Engagement: Employees, etc.

How do we know if something has reached the mainstream? One answer is: there’s a “For Dummies” book about it.

So employee engagement is in the mainstream, if the publication of Employee Engagement For Dummies is anything to go by.

Author Bob Kelleher defines employee engagement as “the capture of discretionary effort”. He actually acknowledges that there are multiple definitions, but he describes the definition just quoted as “the gold standard”. Another book defines employee engagement similarly (“willingness to go above and beyond”), then describes three components: the rational, the emotional, and the motivational.

These three components will be familiar to students of Psychology, Organizational Behavior (OB), etc. They are often described as, respectively: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Having introduced such academic terms, let me have a look for employee engagement in the textbook from which I’ve most recently taught OB (George and Jones). It’s not in the index, and I don’t recall any mention of employee engagement anywhere in the book. There is at least one very similar concept (organizational citizenship behavior), but I won’t get into that now.

It seems that employee engagement is a term used more by consultants than by academics. Bob Kelleher is a consultant. The other book mentioned above is Closing the Engagement Gap, by Gebauer and Lowman, both of whom were at Towers Perrin when the book was published.

In the next week or so, I’ll post more about employee engagement. For now, I’ll note that the term engagement is widely used, and provide a couple of examples. Rajat Paharia (founder of Bunchball) brings together employee engagement, customer engagement, big data, and gamification to describe Loyalty 3.0. Alex Pentland (an MIT prof) uses a behavioral definition of engagement in his account of Social Physics.