What is an engaged workforce?

There is no single easy definition of ‘employee engagement’ nor complete clarity about its inter-relationship with job satisfaction or fulfilment at work. The major government report Engaging for Success cites more than 50 definitions, including “emotional and intellectual commitment...employees’ drive to use all their ingenuity and resources...a compelling purpose and meaning in their work...a willingness to go the extra mile”. It can be summed up as:

• meaningful purpose and values

• trust in senior management

• involvement in decision making

• recognition for contribution

• support for ongoing development of skills and career.

Whether it’s also termed job satisfaction or professional fulfilment, engagement in today’s workplace reflects wider societal attitudes, norms and expectations; whether always-connected social media, the ‘death of deference’, or an expectation to shape jobs to fit lives rather than vice versa. People want and demand a greater sense of well-being at work, maximising psychological well-being through meaningful work that provides positive emotional experiences.

Randstad Fulfilment at work research revealed a third of UK employees – almost ten million people – are not satisfied with their current employer, and 25% are indifferent to job fulfilment, indicating a worrying lack of engagement at work.

There are two types of engagement: transactional (or job-focused) and emotional (people-oriented). According to CIPD, transactional engagement is more likely to lead to difficulties with work-life balance and burnout, lateness, etc. and transactionally engaged employees are more likely to be actively searching for new employment. Emotional engagement correlates to the positive results of engagement, i.e. going the extra mile and focusing on doing right by colleagues and customers, with gratification coming from being part of the team or from customers’ reactions.