New research identifies four types of employee engagement and their drivers

A new international study of employee engagement in multinational enterprises (MNE’s) has identified four different domains of engagement and the factors which drive them.

The research, funded by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation, and led by Professor Dr Veronica Hope Hailey of Cass Business School, part of City University University London, Dr Elaine Farndale and Professor Dr Marc van Veldhoven of Tilburg University, and Professor Dr Clare Kelliher of Cranfield School of Management, pinpointed the following dimensions of engagement:

• Employees with a high level of job state engagement are passionate and enthusiastic about their job and but don’t necessarily work hard
• Employees who exhibit organization state engagement love their company and make great brand ambassadors but as above, this won’t automatically lead to high productivity
• Employees with a high level of job behavioural engagement are motivated to develop themselves and take the initiative but don’t necessarily feel loyal to their company
• And employees showing organization behavioural engagement are proactive in highlighting problems and suggesting improvements in their company but again don’t necessarily hold that company in high esteem or feel loyalty towards it.

Between 2009 and 2011 the researchers studied four MNE’s including GKN, AkzoNobel, and Tesco HSC in the UK, the Netherlands, India and China.

The research found that particular facets of performance management drive these different types of engagement so companies can make informed decisions regarding the focus of their performance management system based on the type of engagement they are aiming to achieve and the context in which they are operating.

For example, employers operating in tight job markets where there is a small pool of talent will want to encourage job and organisation state engagement – loyalty which will help them maintain staff levels. The research found that in China and India high levels of organizational state behaviour were highly desirable in potential employees for this reason.

Employers operating in job markets with more availability of skilled talent will want to encourage job and organisation behavioural engagement so their employees are motivated to achieve outstanding results. The research found that in job markets in the UK and the Netherlands which fit this description, behavioural engagement was more prized by employers.

Professor Hope Hailey comments: “‘Behavioural’ engagement – being proactive – is beneficial from a performance perspective whereas ‘state’ engagement – feeling enthusiastic about your job and the company – helps produce a pleasanter environment which might help retention and other outcomes. It depends what you want to achieve and that will depend on the job market you are operating in.”

So what affects these different types of engagement?

The research found that employees who perceived the workload in their job to be high had lower levels of organizational state engagement. However, feeling a company-wide sense of high pressure to produce, or work which was perceived to demand a lot from an employee emotionally, was associated with higher levels of job and organizational behavioural engagement – employees were more proactive, but did not necessarily feel more positive about their job or company.

Employees perceiving high standards of justice and fairness in the performance management process were encouraged to greater job and organizational state engagement (they felt passionate and enthusiastic about their job and company), but not to behavioural engagement i.e. they were no more proactive.

Similarly in the performance management process, having a broad range of potential outcomes which are valued by the employee (e.g. promotion, training, reward) was associated with all dimensions of employee engagement except organizational behavioural engagement.

Where employees were involved in target setting as part of this process, they showed improved job and organizational state engagement – this suggests employees will be more enthusiastic about their jobs and companies if they are involved in setting their own targets.

In terms of work climate and job characteristics, providing increased levels of job resources – more feedback, autonomy, training and development, and task variety – was linked with all dimensions of engagement.

Providing high levels of organizational resources in the form of welfare support and support from line managers, colleagues, and senior managers is also associated with all aspects of employee engagement.

The research methodology comprised two types of data collection: qualitative semi-structured interviews and focus groups (involving 42 HR and business managers), and an online questionnaire. The employees included in the sample of survey respondents had to have been through the performance management process at least once, and be able to read and complete an online questionnaire in English.

In total, 964 responses were received from the 1,268 email invitations sent out for the survey, a 76% response rate. When considering the demographic of responses, the sample mainly represents professional and middle management employees.