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Does employee engagement really drive productivity?

Employee engagement strategies should be part of well-being practices

The subject of employee engagement as a measure of productivity and management strategies to increase engagement have been hot topics since the original Gallup organization research was published. While most of the research identifies low levels of employee engagement in many organizations and strategies to increase that engagement for the purpose of improving productivity, the cause-and-effect relationship is not overwhelming. Rather, an overarching strategy of increasing employee well-being in which engagement strategies are incorporated, appears to be more favorable.

The Gallup organization defined employee engagement as "an employee's involvement with, commitment to, and satisfaction with work." Research conducted in the past decade has shown that employee engagement has declined significantly in most industries, with some research citing as few as 29% of employees being actively engaged in their jobs. The Hay Group found in its research that in among office workers who were actively engaged, they were 43% more productive. Various research studies have shown that the following factors influence employee engagement: Employers' commitment to and concern for employee welfare; employee perceptions of job importance; clarity of job expectations; career advancement opportunities; regular dialogue with superiors; quality of working relationships with co-workers and superiors; perceptions of the ethos and values of the organization; and employee rewards and recognition.

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Gerard Seijts and Davn Crim, in an article entitled "What Engages Employees the Most, or The Ten C's of Employee Engagement, " in the Ivey Business Journal in 2006 identified 10 strategies to increase employee engagement, arguing that by implication, these strategies will result in improved business results.

Laurie Bassi and Dan McMurrer of McBassi and Company, a human capital analytics firm, in their article in Talent Management Magazine, argue that "since the drivers of employee engagement are not identical to the drivers of business results, attempting to maximize employee engagement can actually take an organization in the wrong direction." They identify three myths of employee engagement as: Assuming the drivers of employee engagement are the same in all contexts, indicating that the drivers address the outcome of employees' willingness to stay with the employer and are satisfied with their workplace; the second myth is the drivers for engagement is the same as those of business results, citing the Gallup research which concluded that employee engagement had no connection to customer engagement; and the third myth, that management should implement strategies to increase employee engagement, arguing that because the outcomes of business results and contexts are different, using engagement strategies to change the former, is misplaced.

Bassi and McMurrer recommend engagement strategies be replaced with human capital strategies by determining what are the human drivers of business results which are critical to all organizations in all contexts, and which drivers can actually be shown to improve human performances.

In a study for the American Psychological Association, researchers James Harter, Frank Schmidt and Corey Keyes concluded in a report entitled, "Well-Being in the Workplace and its Relationship to Business Outcomes," productivity was enhanced in workplaces where daily occurrences that bring about joy, interest, and caring that lead to high level of bonding of individuals to each other, their work and their organization. The authors concluded that well-being in the workplace is, in part, a function of helping employees do what is naturally right for them by freeing them to do so--through behaviors that influence employee engagement and therefore that increase the frequency of positive emotions.

So it seems that while much has been researched and written about the importance of employee engagement, there is not an overwhelming amount of evidence to demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship with business results. On the other hand, there is increasing evidence that employee engagement strategies which are incorporated into much broader strategies of promoting employee well-being and manager-employee positive relationships may hold greater promise to drive business results.

Ray B. Williams is Co-Founder of Success IQ University and President of Ray Williams Associates, companies located in Phoenix and Vancouver, providing leadership training, personal growth and executive coaching services.

 

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.

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