institute for employment studies
publications by IES authors
The Drivers of Employee Engagement
Robinson D, Perryman S, Hayday S
a study supported by the IES Research Networks
IES and Engagement
Engagement is big in the HR consultancy market, yet there is a dearth of academic research in this area. IES research suggests that engagement is more than a passing fad – it brings clear business benefits. Engagement is seen, by the UK company that is furthest advanced in using it, as bringing real competitive advantage. However, raising engagement levels, and maintaining them, takes time, effort, commitment and investment – it is not for the half-hearted.
What is engagement?
The first step in our research was to investigate what HR professionals understood or meant when they used the term ‘engagement’. A clear view of the behaviours demonstrated by the engaged employee emerged:
Engagement has clear overlaps with the more exhaustively researched concepts of commitment and organisational citizenship behaviour, but there are also differences. In particular, engagement is two-way: organisations must work to engage the employee, who in turn has a choice about the level of engagement to offer the employer.
Our analysis used data from IES’ 2003 attitude survey of over 10,000 employees in 14 organisations in the NHS. Twelve attitude statements representing engagement were tested; all were found to ‘sit together’ reliably, to comprise a single indicator of engagement. Although tested within the NHS, the statements are not NHS-specific; they can be transferred to other organisations and sectors. If attitude survey space is at a premium, and organisations feel unable to include 12 statements, an engagement subset of five statements can be used instead. This subset can be safely used, as it represents the essence of engagement and has been tested for reliability. Positive responses to the engagement statements indicate:
Further in-depth analysis of our NHS case study data revealed that engagement levels can vary, in association with a variety of personal and job characteristics and with experiences at work. Some key findings were:
The above findings show that organisations need to work hard to prevent, and minimise the impact of, bad experiences. They also need to ensure that employees’ development needs (including the special needs of professionals) are taken seriously; pay attention to, and value the roles of, support staff; and to maintain the interest of longer-serving employees. The relatively high levels of engagement of the oldest employees, and of minority ethnic staff, suggest sources of untapped potential within some organisations.
What drives engagement?
Research shows that committed employees perform better. If we accept that engagement, as many believe, is ‘one step up’ from commitment, it is clearly in the organisation’s interests to understand the drivers of engagement. Analysis of the NHS case study data indicates that opinions about, and experiences of, many aspects of working life are strongly correlated with engagement levels. However, the strongest driver of all is a sense of feeling valued and involved. This has several key components:
The line manager clearly has a very important role in fostering employees’ sense of involvement and value – an observation that is completely consistent with IES’ research in many different areas of HR practice and employment, all of which point to the critical importance of the employee-manager relationship.
IES’ diagnostic tool
Source: IES Survey, 2003
The IES engagement model illustrates the strong link between feeling valued and involved and engagement. In addition to the model, IES offers a diagnostic tool (above), which can be used to derive organisation-specific drivers from attitude survey data. Our findings suggest that many of the drivers of engagement will be common to all organisations, regardless of sector; however, some variability is likely, and the relative strength of each driver is also likely to be contingent upon the organisation being studied.
Attempts to raise engagement levels are likely to founder, unless the following ‘building blocks’ are in place:
It looks easy, but of course it isn’t; it requires a huge amount of effort and continuing investment to ensure that all of these basics are in place and working well. Embarking on a drive to increase engagement levels should not be undertaken lightly, bearing in mind the ease with which engagement (like the psychological contract) can be shattered.
IES research into employee engagement was promoted by the interest and involvement of several IES Research Networks Member companies. It proved more complicated than first envisaged, due to the lack of existing research in the area. IES explored the concept of engagement with member and client organisations, before embarking on original research into measuring engagement and establishing its main drivers. The database used for the research comprises 2003 attitude survey data from 14 organisations in the NHS (10,024 completed questionnaires). The full range of employee groups and job roles were represented – managerial, professional, technical and support (manual and administrative).
The full report also contains literature reviews on commitment and organisational citizenship behaviour, and a Royal Bank of Scotland case study.
The study was funded and supported by IES’ motivation, wellbeing and retention Research Network.
The Drivers of Employee Engagement, Robinson D, Perryman S, Hayday S. Report 408, Institute for Employment Studies, 2004.
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