Which Employee Engagement Model Best Fits Your Business?

Mark Terry - August 25, 2020

When looking for improvements in performance and motivation, an organisation needs a solid employee engagement model framework to work from in order to get results. The challenge lies in deciding which model is right for your workforce.

What is clear is that there are many definitions of employee engagement, so it is possible to derive just as many types of employee engagement model from them. Academics have been researching employee engagement for decades, studying all types of factors ranging from the working environment through management behaviour to the psychological contract between employer and employee.

Successful organisations have adopted the approach that an employee engagement framework is a guide, not a set of instructions, to achieving higher levels of employee engagement. There are, however, some general elements that should be considered if you are creating an employee engagement model for your business.

Models of Employee Engagement: Job Satisfaction

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development states in its 2019 factsheet Employee engagement and motivation that one type of employee engagement process model is focused on job satisfaction. This model supports a connection between employee engagement and aspects such as meaningful work, role clarity, being assigned work that matches the employee's strengths, resources to do the job well and recognition.

For example, Chaudhry et al examined these elements in their report Impact of Working Environment and Training & Development on Organisational Performance Through Mediating Role of Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction (published by the European Journal of Training and Development Studies, Vol 4, No 2, pp 33-48, April 2017). They found that there were clear links between the working environment, job satisfaction and levels of employee engagement.

Of course, job satisfaction and employee engagement are not the same thing. Some organisations, however, could benefit from utilising a working environment/job satisfaction based model in their employee engagement strategies. These may be particularly useful where:

  • a reasonable proportion of the workforce's activities are repetitive
  • the organisation is interested in shaping a strengths-based staff development framework
  • employees have been shown to respond particularly well to praise and other forms of recognition
  • employees are keen to shape and improve their own working environments and processes.

Psychology in the Employee Engagement Framework

Some researchers argue that organisations need to go further and understand how people express themselves at work in order to improve employee engagement. This line of work goes back to Kahn's dimensions of employee engagement in the 1990s, which concentrated on cognitive, physical and emotional engagement alongside the psychological conditions of meaningful work, having the right energy/resources and feeling safe.

You can see that Kahn's work does contain some elements from the job satisfaction model mentioned above. His research, however, was the start of decades of work by researchers done on improving employee engagement through the psychological relationship between companies and their staff.

Assessing worker psychological wellbeing and which employee engagement initiatives can be implemented to increase motivation and productivity is a tricky business. This can only be done by carrying out a comprehensive employee engagement survey and other information gathering methods (such as focus groups or discussion boards). Detailed reports should provide the data needed to create a strategy to improve the psychological relationship between the organisation and its workforce.

Investing in this type of model of employee engagement may be worthwhile if:

  • the company employs a wide range of people in different locations and in different jobs (where technology such as an employee engagement app can achieve the remote communications and engagement required)
  • there is little evidence that more traditional recognition methods have improved employee engagement levels
  • return on investment will be greater if the organisation focuses on encouraging discretionary effort ('going the extra mile').

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How State of Mind Affects Employee Engagement Models

One branch of the research has gone even further into the psychological aspects of the employee engagement model to improve employee engagement and motivation. One example of this is a study conducted by Schaufeli and Bakker where they describe engagement as 'a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind' (Job demands, job resources, and their relationship with burnout and engagement: a multi-sample study, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol 25, pages 293-315, 2004).

Again, although the researchers are discussing psychology within their study, they also incorporate those more traditional elements of job design, demands and resources. They advocate the principle of 'positive psychology' and individual interventions (such as stress management programmes that use a cognitive behavioural approach) to reduce negative indicators such as stress and burnout.

This staff engagement framework focuses more on the individual, which should make employee engagement activities more effective. It does, however, create barriers to employee engagement in that it can be resource intensive to implement properly. Such a new framework of employee engagement would need a responsive employee engagement platform that could overcome some of the communications challenges in achieving bespoke effective engagement with employees.

Choosing a Staff Engagement Model

Regardless of which model you choose; the goal is obviously for both the organisation and its workforce to benefit. Each of the employee engagement theories and models discussed above may suit different types of employees; for example, organisations in the knowledge based sector may be more interested in the psychology based frameworks as they may be a better fit for employee needs.

What is more likely is that elements of each model will be relevant to your employees. In order to know for sure, it is essential to encourage employee voice and obtain as much information on what is important from your workers before any attempt is made to create an employee engagement model.

It may also be worthwhile to look at existing practices to assess what impact (positive and negative) they have on current employee engagement levels. For example, some organisations have a talent management strategy in place, but is it inadvertently giving the message to the workforce that most of the attention is being given to a select few? If the principles of talent management are widened so that each employee has an opportunity to participate in career development discussions, everyone will be more likely to feel valued and included.

From the many employee engagement and satisfaction models available, a hybrid framework may be the right option for your organisation. Only the right tailored framework, informed by employee feedback, will meet the organisation's employee engagement objectives and deliver results on performance and motivation.

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