Improving organizational health and employee engagement is one of the ten top challenges facing Deputy Ministers and municipal CAOs, according to a recent survey by IPAC. This article tries to answer three questions about this key management issue:
- What is employee engagement?
- What factors drive employee engagement?
- How can managers use these “drivers” of employee engagement to improve staff satisfaction and organizational performance in the face of the current “retirement tsunami” and the resulting “generational shift”?
The impending demographic crisis and the retirement tsunami are now receiving a lot of attention (see http://www.networkedgovernment.ca/OrganizationalAlzheimersMarson for an overview). But it is not the only challenge. The public sector faces high levels of client expectations for services, evolving service delivery models that require new skill sets and higher levels of knowledge for frontline workers, and financial constraints. Just when organizations most need a strong, dedicated workforce to meet service and fiscal demands, the workforce is shifting and decades of knowledge and experience are starting to head out the door. The challenge is how to attract, retain and engage employees to achieve high levels of organizational performance.
The good news is that many organizations are making a start through a variety of innovative management approaches. Staffing and benefits solutions are being used to address employee attraction and retention. Better knowledge management systems are being created to stem the exodus of information. Training and development is gearing up to build new skills and knowledge. Marketing and branding are being used to build a positive image, and so on. All of this is needed. But none of this is going to be enough if employees do not see public organizations as good, satisfying places that they want to join, stay with, and contribute to in ways that help achieve organizational goals.
What is employee engagement?
Employee engagement means many things to many people. Without a clear definition it is hard to know what to focus on, how to measure it, and what drives it – essential features that shape improvement strategies.
A literature review we conducted for the Government of Canada found a broad range of labels applied and measured in many differing ways – employee satisfaction, loyalty, morale, commitment, productivity, engagement, pride, organizational health, passion, and the list goes on. (See http://www.hrma-agrh.gc.ca/hr-rh/wlbps-eeoppfps/documents/WorkplaceWell-Being.pdf).
Based on this review, a definition of employee engagement was developed:
“Employee Engagement has two distinct yet related main factors:
1. Employee Satisfaction: The level of contentment or happiness a person assigns to:
• attributes of their job/position,
• their organization, and
• the general or overall way they feel about their employment.
2. Employee Commitment: The pride people feel for their organization as well as the degree to which they:
• intend to remain with the organization,
• desire to serve or to perform at high levels,
• positively recommend their organization to others, and
• strive to improve the organization’s results.”
The multi-dimensional nature of this definition reflects the complexities of organizational life and of careers – neither satisfaction nor commitment on their own capture the full scope of employee engagement. Happy employees who are about to leave and unhappy employees who are determined to stay are both common but neither can support high levels of organizational performance.
Given that this definition embraces two distinct but related constructs it is interesting to consider how they might interact. Schmidt’s literature review for TBS suggested that satisfaction and commitment be mapped jointly to identify the different kinds of engagement situations found in many workplaces.
What drives employee engagement?
When the employee engagement literature review was completed in 2004 there were a few surveys that reported satisfaction and commitment as the main variables. However, at that time the definition and model (discussed above) that emerged from the review were still largely conceptually based. Since then several public jurisdictions have started to do more robust employee engagement surveys based on this definition of engagement. As some of these surveys have used structural equation modelling to identify the key drivers of engagement, we are starting to get a clearer understanding of what drives employee engagement. Not only is this positioning public organizations to develop stronger, more effective improvement plans, the early survey results are encouraging in that they support both the definition of engagement as a combination of satisfaction and commitment as well as this 2X2 matrix.
A good example comes from British Columbia. After two rounds of testing a new employee engagement survey tool, BC Stats designed and administered a system-wide employee engagement survey in early 2006 for the BC Public Service Agency (Getting Started with Employee Engagement: the B.C. Public Service, 2006). The main outcome variables identified through this study – commitment and satisfaction – are in keeping with the above definition of employee engagement. Given the multi-dimensional nature of the definition, it was not surprising that the BC surveys found that satisfaction took two distinct forms – job satisfaction and organization satisfaction.
The BC research also identified the drivers of employee engagement. Their model starts with a leadership foundation where both the executive and immediate supervisory levels are identified as important drivers. From this foundation several workplace drivers operate: pay and benefits; staffing practices; respectful environment; recognition; professional development; vision/mission/goals; teamwork; physical environment and tools; empowerment; stress and workload. All of these drive the three organizational outcomes of commitment, job satisfaction and organization satisfaction.
There is a circular relationship among the three outcomes with commitment driving job satisfaction, job satisfaction driving organization satisfaction, and organization satisfaction driving commitment. As the model presented in Figure 2 shows, all of this ultimately comes together as employee engagement.
The BC model confirms the definition of employee engagement and its illustration of key drivers, but goes beyond that to demonstrate how the constructs of satisfaction and commitment can be used together to help create a picture of employee engagement. BCStats produced a 2X2 matrix of satisfaction by commitment to help managers and leaders understand how engaged their employees are. This kind of diagnostic information provides comprehensive insight into the organization.
While presented here at a very high level, these findings are a powerful demonstration of what employee engagement is and how a well designed and reported survey can contribute rich employee engagement driver informa