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How do we define engagement?

Defining engagement

Employee Engagement has become a hot topic which is commanding the attention of an ever increasing number of organisations. Engaging your employees is no longer considered a nice to do but rather a critical component of your business model. But what is employee engagement?

With so much discussion around engagement it's no surprise that there are a range of definitions. The 2009 MacLeod Report1 (perhaps the most important study of engagement ever undertaken in the UK) mentions 50 including the three below:

"Engagement is about creating opportunities for employees to connect with their colleagues, managers and wider organisation. It is also about creating an environment where employees are motivated to want to connect with their work and really care about doing a good job... It is a concept that places flexibility, change and continuous improvement at the heart of what it means to be an employee and an employer in a twenty-first century workplace."(Professor Katie Truss2)

"A positive attitude held by the employee towards the organisation and its values. An engaged employee is aware of the business context, and works with colleagues to improve performance within the job for the benefit of the organisation. The organisation must work to develop and nurture engagement, which requires a two-way relationship between employee and employer." (Institute of Employment Studies3)

"A set of positive attitudes and behaviours enabling high job performance of a kind which are in tune with the organisation's mission." (Professor John Storey4)

Another comprehensive review of the research is "Employee Engagement, A Review of Current Research and Its Implications" published in 20065 by The Conference Board, a prestigious US research organization which delivers business intelligence to many of the World's leading companies.

This review cites twelve major studies on employee engagement published by top research firms such as Gallup, Towers Perrin, Blessing White, the Corporate Leadership Council and others. Each of these studies offers a different definition of employee engagement, and The Conference Board offers a synthesised definition which sees employee engagement as:

"a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work."

This closely reflects the view of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which sees employee engagement as:

"a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values, plus a willingness to help out colleagues (organisational citizenship). It goes beyond job satisfaction and is not simply motivation. Engagement is something the employee has to offer: it cannot be 'required' as part of the employment contract."6

The question is: what circumstances or conditions are needed before a person can feel that heightened emotional connection or sense of commitment and organisational citizenship? In other words, what are the key ingredients of employee engagement? Digital Opinion's own research points to the following:

Work - Does it give people the opportunity to do what they're good at? Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?

  • Support - Do people feel supported by their line manager and colleagues?
  • Recognition - Do people feel that their efforts are recognised and valued?
  • Loyalty - Do people want to stay and develop their careers with the company?
  • Advocacy - Do people feel proud of their company and recommend it to family and friends as a great place to work?
  • Values - Do people share the company's values and feel that colleagues' and managers' attitudes and behaviours reflect those values?

In our view these are the pre-requisites for employee engagement. They inform our definition:

"Engaged employees enjoy their work, feel valued, and are proud to tell people that they work for the Company. They go the extra mile to help their customers and colleagues, and they want to stay and develop a career with the Company. In the long run they are the real contributors."

And they underpin our approach to measuring engagement and helping companies to raise it.




  1. David MacLeod and Nita Clarke (2009) Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement
  2. Gatenby, M., Rees, C., Soane, E. and Truss, C (2009) Employee engagement in context. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
  3. Robinson, D., Perryman S., & Hayday, S. (2004). The drivers of employee engagement. IES Report 408
  4. John Storey, Patrick M Wright, David Ulrich eds. (2008). The Routledge Companion to Strategic Human Resource Management.
  5. "Employee Engagement, A Review of Current Research and Its Implications" published in 2006 by The Conference Board
  6. Employee Engagement. A CIPD Factsheet originally issued January 2007; latest revision January 2008.

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