores on exhaustion and cynicism and high scores on professional efficacy are indicators of engagement.

Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma and Bakker (2002) proposed another approach to engagement. These researchers point out that Maslach and Lieter's (1997) conceptualisation of work engagement, which viewed engagement and burnout as opposite poles of a continuum and are assessed with the same instrument (the MBI-GS), prohibits an examination of the relationship between burnout and engagement. Schaufeli and his co-researchers (2002) argue that burnout and work engagement are two distinct though negatively correlated states of mind and thus define work engagement as a `positive, fulfilling work related state of mind that is characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption' (Schaufeli et. al., 2002, p. 74). Vigour reflects the readiness to devote effort in one's work, an exhibition of high levels of energy while working and the tendency to remain resolute in the face of task difficulty or failure. Dedication refers to a strong identification with one's work and encompasses feelings of enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge. Absorption is characterised by being completely immersed in one's work, in a manner that time appears to pass rapidly and one finds it difficult to disengage oneself from work. The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) developed to test the three factor structure has been empirically validated by many researchers (e.g.Schaufeli et. al., 2002; Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004; Schaufeli, Taris and Rhenen, 2008). They further state that engagement is not a momentary and specific state, but rather, it is "a more persistent and pervasive affective-cognitive state that is not focused on any particular object, event, individual, or behavior".

Getting the Behavioural aspect into the picture

Theresa M. Welbourne's managerial roles model

Engagement has been defined by Theresa M. Welbourne (2007) (Employee Engagement: Beyond the Fad and into the Executive Suite) by relating it with the behaviour of the managers. She defines "engaged" employees as those who work and succeed in the non-core job roles. The noncore job roles are defined in the the role based performance model developed by her. The model defines five key roles that employees occupy at work: (i)Core job-holder role (what's in the job description) (ii) Entrepreneur or innovator role (improving process, (iii) coming up with new ideas, participating in others' innovations) (iv) Team member role (participating in teams, working with others in different jobs) (v) Career role (learning, engaging in activities to improve personal skills and knowledge) (vi) Organizational member role (citizenship role or doing things that are good for the company). Welbourne has focussed on the behavioural aspect of engagement.

Combining the Cognitive, Affective and Behavioural dimensions

William H. Macey and Benjamin Schneider (2008) (The Meaning of Employee Engagement) describe engagement in terms of (a) psychological state engagement; (b) behavioral engagement; and (c) trait engagement. State engagement is characterized by feelings of passion, energy, enthusiasm, and activation. Behavioral engagement follows from state engagement and further that it is most broadly defined as adaptive behavior. Trait engagement comprises a number of interrelated personality attributes, including trait positive affectivity, conscientiousness, the proactive personality, and the autotelic personality. Trait engagement would be a significant cause of and be directly related to state engagement and indirectly to behavioral engagement.

Saks describes employee engagement as job and organization engagements which are related but distinct constructs. They attributed the rationale for Employee engagement to Social exchange theory explaining that employees will choose to engage themselves to varying degrees and in response to the resources they receive from their organization. The two most dominant roles for most organizational members are their work role and their role as a member of an organization. Therefore, the model explicitly acknowledges this by including both job and organization engagements. (Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 21 No. 7, 2006, pp. 600-619)

The above discussions can be used to integrate that engagement as a construct consists of three aspects: the affective: what an individual feels, the cognitive: what an individual knows and the behavioural: what an individual does.

Engagement as viewed by practitioners

The practitioners in their attempt to define engagement have focussed on the outcomes of the construct in their description, and not on what it is.

The Gallup organisation pioneered the concept of engaged employees in the organisation in the book First break all the rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in 1999. It was measured by means of its 12 questions survey called the q12 or the Gallup Workplace Audit. These 12 questions can be pictured as a psychological mountain climb that employees make from the moment they assume a new role to the moment they get fully engaged in that role. The stages on the climb can be described as follows

(1) Base camp: "What do I get?" - When an employee starts a new role, he wants to know what is expected out of him and what does he get from this role. This then leads to Camp 1.

(2) Camp 1: "What do I give?" - At this stage the employee is focused on the individual contributions and other people's perception of it (i.e. whether others value employees' performance or not).

(3) Camp 2: "Do I belong here?" - At this stage of the mountain climb the employee wants to know whether he fits here or not.

(4) Camp 3: "How can we all grow?" - This is the most advanced stage of the climb. Here the employee wants to make things better, to learn, to grow, to innovate.

