Employee Engagement – Definitions and Reality

Recognize This! – For all the academic definitions of employee engagement, seeing a truly engaged employee at work is the most meaningful.

I think there are more definitions of employee engagement than organizations pursuing it. I like the definition below from recent Temkin Group research because it focuses on the outcomes of true engagement:

“Engaged employees are extremely valuable; they are more than twice as likely to do something good for the company that is unexpected of them, almost three times as likely to make a recommendation for an improvement, and six times as likely to recommend that a friend or relative apply for a job with their employer.”

What does all that boil down to? They’ve got the best interests of the company in mind and they’re willing to go the extra mile to achieve those interests. That’s the classic definition of engagement – “I know what’s expected of me, personally. I know how that fits into the bigger picture of company success. I’m willing to give additional discretionary effort to deliver on both.”

The impact of engagement is the real crux of the matter, however. Out of the recent ice storms in the American South have come several stories of people helping people, as well as this one about the life-or-death impact a truly engaged employee can have:

“Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw had to travel from Birmingham [Alabama]’s Brookwood Medical Center to Trinity Medical Center to perform [emergency neurosurgery] Tuesday, but a sudden snowstorm had snarled all traffic, with thousands of drivers getting stranded for hours.

“Getting to the hospital by car would’ve been nearly impossible. Instead, the neurosurgeon decided to make the [six mile] trek by foot.

“Hrynkiw said Thursday, ‘I walk a lot, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.’

“He said he left Brookwood  around 10:45 a.m. ET — and by 12:45 p.m. he was already operating on the patient…The emergency surgery was for a traumatic brain injury and Hrynkiw is Trinity’s only brain surgeon, according to The Associated Press.

“‘He had a 90 percent chance of death,’ Hrynkiw said. ‘If he didn’t have surgery, he’d be dead. It’s not going to happen on my shift,’ he added.”

This doctor had several legitimate excuses to stay put. It was dangerous outside. A state of emergency had been declared. There was no easy way to get to the other hospital. But he knew the bigger picture and was willing to go the extra mile (literally) to get the job done.

Now, we don’t all hold others’ lives in our hands in our daily work. But the work we do does matter (or the job wouldn’t exist). Helping others understand that importance and recognizing them for doing whatever needs to be done to achieve needed results – that’s how we all can contribute to increasing engagement among our colleagues and ourselves.

What’s your favorite story of engagement in practice?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

One Response

  1. Jacqueline Kearns says:

    Hi Derek,

    The Corporate Leadership Council’s definition is ‘engagement as the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization, how hard they work, and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.’ With retention becoming more of an issue for organizations and the fact that organizational performance can be improved upon with an engaged workforce there’s no denying it’s importance. However, in the words of Towers Perrins (2009) ‘engaged workers are not born – they are made’ and this is something every organization should possibly reflect upon once in a while.

    Kind regards,


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