Employee Engagement

20 Jul 2012

How engaged are your employees?

Employee engagement (EE) refers to the extent to which your employees believe in the values and mission of the organisation, are committed to their work and will act in ways that further the organisation’s interests.  It integrates the well known constructs of job satisfaction and organisational commitment.

It can also be thought of as an emotional or intellectual “attachment” (positive or negative) to their role and the company.

Engaged employees = intellectually focused and/or emotionally connected at work, actively supportive of organisational goals and willing to put more effort into their jobs (Khan, 1990).

Disengaged employees= distant and withdrawn emotionally or intellectually and perform their roles incompletely, without effort or automatically (Khan, 1990).

This can be further divided into ‘not engaged’ employees, who are unhappy at work and tend to perform their roles without energy or passion and ‘actively disengaged’ employees who are not only unhappy but also underperform and undermine what other workers accomplish through their negativity.

EE has received significant attention in the job selection research because it has been found to be associated with outcomes such as retention of talent, individual performance, team performance and productivity.

In an era where the workforce is highly mobile, with as many as 25% of employees in one sample indicating an intention to change jobs within 12 months, the challenge of retaining good employees is a very real one.  Increased competition and globalisation also put pressure on organisations to ensure that their employees present the business in the best possible way to clients and prospective clients.

Most employers would agree that they want their employees to be positive, committed and productive, but it isn’t always clear: whether employees are engaged, and if not, how to achieve this.

What does the research show about EE in the Australian workforce?

In late 2006 the Australian Institute of Management undertook a comprehensive national survey of 2,928 Australian workers including business owners, executives, managers and general staff.  They asked them questions about their perceptions of their organisation, their levels of commitment and job satisfaction. A key finding of the research was that meaning, purpose and relationships were key factors in employee retention; strongly outweighing pay and benefits.

Other relevant findings included:

  • Overall, most workers had a positive view of their organisation.
  • Disengaged employees felt undervalued, performed less well, had lower job satisfaction and higher rates of absenteeism than engaged employees.
  • Meaning, purpose and interesting challenges predicted retention of senior managers and positive relationships with coworkers predicted retention of lower level employees.
  • Older and more senior employees were found to be more positive about and more committed to their organisation than younger, lower level employees.

In late 2008, Gallup Consulting undertook an Employee Engagement survey involving a random sample of 1,000 Australian employees.

Their results painted a somewhat bleaker view of EE within the Australian workforce:

  • Overall only 18% of respondents were engaged with their organisation, while a huge 61% were not engaged and 21% actively disengaged.
  • Managers and executives had the highest rates of engagement of all employment levels, however, 75% were either not engaged or actively disengaged.
  • The most experienced employees had the lowest level of engagement, with only 6% of those employed for more than 10 years indicating that they were engaged with the organisation.  These are likely to be the very individuals that others look to for mentoring.
  • The key characteristics that differentiated engaged from disengaged employees were:
    • Supervisors focusing on employee strengths
    • Supervisors actively facilitating organisational change
    • Supervisors being motivating and inspirational
    • A trusting and open work environment
  • Outcomes of engagement (or lack of) included:
    • Staff retention – plan to remain with the organisation in the short and long term
    • Absenteeism – disengaged employees take an average of 6 extra days off per year
    • Productivity – whether an employee worked to their full potential
    • Whether they recommended company products and services to others
  • Costs of disengagement were estimated at a huge AUS$42.1 billion, due to lost productivity, absenteeism and other costs associated with job dissatisfaction.

The need to monitor organisational EE and establish effective strategies to encourage or improve EE is clear.  However, while large studies such as those above can provide an overall picture of the importance of EE and the consequences when it is lacking, they do not provide outcomes or guidance that is specific to the needs of your organisation.

How we can help

EE is shaped by a number of factors including the role itself, the quality of work relationships, organisational values and individual perceptions of these.  These factors are likely to vary greatly between companies.

PeopleMetrics can point you in the right direction.  Our Employee Attitudes Surveys measures the constructs that will help you understand to what extent your employees are engaged with the organisation, and what areas may require more attention.

These well-researched constructs include employee commitment, job satisfaction, employee/organisation values fit, stress, leadership style, climate/culture, trust, perceptions of support and intention to leave.

The survey results can help you guide your organisation to enhance EE, thereby improving commitment and productivity.

You can rest assured that you are in good hands.  Our surveys have been developed based on academic and practitioner literature.  Our academic research team are recognised as world leaders in the construction of attitudinal and behavioural questionnaires.

People are your most important asset.  Contact us to find out how to improve engagement of your people in your organisation.


Khan, W.A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 692.

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