Employee engagement HR

Understanding Employee Engagement

June 12, 2018

According to Gallup, only 10% of employees in Western Europe are engaged at work – a shocking statistic, and one that we need to address quickly.

Employee disengagement has a direct impact on the bottom line, making this a business crisis as well as a human one. Employers are acutely aware of this, but despite it being one of the hottest topics over the last few years, very little progress has been made. So where are we going wrong?

According to Cathy Newell, Head of Customer Relationships at People First, organisations need to adopt a more people-centric approach to work. This involves checking in with employees regularly to discuss not only their progress and performance, but also their happiness and wellbeing.

Regular check-ins also allow managers to address issues as they arise – a key part of keeping your staff happy and engaged. But how do you know when one of your colleagues is disengaged? Cathy points out the following tell-tale signs, and offers some tips for turning disengaged employees into engaged ones.

A lack of interest in their work and the organisation

“It all boils down to communication. In order to understand what is causing this problem and how you can support them through it, you need to ask them. This may require you to be flexible in your approach, and willing to make small adjustments to the way they work. During such conversations, make sure they understand the value that they bring to the organisation.”

A reluctance to take on new work

“Check-in with your employees and ask them what their concerns are. They may feel stressed and overworked, or worried that they don’t currently have the skills to do what is being asked of them. Review their goals and objectives – if they are unrealistic, change them in agreement with the employee. If they are lacking certain skills, consider what you can do to aid their professional development.”

Lacking ownership

“Find out which parts of their job they enjoy and which parts they don’t. By reallocating tasks to suit the individual, you could transform their experience of work.”

Missing deadlines

“There could be many reasons for this, not just disengagement, so check-in with them and find out what’s going on. If they are consistently missing deadlines, it could simply be that their current workload is unrealistic, which over time can turn motivated employees into disengaged ones.”

A dip in the quality of their work

“Check-in with them and find out if there are external factors affecting them. If they are disengaged, maybe their current role isn’t quite right for them. Do a gap analysis of skills against other roles in the organisation to see if there’s a better fit available.”

Alongside regular communication, it is also important that organisations understand the ingredients needed for employees to be engaged in their work, says Andy Davies, Head of Service Enablement at People First.

According to the Institute of Employment Studies engagement model, there are three components needed for an employee to be engaged in their work: commitment, motivation and organisational citizenship.

Let’s take a look at each one in more detail.


This is not just limited to the employee’s commitment to the organisation – commitment flows both ways. The psychological contract between employee and employer is the foundation of this two-way commitment. That’s why People First have developed the alliance agreement, which acknowledges that there is a power sharing commitment between the employer and employee. 


In order to be motivated at work, people need to feel that what they are doing is meaningful and useful in some way. Money alone is not enough to make work fulfilling. So a key part of engaging employees is finding something for them to do that provides intrinsic motivation, so they see work as more than just a means to an end.

Organisational citizenship

This is where an employee feels that they have a personal stake in the organisation being the best it can be – basically, someone who has fully bought into the company ethos and goals beyond the scope of their own work. This makes them more likely to go above and beyond what is expected, creating a work environment that is positive and helpful.

But according to Andy, understanding what comprises employee engagement is just the start. Organisations also need to focus on the drivers that affect engagement on a daily basis.

The following questions are a good starting point for understanding whether you are providing the right kind of environment for employee engagement to flourish.

  • Are your employees suitably challenged in their work, or is the challenge too great or too small, causing them to become stressed or bored?
  • Do your employees have the freedom to shape their jobs to suit their own preferences and working styles?
  • Do your employees use their full range of skills at work, or are they limited in some way?
  • Do your employees have regular check-ins to discuss performance, goals and their overall happiness at work?
  • Do your employees understand the ethos and culture of your organisation, and have they bought into it?
  • Are your employees able to develop existing skills and learn new ones at work?
  • Do your employees receive reward and recognition for the work they do, beyond financial compensation?

By getting these right, we will provide the conditions needed to fix the employee engagement issue. Organisations that do this will reap the rewards: a happier workplace, a more productive workforce and lower recruitment costs.