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I Just Tried to Define Employee Engagement - Now I Need a Nap...

I thought a follow-up post was needed regarding "The Key to Employee Engagement - Don't Hire Clock Watchers". 

Point #1 - I obviously stirred up a hornet's nest by talking about engagement without trying toAsleep define it for the syndicated audience (note - you can have one reader on feedburner and call it syndicated - cool!); 

Point #2 - I browsed around looking to define employee engagement, and as a result;

Point #3 - I now need a nap. 

WOW!  Was that some painful reading.  Not since a Fortune 500 corporate team I was on in the 90's came together to deal with the OFCCP required, "Definition of an Applicant", have so many said so much, yet so little.


OK, I'm back.   Lucky for me, one of the emails I received was from a guy who actually understands the different definitions.  His name is Tim Wright, of Wright Results (aptly named).  Tim's spent enough time thinking about engagement that he can actually compare and contrast engagement theories.   Spend 10 minutes googling "employee engagement" and you'll understand why that's significant.

For a great rundown of employee engagement theories, hit Tim's blog here.

I had two favorite definitions from Tim's post.  The Gallup G12, and Tim's own definition of engagement. 

Here's the Gallup G12, which lists traits of engaged employees:

  • Consistent levels of high performance.
  • Natural innovation and drive for efficiency.
  • Intentional building of supportive relationships.
  • Clear about the desired outcomes of their role.
  • Emotionally committed to what they do.
  • Challenge purpose to achieve goals.
  • High energy and enthusiasm.
  • Never run out of things to do, create positive things to act on.
  • Broaden what they do and build on it.
  • Commitment to company, work group, and role.

Here's Tim Wright's definition:

The individual’s investment of energy, skill, ability, and eagerness in the work performed. Engagement includes “involvement” and “commitment” yet goes beyond to include observable behaviors such as:

  • Attention to task detail
  • Commitment to assignment completion
  • Involvement in special projects
  • Communication willingly, effectively with others
  • Demonstration of personal/professional improvement
  • Initiation of problem-solving and/or conflict resolution
  • Innovation regarding processes and procedures

I bolded the characteristics that closely matched my (cough) unscientific definition.  In any event, these two trait-based definitions were, by far, better than anything else I found.

Hit Tim's web site to learn more.  He's apparently pursuing a practice revolving around employee engagement, which makes him a) brilliant, b) a masochist, or c) both.

Check it out and answer that question for yourself....


gl hoffman

In my startup career, I have often said if you can get more than 30-50% of your employees 'engaged' you may have a winner.

Frank Giancola

For those who wish greater insight into employee engagement, I refer you to my October 2007 Workspan article, "Employee Engagement: What You Need to Know," which analyzes the engagement products of four consulting firms. There is no general agreement on the characteristics of engagement and methods of measuring it.

Dave Walker

Of the 17 points, only one addresses commitment to company.

Every point is a transferrable skill - it doesn't matter where you work, these are characteristics of the individual and the job.

Of course, a company can facilitate the job - in fact, companies that don't won't have engaged workers. But the worker isn't working for the company, they're working for the job - it doesn't matter what compny they work for.

I'lll explore Tim's research a bit more to make sure I'm not off here, but what can companies do to engage the worker with the company and not just their job?

Frank Giancola


Gallup defines and measures employee engagement unlike other consultants who heavily weight commitment to the company in determining engagement levels. Some consultants call their product an engagement tool, but it is sometimes wholly an organizational commitment tool. You are right in thinking that both the job and the company are important in establishing employee engagement.

See my article referenced above.

Frank Giancola


based on your comment and Tim Wright's website mentioned in the post, there is clearly a lack of concensus on what engagement means. This lack of resolution presents more problems than just being able to define engagement for your company.

Suppose there is a survey that asks the top HR person at each Fortune 500 the benefits of certain HR practices. If a given practice comes back with the top benefit being "improves employee egagement" what have we learned (let's assume for now that more engagement is better for business, and that we can influence engagement)? Given the wide array of definitions circulating out there, I'd say not much.
(hopefully you haven't covered this in your article, which I intend to read over the weekend)

frank giancola


You point out a major concern. The engagement products give substantially different readings as to a firm's employee engagement levels, as I state in my article. You can be easily mislead.

You can get a rough idea of your workforce engagement levels by doing a frequency distribution of performance review ratings, assuming you have enough rating categories. I think that performance ( along with commitment to stay) is of great concern for those who have an interest in engagement.

Here is another recent article on engagement that came to the same conclusions as I did.



David Zinger

I appreciate you stirring up the engagement defintion hornet's nest and I think a disengaging nap is just what the doctor ordered.

Tim Wright

Kris -

Thanks for the several references to my blog and my efforts. I love the opportunities to get more and more minds and voices in on active exchange of ideas. You contribute well to that!

Yesterday, I was with a small physicians' clinic here in Texas. We were starting the first of a once-a-month series to build their Culture of Engagement.

It's always a "slap up 'side my head" when I'm shown that engagement--like beauty--is in the eye of the beholder. Before we defined (or tried to define) employee engagement, I asked participants to score their engagement on a 1-10 scale.

After we defined the concept, I asked them to change their score if they wished.

Three hours later, as we ended the workshop, I asked them to look at their score(s) again and retally if they wished. Some did, some didn't.

Most interesting was the comment from one participant who came up as I was turning off my laptop, packing the projector, and closing my binder. She said, "This will sound very strange, but I am really glad that my personal engagement score got lower and lower the more I learned about what engagement can involve."

She must have seen the question in my eyes because she said, "That tells me I've got a long way to go and a lot to learn. I love a challenge."

Of course, what that exchange told me is that a sure factor in one's "engagement quotient" is her eagerness/willingness to take on a challenge.

Don't you love it?


Kris -
I’ve recently started a blog on leadership and leadership development called “Great Leadership”: http://greatleadershipbydan.blogspot.com/.
I’ve been a practitioner in the field of leadership development for over 20 years. I’m currently the Manager of Leadership and Management Development at a Fortune 500 company (and a “Best Place to Work” winner).
I just wrote a post as a tribute to HR bloggers and included your site on my list. Stop by and check it out.




Excellent and enjoyable post we can relate to! Our own Amy Wilson has a couple of posts that go over similar issues that you might find interesting. The first post discusses the science and measurement of employee engagement, referencing the Gallup G12 as a potential trait-based measurement tool. The second covers how while technology itself cannot create employee engagement, recent evolution in technology, particularly around Web 2.0, can have a large positive impact on it (which must be measured, of course.)



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