Employee engagement is a firmly established HR topic. It is referenced in decisions by investors, boards and managers alike. But despite its popularity, this construct faces ongoing challenges: definitions and measures are many and varied, and the research base is often weak.
Our latest research draws on the best available evidence to answer a selection of practical questions to help people professionals understand employee engagement. We examine what employee engagement is, how to measure it, what outcomes it leads to, and what drives it. This evidence review covers four key areas that are commonly associated with employee engagement:
- work engagement: whether people feel vigorous, dedicated and absorbed in their work, and other measures carrying the label ‘engagement’
- organisational commitment: in particular looking at employees’ psychological feelings (‘affective’ commitment)
- organisational identification: how employees psychologically associate with their organisations
- work motivation: factors that lead people to be interested and committed to their job.
See the discussion report for the main insights and practical recommendations for action.
See the scientific summary for our methodology and technical information on the research and study references.
Employee engagement: An evidence review | Discussion reportDownload the discussion report
Employee engagement: An evidence review | Scientific summaryDownload the scientific summary
Organisational identification: An evidence review | Scientific summaryDownload the scientific summary
Organisational commitment: An evidence review | Scientific summary:Download the scientific summary
Work motivation: An evidence review | Scientific summaryDownload the scientific summary
What is employee engagement?
We recommend referring to ‘employee engagement’ as an umbrella term describing a broad area of people strategy, and referring to narrower constructs – such as work engagement or organisational commitment – when you need to be more specific. This allows you to maintain a broad strategic focus while also prioritising your concerns and what you expect to achieve or improve.
How should we measure engagement?
Many questionnaire-based measures relate to employee engagement, but most are not tried and tested to scientific standards. The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale is the most trustworthy measure that carries the label ‘engagement’. Our review also recommends well-established measures of affective organisational commitment, organisational identification and work motivation.
What’s the evidence on an engagement-performance link?
Work engagement predicts both task performance and the contributions we make outside our core job (‘contextual performance’). However, these relationships are weak: the performance differences are too small to observe in day-to-day activity and would need to be measured to be detected. To some extent, the relationship is two-way: an improvement in performance will also lead to more engaged workers. Organisational commitment and identification have similar impacts, but the impact on contextual performance is greater than on task performance. There are also additional points to note. For example, identification also affects employees’ attitudes to organisational change.
What engages or motivates us?
Several aspects of work and people management consistently crop us as drivers of employee engagement and related constructs. These also feature in the major theories of work motivation. Key points to note include:
- Workers must feel properly supported by their managers and colleagues and should receive good quality and timely feedback.
- Being empowered in one’s job is very important. This includes having work autonomy – for example, being able to make decisions about how and at what pace one works – and having the right skills and the confidence to do a good job.
- Employees must not feel overwhelmed by the demands of their job.
- Employees’ motivations are shaped by individual factors. These include how we identify as people, personally and professionally, and our ability to ‘self-regulate’ or manage our behaviour and not be distracted from our goals.
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