First we wanted to know about employee satisfaction, then we wanted to know about employee loyalty, and now we want to know about employee engagement. I think this is just the natural evolution of thinking in response to a desperate desire to attract and retain talented and productive employees. It isn’t enough to have happy employees. After all, high pay, short hours, and frequent celebrations will make employees happy but not necessarily result in high performance. And it isn’t enough to have long-term employees. Sometimes employees stay (i.e., loyalty) when they should be moving on.
… a state of mind in which employees feel a vested interest in the company’s success and are both willing and motivated to perform to levels that exceed the stated job requirements. It is the result of how employees feel about the work experience – the organization, its leaders, the work and the work environment.
According to DDI, "By definition, employees feel engaged when they find personal meaning and motivation in their work, receive positive interpersonal support, and operate in an efficient work environment."
In all three definitions the emphasis is on contribution to the work, rather than on personal satisfaction and a sense of loyalty.
Complicating our ability to define engagement are cultural factors. Nic Paton wrote in the blog, Management-Issues:
For Britons and Americans it is all about respect. For workers in France and India it is the type of work they are doing. For Germans it is who they work with. And for the Japanese, it is pay. Employee engagement, it is clear, takes many different forms around the world.
Cultural differences in how we view engagement are not only among nationalities. We can assume that within U.S. firms, there are cultural differences that contribute to how different groups of employees respond to engagement.
Something called “engagement” clearly has an impact on organizational performance. Patricia Soldati writes in Management-Issues, that according to The Conference Board, which has studied employee engagement extensively, and which defines it as "…a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.", engagement has a major impact on performance. She writes:
...employee engagement is a very big deal. There is clear and mounting evidence that high levels of employee engagement keenly correlates to individual, group and corporate performance in areas such as retention, turnover, productivity, customer service and loyalty.
Now we just need a consistently used definition of employee engagement.