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Employee Engagement: Is it Worth Measuring?

What Does Practice Say?

This week’s topic is employee engagement. Organizations spend a lot of money mapping, supporting and monitoring employee engagement. For example, many HR professionals use surveys to map employee engagement. But some argue that employee engagement is somewhat overrated.

According to Rob Briner (London University), this is the case. “It is important to start at the exact problem and not at a solution such as increasing engagement”, he says. According to him, people with low engagement can still perform well. Thus, lack of engagement should not automatically be seen as the cause of underperformance. So, should organizations spend so much money and time measuring employee engagement? Or is the concept overrated? Let’s examine these questions in recent literature.

"It is important to start at the exact problem and not at a solution such as increasing engagement"

Rob Briner

What Does Science Say?

There are two concerns that professionals should be attentive to if they are measuring employee engagement in their organization. The first concern is that self-reporting is often used to assess employee engagement. The literature shows that this can systematically overestimate the relationship between employee engagement and performance (Motyka, 2018).

A second concern is that professionals often use constructs such as job satisfaction and commitment to measure employee engagement. These concepts show strong correlations with employee engagement but do not completely overlap. The scientific literature shows that there is more consensus on the term “employee engagement” (Motyka, 2018).

Most authors use the following definition: “A positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption” (Schaufeli et al., 2002).

The scale that uses this definition is the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES). The literature shows robust significant positive effects between employee engagement and performance when this definition and scale is used (Motyka, 2018). In other words, professionals need to be more conscious about operationalizing the concept of employee engagement because they could be measuring something else.

So, is it worth measuring?

So, should professionals still invest in measuring employee engagement? The answer is yes, because its impact on positive outcomes has already been demonstrated in the literature (Knight et al., 2017). But professionals should be more aware of operationalization and ensure they are not measuring something else. In addition, it is also risky to work only with self-reporting, as this can lead to systematic overestimates of the effects found. If these conditions are met,  employee engagement may not be overrated.

So, the bottom line is to be careful with the concept and not to let decisions and subsequent interventions depend solely on what the survey suggests.

Link to the Literature ReviewLink to the Meta-Analysis

Sources

Briner, R. (2022). “HR overschat het belang van employee engagement”. Geraadpleegd op 22 februari 2023, van https://trends.knack.be/nieuws/hr-overschat-het-belang-van-employee-engagement/

Cioca, I.A. (2020). Better engagement means better performance – or does it? Geraadpleegd op 22 februari 2023, van https://scienceforwork.com/blog/employee-engagement-performance/

Knight, C., Patterson, M., & Dawson, J. (2017). Building work engagement: A systematic review and meta‐analysis investigating the effectiveness of work engagement interventions. Journal of organizational behavior, 38(6), 792-812, DOI: 10.1002/job.2167

Motyka, B. (2018). Employee engagement and performance: a systematic literature review. International Journal of Management and Economics, 54(3), 227-244, DOI: 10.2478/ijme-2018-0018

Schaufeli, W.B., Salanova, M., Gonzalez-Roma V., Bakker, A.B. (2002), The measurement of engagement and burnout: A two sample confirmatory factor analytic approach, Journal of Happiness Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 71–92, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015630930326

 

Welcome to Otolith’s evidence-based corner! With “spotlight” Otolith wants to put an HR topic in the spotlight every month. We do this by looking at which concepts are still “hot” among HR professionals and by delving into the scientific literature to see if these topics still make sense. This way, we want to contribute to evidence-based HR within Otolith and have an eye for the science-practitioners gap.

Key take-aways

  • Self-reporting leads to overestimation of the effect of employee engagement on performance
  • Many professionals use job satisfaction as a measure of employee engagement, but the concepts do not overlap completely
  • Measuring employee engagement in your organization is useful, but be conscious about operationalizing the concept when measuring it.
    Before you know it, you’re measuring something else.

Annelien is Junior Consultant. She specializes in leadership and collaboration in digital contexts. As an organizational psychologist, she helps organizations to grow sustainably through developing their leaders.

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