I love the concept of employee engagement, so much so that I have included it in some of my own thinking on eustress. Consultants are selling engagement like hotcakes, and we are lead to believe engagement “can have an almost magical effect on the bottom line” (Shellenbarger, 2007) and that fact is supported by “ground breaking global studies”
Should we be surprised that studies done by folks that want to sell us something support the value of what it is they want to sell us?
In the peer-reviewed, scientific literature the evidence to support these dramatic claims about employee engagement is very preliminary. One of the best studies I could find on engagement was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2005. The study was conducted in Spain with 58 hotel front desks and 56 hotel restaurants.
My adapted diagram of the results of this very well done study is shown above. Work engagement was evaluated with what I consider to be the best measures available, and employee performance was rated by customers. The blue arrows show the statistically significant relationships and the numbers next to those lines give an indication of the direction and strength of the relationship.
The red dotted line between work engagement and employee performance indicates that the authors did NOT find a direct relationship between these two. Work engagement is measured with three different sets of questions, and two of the three sets did NOT even show a statistically significant correlation with employee performance. Wow!
This study suggests that work engagement creates a better service climate in the organization, which in turn leads to better employee performance. I totally buy the logic behind that. But look at the 4 questions the authors asked employees to measure service climate:
1. Employees in our organization have knowledge of the job and the skills to deliver superior quality work and service
2. Employees receive recognition and rewards for the delivery of superior work and service
3. The overall quality of service provided by our organization to customers is excellent
4. Employees are provided with tools, technology, and other resources to support the delivery of quality work and service
Remember, we are being told that work engagement predicts these things. Are we to believe, for example, that because employees are engaged, the organization provides them the tools, technology, and other resources to support the delivery of quality work (question 4)? I think you see the problem here.
Philosophically, I am totally on board with the concept of employee engagement. But in my opinion, the peer reviewed and publicly available empirical evidence behind this very popular concept does not support the claims being made about it.
The hype far exceeds the evidence, so proceed with caution if someone shows up at your door selling engagement.
About the Author: Bret L. Simmons
Sites That Link to this Post
- Service-Profit Chain: There is Something Right With This Picture « Bret L. Simmons | August 2, 2009
- Employee Engagement: Off to See the Wizard? « Bret L. Simmons | August 3, 2009
- The Responsibility for Self-Engagement « Bret L. Simmons | August 8, 2009