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Nigel Walpole What exactly is employee engagement?

As L&D professionals, this is a question we came across regularly.

Many people are in search of the definition or precise meaning for employee engagement are struggling to find it. This may be because there are all sorts of factors which need to be included in a definition, for example:

  • It is an approach about workplace conditions
  • It reflects commitment, motivation, goals and values
  • It is about attitude, behaviours, pride and loyalty
  • It delivers (or should deliver) outcomes, productivity and performance
  • It is self-perpetuating

What we do know is that many organisations have carried out surveys about engagement, so it is quantifiable. These surveys have identified organisations in which engagement was poor and others in which it was much higher, which shows that it can vary.

Organisations in which employee engagement was found to be high, show high levels of productivity and performance.  In organisations which had introduced engagement initiatives, it was improved/improving – so organisations can do something about it.

This still doesn’t give a neat and tidy definition but perhaps that is the point, engagement – what causes it and how it manifests itself – is as varied as the organisations themselves. People who engage well with one organisation may not engage with another.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development understandably takes a multi-faceted approach to defining employee engagement:

What is employee engagement

Intellectual engagement 

Thinking hard about the job and how to do it better

Affective engagement

Feeling positively about doing a good job

Social engagement

Actively taking opportunities to discuss work-related improvements with others at work

David Guest, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Kings College London, said:

“A workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisations’ goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success and able at the same time to enhance their own sense of wellbeing.”

David Guest’s definition also brings us to a two-way theory of engagement and feelings: it is positive for and contributed to by both the organisation and the employee.

So the definition we’re working with for the purposes of our whitepaper is simply:  ‘the emotional commitment an employee has to the organisation and its goals’.

Sign up to our news updates to receive access when it is released to ‘The mystery that is employee engagement’, our forthcoming whitepaper. This whitepaper examines:

  • Engagement Indicators
  • Practical steps to encourage engagement
  • The drivers and enablers of ‘engagement’


Nigel Walpole

Nigel Walpole, MD, Bray Leino Learning

In my series of blogs I’ll talk through my thoughts on some of the key issues facing managers in the workplace - lessons learnt, tips for success and general musings.

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