Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice: A book review by Bob Morris

Emp Engagement in TheoryEmployee Engagement in Theory and Practice
Catherine Truss, Rick Delbridge, Kerstin Alfes, Amanda Shantz, and Emma Sloane, Co-Editors
Routledge /Taylor & French Group (2014)

Diverse perspectives on employee engagement and the practical implications of emerging engagement theories

What we have in this single volume is an abundance of information, insights, and counsel from several dozen authorities on one of the greatest challenges that business leaders now face: How to increase the percentage of those in the given workforce who are actively and productively engaged. All of the recent research studies that I have examined indicate that, on average, more than 70% of employees in a U.S. company are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively engaged in undermining the success of their company. Presumably the percentages in UK and Canadian companies are comparable.

According to the five editors of this anthology of essays — Catherine Truss, Rick Delbridge, Kerstin Alfes, Amanda Shantz, and Emma Sloane — the idea that individuals can be “personally engaged” in their work , “investing positive and emotional and cognitive energy in to their role performance, was first proposed by William Kahn in 1990 in his seminal paper in the Academy of Management Journal. Since then, there has been a steadily growing stream of research, notably within the psychology field, that has sought to further explore the meaning and significance if engagement.” Indeed, the most relevant of this research seems to have been cited, if not examined, in the material provided in this book.

The editors are also among the contributors. I commend them on the high quality of their selection, organization, and presentation of the material within four Parts: The psychology of engagement, Employee engagement: the HRM implications, Employee engagement: critical perspectives, and Employee engagement in practice. I also commend the editors on their clever use of seven “Figures” and 13 “Tables” strategically inserted throughout the narrative. For those in need of additional information, there is also an abundance of references to primary and secondary sources.

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer’s Market at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now offer brief excerpts from a few of the essays.

o “The conceptual distinctiveness of engagement vis-a-vis other relevant concepts remains an issue. As would be expected, engagement is related significantly and in meaningful ways to job related attitudes, behaviour, and intentions on the job, employee health and well-being, and personality traits. But the question is: are these relationships that strong, and does engagement overlap to such an extent with other concepts that they are virtually identical? Based on the empirical evidence presented above the answer too this question is ‘no’, at least for the time being. In addition, it seems that compared to similar, alternative concepts engagement is related in a rather unique way to job demands, job resources and performance. So, taken together, it appears that engagement reflects a genuine and unique psychological state that employees might experience at work.” What is engagement? Wilmar B. Schaufeli (Page 25)

o “The third key driver of engagement, psychological availability or the sense that one is ready to personally engage at a particular moment, looks inward from the organizational or job to peoples’ experiences of themselves within these systems. Among the studies we have reviewed, we find that individuals’ reservoirs of personal resources in the form of general self- efficacy, organization-based self-esteem, and optimism, and personal dispositions in the form of conscientiousness, positive affectivity, and negative affectivity have strong influence over their personal readiness to engage,” The antecedents and drivers of employee engagement, Eean R. Crawford, Bruce Puis Rich, Brooke Buckman, and Jenny Bergeron (71)

o “A lot of research has shown that there is much that employers can do to raise the levels of employee engagement…It all boils down to increasing employees’ job resources, providing them with challenging job demands, and building their personal resources. In addition, employees may also craft their own job demands and resources, which results in increased engagement. Employee engagement thus seems highest when organizations provide the necessary preconditions for engagement in which employees are also allowed to craft those specific job characteristics they value or prefer. With this combined top-down and bottom-up approach, all employees have the potential to become engaged in their work.” Job design and employee engagement, Maria Tims and Arnold Bakker (142)

I realize that the perspectives in this volume tend to be UK-centric but I think that many (if not most) of the employee engagement issues addressed are not. Exit interviews of highly-valued employees reveal that feeling that they and their efforts are not appreciated is the reason most often cited as the reason for leaving to work elsewhere. It is difficult (if not impossible) for almost anyone to become actively and productively engaged within a work environment that seems indifferent, if not hostile, to their personal growth and professional development.

No brief commentary such as this could possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of material in this volume but I hope I have at least succeeded in indicating why I think so highly of the content. As for the style of writing, as the three quoted passages indicate, it bears stunning resemblance to one also cherished by academics in the United States. For example, I was struck by the fact that in most of the essays, subjects and predicates are kept far apart from each other. Apparently Winston Churchill’s memo about the importance of the declarative sentence never reached their authors. Also, in many of the essays, verbosity is the rule rather than the exception.

This book seems to have been written primarily for the contributors’ peers rather than for the general public. Given the fact that most business leaders today have an attention span that resembles a strobe light blink, I question how many of them will read this book.

Posted in

Leave a Comment