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Four Types of Employee Engagement

By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a new study, employee engagement measurement tools may not go deep enough to discover whether engagement is really translating to productivity or loyalty. The study of almost 1000 professionals in China, India, the Netherlands, and the UK, revealed four different types of employee engagement – and each engagement type yields different performance results.

The report, entitled “A study of the link between Performance Management and Employee Engagement in Western multinational corporations operating across India and China,” was written by Dr. Elaine Farndale, Assistant Professor, HR Studies Department, Tilburg University, The Netherlands; Prof. Dr. Veronica Hope Hailey, Associate Dean & Professor of HRM and Change, Cass Business School, City University, UK; Prof. Dr. Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work and Organization, Cranfield School of Management, UK; and Prof. Dr. Marc van Veldhoven, Professor of HR Studies, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. Initially the researchers set out to discern whether engagement tools could aptly measure preformance management standards in developing economies.

They noted, “Ultimately, it is important to know what type of engagement you are measuring, how you are communicating about the types of engagement you desire, and what action plans might help to create the necessary engagement to achieve firm performance.”

What they found was that the effectiveness of employee engagement measurement tools is largely dependent on the kind of engagement a company is looking for.

Four Kinds of Engagement

According to the researchers, there are four kinds of employee engagement: job state engagement, organization state engagement, job behavioral engagement, and organizational behavioral engagement.

  • Job state engagement “is about people loving their job, having great enthusiasm to get out of bed each morning and do their daily tasks.”
  • Organization state engagement “is about people loving the company: these people make great ambassadors for spreading the corporate brand.”
  • Job behavioral engagement “is about people taking the initiative in their daily work, and looking for development opportunities.”
  • Organization behavioral engagement “is about employees being proactive in highlighting problems and suggesting improvements.”

The researchers comment, “Arguably, behavioral engagement may be more beneficial to firms from a productivity perspective, whereas state engagement creates a pleasant environment for people to work in.”

And while research as shown in the past that evaluating employee engagement often leads to an increase in engagement later on, this wasn’t true in every case. “The frequency of performance evaluation was only linked with increasing employee state engagement with the organization,” they wrote.

Certain performance outcomes are linked with each type of engagement, particularly when it comes to long-term and short-term performance and loyalty. But some factors increase engagement across the board – for example, ensuring workers have the resources they need to do their job. The researchers explained:

“Both job and organization resources (performance feedback, autonomy, development opportunities, task variety, welfare, and support from line manager, colleagues and senior management) are linked to positive employee engagement of all types, and might therefore be useful tools for enhancing engagement. Equally, a relatively high level of pressure to produce has a positive effect on employee behaviors (although, of course, too high a level may lead to burnout).”

Additionally, they continued, fairness is a key factor in engagement.

“Fairness and transparency in HRM practices were highlighted as being critical, particularly in the Chinese context where people are very willing to talk to each other about their level of pay, for example. …Organizational justice is positively associated with higher levels of job and organization state engagement: if people feel they are being treated fairly, they are more likely to talk about their work and their organization with passion and pride.”

When it comes to measuring engagement across different countries, the researchers said they may need different tools. They explained that people living in developing countries who are hired by Western multinationals are likely already amenable to Western management techniques. They speculated that if they ran the same tests in companies owned and run out of their own countries, employees would respond differently, because a different type of person would work there. The main difference they noted between engagement levels on behalf of people in developing countries and their Western counterparts was that workers in India and China were more likely to work well under a hierarchical management style.

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