Engagement Without Committment?
Stephen Gill, of The Performance Improvement Blog shares his thoughts about an article explaining how engaged employees are not necessarily committed to their organizations. In fact, the ScienceBlog explains that because of their orientation towards high-achievement, highly engaged individuals may be more disenfranchised when the budget cuts start rolling in.
I tend to agree with this analysis, though I will reserve final judgment until we arrive at a “final” definition of employee engagement. Herein lays the biggest problem with engagement research and practice. We don’t have a really good grasp on what it means. Every organization I have ever researched or worked with has a unique, “proprietary” definition of employee engagement. Literally, no two are alike and this seems to be by design. So far as I can tell, definitions of engagement are designed to bring competitive advantage, rather than conceptual clarity. As different as these are, each has a few elements in common.
1) Employee Affect plays a significant role in this concept. Engaged employees are excited, energized, actively happy about their organizations, their work, their supervisors and coworkers. It is not simply positive affect, but a high degree of positive affect.
2) Positively-valenced attitudes are usually included in measures of employee engagement. These include at least one item measuring general job satisfaction (unidimensional) and one item assessing organizational commitment.
The I/O Psychologist in me thinks of this in terms of construct validity; do we actually measure engagement when we claim to do so? I am not so sure that we do. If engagement measures include job satisfaction, supervisor satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover intent, then we are not actually measuring engagement. Unless, of course, we claim that engagement is a multi-dimensional construct with job satisfaction and commitment as facets. It is not clear that we do this consistently.
We have a tremendous incentive to get this right. Organizations clamor for measurements of engagement and interventions making 100% of their employees the most engaged in the solar system (the galaxy is a VERY big place, after all). There is a lot of money to be made by an organization that gets this right and explains it well. More importantly, we have an ethical and professional obligation to get this right. If we tell our clients that we measure engagement, then we better measure engagement, not something else. If we tell them we can help them increase employee engagement, then we should know what we are talking about.
So, does engagement mean commitment? If the practitioners I am familiar with are to be believed, yes it does. However, it appears that some empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Rather than feel threatened, I think this is a great opportunity for us all to revisit what exactly we mean by engagement so we can improve our efforts to exceed client expectations.