By: Chad Peddie and Bobbie Burton
This is part 6 of our 8-part blog series, Psychological Safety and Advancing Workforce Equity.
In a world increasingly demanding of employee attention and time, the challenge for organizations to effectively engage their workforce is more difficult than ever. This challenge is further intensified by the rising availability of remote and hybrid work options. Now, organizations are tasked with re-considering their approach to providing equitable support and resources to employees who may not share the same work arrangements. Although employees and teams previously often worked the same schedule in the same building, today they can work remotely from different cities, states, and even geographical regions of the world. Although there have been many changes to the way that society thinks about and approaches work, employee engagement remains integral to the success of organizational policies and practices for increasing applicant and employee perceptions of psychological safety, organizational justice, and equity in the workplace, as previously discussed in this series.
Defined by employee enthusiasm in work and working environments (Gallup, 2023), employee engagement has been linked to several key individual and firm-level outcomes. Notably, the difference between an engaged and disengaged employee can make or break an organization’s ability to meet strategic goals or objectives. Indeed, engaged employees are more likely to perform more effectively in their roles, participate in extra-role behaviors that exceed organizational expectations, be more committed or attached to their organization, and are less likely to leave or quit their job (Saks, 2019). Employee engagement levels can translate to significant costs or benefits for an organization in terms of their potential for productivity, profitability, and turnover (Harter et al., 2002). With so many important outcomes linked to employee engagement, it is critical for organizations to be mindful of employee responses to engagement efforts – as well as the ways that employees prefer to engage with their work and the organization.
Researchers have proposed numerous models to capture how employees engage at work. Several models highlight common ways employees engage with specific elements of their work and working environments (e.g., Kahn, 1990, Soane, 2012). The following are four specific dimensions of employee engagement that have been researched.
- Affective Engagement refers to the emotional attachment and positive feelings employees might express toward their company, their company’s values, and their organization’s mission. An employee who is affectively engaged may feel more inclined to recommend the organization to others or to increase their effort and citizenship behavior at work because they feel a meaningful connection to their work.
- Behavioral Engagement consists of active employee contribution to and participation in organizational culture, work tasks, and “extracurricular” activities. Employees who are behaviorally engaged with their work are more likely to go the extra mile at work and contribute to their organization through actions and behaviors that may not be inherently required by their job description.
- Cognitive Engagement is an employee-driven focus and discretionary cognitive effort that is allotted toward work by employees. Cognitively engaged employees put more time and thought into their work – exerting more focus, attention, and energy toward their work tasks and contributions at work.
- Social Engagement relates to an employee’s sense of belonging and connection with colleagues and the organization. Socially engaged employees are more likely to contribute to and feel supported by the community and collaborative culture of their work environment.
It has become well-known that diversity equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) efforts can positively impact many aspects of organizations (e.g., greater innovation, enhanced problem-solving, more agile workgroups and teams, and top talent recruitment). Importantly, some aspects of engagement can be directly influenced by DEIA efforts and strategies, especially those targeting the individual. There are DEIA strategies that in addition to improving organizational representation and organizational dynamics may also improve psychological safety and increase employee engagement. For example, research demonstrates that engagement increases when employees perceive their work environments as psychologically safe contexts where they can share their opinions without fear of negative consequences (Frazier et al., 2017). Additional DEIA strategies that may impact employee engagement across the four engagement dimensions are presented below.
- Don’t Forget the A - Accessibility Initiatives - Focus on accessibility for all employees can have a significant impact on the involvement and subsequent engagement of employees in the organization.
- Consider Equity Audits to Identify Barriers to Improve - Leverage an independent review or audit process to thoroughly examine organizational policies, procedures, and dynamics to identify potential barriers or challenges to the full engagement and participation of all organizational members.
- Assess Workplace Civility - Focus on the development of workplace civility and the subsequent impact on engagement and respect (e.g., Department of Veterans Affairs: Civility, Respect, and Engagement at the Workplace [CREW]). There is a dynamic, reciprocal relationship between workplace civility and inclusivity. Improvements in either domain impact the other.
- Implement Strategic Engagement Development Plans - Adopt more strategic or evidence-based approaches can be taken to maximize organizational engagement. Many organizations leverage engagement surveys; however, carefully designing assessment instruments with factors that result in actionable data is key to effective progress in this domain (Saks, 2019).
Contact DCI for help in exploring additional ways to engage your employees more fully through DEIA strategies. In the next installment, DCI will discuss the challenge of maintaining DEIA progress and advances when the possibility of a reduction in force should arise.
Frazier, M. L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R. L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological safety: A meta‐analytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70(1), 113-165.
Gallup (2023). Employee Engagement Solutions. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/229424/employee-engagement.aspx?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=new_workplace_non_branded_employee_engagement&utm_term=improve%20engagement%20at%20work&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIocH9oIqC_gIVpHNvBB3dDgSaEAAYAiAAEgIV2PD_BwE.
Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002). Business-unit-level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: a meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 268.
Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 692-724.
Saks, A. M. (2019). Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement revisited. Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, 6(1), 19-38.
Soane, E., Truss, C., Alfes, K., Shantz, A., Rees, C., & Gatenby, M. (2012). Development and application of a new measure of employee engagement: The ISA Engagement Scale.
Human Resource Development International, 15, 529-547.
Soane, E., Truss, C., Alfes, K., Shantz, A., Rees, C., & Gatenby, M. (2012). Development and application of a new measure of employee engagement: The ISA engagement scale. Human Resource Development International, 15(5), 529-547. https://doi.org/10.1080/13678868.2012.726542