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The Future of Employee Engagement

By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a new study in the Human Resource Management Review the future of employee engagement is review-based. That is, employee engagement will be one dimension of an annual performance review.

The study authors, Jamie A. Gruman of the University of Guelph and Alan M. Saks of the University of Toronto say that because engagement is such a key factor in productivity, finding ways to measurement is key maximizing the returns of today’s companies.

Gruman explained, “Employees who feel engaged in their tasks do a better job, are less likely to make mistakes, and bring more energy, dedication and vigour into their performance. There is also mounting evidence that higher levels of engagement correlate with lower turnover and less absenteeism. Thus, it makes sense to focus on employee engagement as part of the performance management process.”

But how? Engagement doesn’t necessarily come from a conscious decision on behalf of an employee. The workplace environment plays a huge part of employee engagement.

Gruman and Saks say the key lies in the changing role of management in today’s knowledge-based careers.

Creating a Context for Success

In the past, Gruman and Saks say, management was a way to keep track of an employee’s performance at specific tasks. But that’s not really what management does anymore. In the study, “Performance management and employee engagement,” they write:

“Because of the dynamic, multifaceted nature of modern jobs, in the contemporary work environment achieving increments in performance often involves less ‘management’ of performance than “facilitation” of performance (Das, 2003), by creating the conditions for performance to improve.”

They add, “Put another way, modern performance management is as much about managing the context in which performance occurs as it is about managing performance itself (Jones, 1995).”

Employee engagement is a key factor in an employee’s success, but according to the authors, there are two kinds of engagement – an emotional state and a behavioral dimension. Managers can work with employees to provide a context for success by influencing the behavioral dimension.

Therefore, by setting goals for behavioral engagement, managers can influence the context in which employees are working, as well as their productivity. They write:

“…we argue that a more effective and integrated approach for enhancing and managing employee engagement is to manage engagement the same way that job performance is managed. This is all the more important to the extent that employee engagement behavior is an antecedent of job performance.”

Engagement Appraisal

Behavioral employee engagement requires the employee to feel personally connected with his or her goals and achievements, so the study authors explain, managers and employees should work to set goals that the employee will find meaningful personally and that will also benefit the company. They explain:

“The engagement appraisal should accompany the performance appraisal and be used by managers to discuss the importance of engagement behaviors with employees and how the employee can exhibit such behaviors (e.g., role expansion, proactivity, persistence, and adaptability). …Managers should also provide some recognition and incentives for employees who exhibit engagement behaviors.”

By making progress toward the goals, the employee will be more engaged. “Engagement facilitation recasts the role of supervisors as coaches whose goal is to design tasks and provide support and resources that energize employees and absorb them in their jobs.”

As we move away from careers based on repetitive, mechanical tasks to those that require creativity and strategy, managers will be looked upon less as task masters and more as coaches. By setting a context for behavioral engagement, managers can make the leap to coach, and set the stage for productivity effectiveness.

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