There's a famous story about President Kennedy's visit to NASA Headquarters. Kennedy was interested in talking with the employees about their work. After asking several janitors what they were doing, one answered that he was in charge of cleaning the floor. Another janitor answered "I'm helping put a man on the moon".
This story perfectly sums up employee engagement: the employee's level of interest concerning the success of their organization, and their motivation and desire in helping it achieve its goals and objectives.
The first to coin the term Employee Engagement was William Kahn, who described it 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" (Kahn, 1990). Since then, many other definitions have appeared, varying in their focus on employee or organization factors contributing to employee engagement enhancement.
Employee enhancement defines three central facets: employee involvement, commitment and productivity levels. Diverse organizational research has pointed to a correlation between high engagement levels and organizational success.
Most employees do not feel engaged
Most surveys conducted on employee engagement paint a disturbing picture: most employees do not feel engaged within their respective organizations. Since 2000, Gallup has measured engagement levels in USA-based companies. Although Gallup surveys display a constant increase in in engagement levels, the 2014 Gallup survey shows that only 31.5% employees feel engaged, while 51% do not feel engaged and 17.5% are actively disengaged.
The lowest levels of engagement are identified within Generation Y employees (Millennials), which will make up a majority of the global workforce in the foreseeable future. As Generation Y employees become more dominant within organizations, engagement levels are expected to drop.
What can organizations do to increase employee engagement?
The foundation for increasing employee engagement lies in the constant dialogue and three-way communication between the organization, its managers and its employees. Employees want to know what's going on. They want to feel they have an influence on organizational practices. They want to be heard. They want their work to mean something. They want to be praised for their efforts.
The following are proven employee engagement enhancers:
An increased sense of value regarding the importance of employee work to the organization's success.
Increased clarity regarding employee expectations.
The ability to offer suggestions for improvement and change, and thereby influence organizational practices.
A continuing dialogue with the direct supervisor.
Positive and fruitful relationships with colleagues, managers and subordinates.
A sense of inspiration derived from the organization's ethos, goals and management.
Effective internal communication that allows employees to engage and express their opinions on diverse organizational aspects.
In addition to the classic face-to- face communication channels (group meetings, round tables, town hall meetings and more), we see a constant increase in internal-organizational social media (blogs, forums and more) that facilitate real-time dialogue and exchange of ideas and information between organizational levels. The use of internal social media is especially perceived by Millennials as a natural communication channel, and they expect their places of employment to utilize it for the greater good.
We also see a shift in content type and content presentation; there is an increased use of graphics, animation and video for more focused and enjoyable message conveyance. This shift from text-laden channels to digital-age channels that require less time to review and process is a natural extension of the change in attention span, which is constantly on the decline.
Kahn, William A. "Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work." Academy of Management Journal. Dec 1990; 33, 4; ProQuest pg. 692