Is the idea of “employee engagement” too simple to be useful?
It’s easy to think in simple terms…that some employees are just more engaged than others. But what does it really look like?
We know that many factors influence employee engagement, including:
- The candidate experience
- Job characteristics
- Leadership style
- Perceptions of fairness
- Employee recognition
- Work/life balance
- Sleep quality
Do we really think all these different things result in the same exact experiences of engagement or disengagement?
3 types of employee engagement
Here’s a question: What’s the opposite of “employee engagement?”
Perhaps it’s “employee burnout.”
Research has shown that employee burnout has 3 basic components:
- Exhaustion: Employee feels overly tired, fatigued
- Cynicism: Employee’s attitude is cynical, disengaged
- Ineffectiveness: Employee feels ineffective, underachieving, unsuccessful
If employee engagement is the opposite of burnout, then the 3 components are:
- Energy: Employee feels energetic, lively
- Involvement: Employee’s attitude is optimistic, engaged
- Effectiveness: Employee feels capable, achieving, successful
It should be pretty clear that these 3 things are not exactly the same.
For example, an employee can feel very exhausted by their work but still have a positive attitude and feel a sense of accomplishment.
And it is important to realize is that there are “spillover effects.”
Let’s stick with the example of the employee that feels exhausted by their work, but otherwise seems very engaged.
This doesn’t seem like a problem at first…
But what happens next?
Research has shown that a problem in one area leads to more problems down the road.
If the employee feels exhausted right now, they are likely to become more cynical and less effective as time goes on.
On the other hand, helping in one area can lead to improvements in the others.
For example, if there’s a way to help the exhausted employee get some good quality rest (perhaps flexible scheduling or a vacation) it can actually cause engagement to increase in other areas.
It’s just easier to feel optimistic and effective at work when you’re well-rested.
Of course, this is one of the many ways that researchers and practitioners can think about employee engagement.
But it’s worth considering these complexities. It often leads to unique insights.