(Jyotsna Bhatnagar, Talent management strategy of employee engagement in Indian ITES employees: key to retention, Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 6, 2007, pp. 640-663)

Engagement is when employees are genuinely committed to organisation's success and contagiously passionate about what they are doing. These employees are not just involved; they are committed to the organization, its vision and values. (Charles J. Corace, Johnson & Johnson. Engagement- Enrolling the quiet Majority, Organisational Development Journal, Volume 25,Number2, Summer 2007, pp.171-175). Engagement is defined as employees' willingness and ability to contribute to company success by Towers Perrin (Working today: understanding what drives Employee engagement, Towers Perrin report 2003). Employee engagement involves both rational and emotional factors- what employees think (the mind) and feel (the heart) about their work and organisation. Engaged employees have also been described as intellectually simulated and emotionally inspired, falling in the line of thought of affective and cognitive component of engagement.( Linking the Employment Value Proposition (EVP) to Employee Engagement and Busines outcomes: Preliminary findings from a linkage research Pilot study, Brian K Heger, Organization Development Journal; Summer 2007; 25, 2; ABI/INFORM Global pg. P121)

Thus bringing together the view of both researchers and practitioners, engagement can be defined as that state of an employee where she belongs to and is committed to the organisation affectively, cognitively and behaviourally.

Organisational communication

Communication within the organisation has been known to have relationship with employee satisfaction as well as their productivity (Clampitt and Downs, 1992). It is also recognised as the main means of transmitting and shaping culture (Domna Lazidou, 2008). Research has also found that there is an explicit positive relationship between communication satisfaction and employees' organizational commitment ( Federico Varona,1996). High communication effectiveness is linked to better financial performance and organizational stability (Internal communication effectiveness enhances bottom-line results, journal of organizational excellence, Summer 2006, pp 71-71)

Van Riel (1998, pp. 8-27) gives an overview of the elements of corporate communication- all the communication within an organisation, such as managerial communication, organisational communication and marketing communication. Managerial communication according to Van Riel (1995, p. 9) refers to "managers communication with internal and external target groups, to transmit authority and achieve co-operation". Management's use of communication is concerned with developing a shared vision of the company within the organisation, establishing trust in the organisational leadership, initiating and managing the change process, and empowering and motivating employees.

Violetta Bottazzo points out that every organisation irrespective of the size or object of business activities has one kind of public, i.e. the internal public, employees. The success of the organisation largely depends on this type of the public. The willingness of employees to achieve objectives, strategy, mission and vision of the organisation influences the competitive advantage of the organisation. Andy Parsley in the article "Road map for employee engagement" states Communication is not just about telling people what you want them to do or are about to do to them - it is about genuine two-way dialogue with both employees and the outside world.

Communication Satisfaction

Communication satisfaction refers to "the affective response to the fulfillment of expectation-type standards" in message exchange processes and "symbolizes an enjoyable, fulfilling experience" (Hecht,1978a, p. 350). Downs and his colleagues (e.g., Clampitt & Downs, 1993; Downs & Hazen, 1977) suggested that communication satisfaction consists of eight stable dimensions: personal feedback, supervisory communication, subordinate communication, co-worker communication, organizational integration, corporate information, communication climate, and media quality.

Personal feedback is employees' understanding of performance procedures and standards.

Supervisory communication refers to two way communication with immediate supervisors, including openness to ideas and listening to problems.

Subordinate communication is two way communication with subordinates (responsiveness, communication initiation, and communication overload).

Thus, these three dimensions (personal feedback, supervisory communication, and subordinate communication) represent communication outcomes in interpersonal contexts.

Co-worker communication includes the flow of horizontal and informal communication (e.g., grapevine) and the level of accuracy with which messages are transmitted.

Organizational integration involves information that employees receive within their immediate work environments or units (e.g., depart mental news, job requirements, and personnel news).

Therefore, co-worker communication and organizational integration dimensions reflect communication experiences in group contexts.

Corporate information relates to the overall functioning of the organization (e.g., governing action, organizational changes, company financial information,, and organizational goals).

Communication climate reflects the level of satisfaction with personal and organizational issues (e.g., attitudes, problem understanding, motivation, identification).

Media quality reflects the perceptions that employees have regarding the effectiveness of the company's media (e.g., meetings, written directives, organizational publications, and the amount of communication).

Thus, these three dimensions (corporate communication, communication climate, and media quality) represent communication experiences in organizational contexts. More than thirty studies have been completed using the "Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire" (Clampitt & Downs, 1987; Clampitt & Downs, 1993) and an expanded form of it called the "Communication Audit Questionnaire" (Downs, 1990). These studies have been conducted in a number of countries outside of the United States as well, namely: Nigeria (Kio, 1979), Mexico (Alum, 1982), China (Lee, 1989), Guatemala (Varona 1988, 1993), and Australia (Downs, 1991). ( Relationship Between Communication Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment in Three Guatemalan Organizations, Federico Varona, San Jose State University, The Joumal of Business Communication Volume 33, Number 2, April 1996. pages 111 -140)

Organisational Communication and Engagement

Watson Wyatt (2006) studies have defined effective organization communication as one that excels in the following eight areas:

Educating employees about organizational culture and values

Helping employees understand the business

Aligning employees' actions with customer needs

Providing employees with financial information and objectives

Providing employees with information on the value of their total rewards programs

Explaining and promoting new programs and policies

Integrating new employees into the organization

Exhibiting strong leadership by management during organizational change

These eight dimensions are communication components of organizational effectiveness. They are critical to provide employees the information, perspectives, and motivation that will lead to desired business outcomes means of their actions. (Internal communication effectiveness enhances bottom-line results, journal of organizational excellence, Summer 2006, pp 71-71)

Effective communications create engaged employees, creating loyal customers who in turn create bigger profits. Organisations that communicate effectively were found more likely to report employee turnover rates below or significantly below those of their industry peers (Andy Parsley in the article "Road map for employee engagement")

Gerard H. Seijts and Dan Crim stated connect, clarity, convey as three of the 10 Cs which are required by leaders to engage their workforce in their article "What engages employees the most or, The Ten C's of employee Engagement". Connect is when Leaders show that they value employees. Clarity exists when leaders communicate a clear vision, that is when people understand the vision that senior leadership has for the organization, and the goals that leaders or departmental heads have for the division, unit, or team. By convey it is meant that leaders clarify their expectations about employees and provide feedback on their functioning in the organization. Connect, clarity, convey are all components of internal communication.

A survey carried out by international research and consulting firm ISR, identified communication as one of the four critical factors, which have a direct impact on business success. In order to foster an open culture which contributes significantly to organizational success, the research showed that communication must address the interests and concerns of employees and found that the most common initiative being undertaken to aid retention is improving employee communication.

Lyndsey Havill also cites communication as one of the drivers of engagement for accounting firms.The consultancy L.M. Dulye & Co. created a communication process comprising 10 drivers to boost engagement, trust, business knowledge and accountability when Rolls-Royce Engine Services - Oakland facility in the US wanted to put in place an internal communication strategy to change its culture and improve performance (Using communication to drive change at Rolls Royce).

Engagement needs to be viewed as a broad organizational and cultural strategy that requires consistent, continuous, and clear communications (Kress, 2005). In 2003 Towers Perrin talent report, two way communication and not simple dissemination of information has been emphasised as absolutely necessary for engaging the workforce. These also help in keeping the negative emotions at workplace in check. (pp17). It suggests organisations to put mechanisms in place to ensure that all employees can see and understand senior management's concern for them collectively and its vision for the future of the organization.

Chris Gay and Roger D'Aprix (2006) have emphasized on creating a line of sight between employees and business strategy which is important for engagement of the employees. Having line of sight means that employees believe in strategy, that they are committed to contributing to it and know exactly what they need to do to achieve it. It also means that their hearts, minds and hands are connected to the success of the organisation.

In comparing high communication effectiveness companies with those having low communication effectiveness, the 2005/2006 study found that the highly effective communicators were more than 4.5 times more likely to have highly engaged employees, which positioned them for better financial results. (Internal communication effectiveness enhances bottom-line results, journal of organizational excellence, Summer 2006, pp 71-71)

Employees feel and expresses a sense of increased worth and significance when superiors communicate about degree to which the employee was meeting his expectations for job performance. Also, in a normal work group, when individual lines of communication with all subordinates are emphasized by superiors, largely to the exclusion of group communication with them, may well find that each of his staff members will become increasingly compartmentalized. (Improving boss man and man boss communication, A.S.Hatch, Whirlpool corporation). The increased sense of increased worth and significance will lead to an increase in engagement while the compartmentalization will lead to reduced engagement of the subordinate.

Thus from the above discussion it can be said that the engagement levels of the employee are greatly affected by the organisational communication. The organisations with sound internal communication have employees with higher engagement levels.

Hypothesis: Organisation communication has a positive impact on employee engagement.

Proposed Model for Study

Conclusion and Research Implications:

Employee engagement as a concept has evolved and viewed differently by researchers and practitioners since first proposed by Kahn(1990). It can be considered as consisting of three aspects: affective, cognitive and behavioural. Communication is one of the main drivers of engagement. Organisations should harness it to raise their employees' engagement levels. This paper leaves a scope for empirical testing of the relationship between communication and the three aspects of employee engagement. This will assist in testing the proposed hypothesis.