Research cited by IDS (2007) identified two key elements that have to be present if genuine engagement is to exist. The first is the rational aspect, which relates to an employee’s understanding of their role, where it fits in the wider organization, and how it aligns with business objectives. The second is the emotional aspect, which has to do with how the person feels about the organization, whether their work gives them a sense of personal accomplishment, and how they relate to their manager. These two overall aspects can be analysed into a number of factors that influence levels of job and organizational engagement as set out below.
The work itself
The work itself can create job satisfaction leading to intrinsic motivation (the self-generated factors affecting people’s behaviour, which may arise from the work itself) and increased engagement. The factors involved are interesting and challenging work, responsibility (feeling that the work is important and having control over one’s own resources), autonomy (freedom to act), scope to use and develop skills and abilities, the availability of the resources required to carry out the work, and opportunities for advancement.
The work environment
An enabling, supportive and inspirational work environment creates experiences that impact on engagement by influencing how people regard their roles and carry them out. An enabling environment will create the conditions
that encourage high performance and effective discretionary behaviour. These include work processes, equipment and facilities, and the physical conditions in which people work. A supportive environment will be one in which proper attention is paid to achieving a satisfactory work–life balance, emotional demands are not excessive, care is taken to provide healthy and safe working conditions, job security is a major consideration, and personal growth needs are taken into consideration. An inspirational environment will be one where there is what Purcell et al (2003: 13) refer to as ‘the big idea’, which is ‘… a clear sense of mission underpinned by values, and a culture expressing what the firm is and its relationship with its customers and employees’. The organization has a clear vision and a set of integrated values that are ‘embedded, collective, measured and managed’.
The environment is affected by the organization’s climate, which consists of the continuing perceptions members of the organization have about its culture and how it affects them. As Purcell (2001) suggests, the way HR practices are experienced by employees is affected by organizational values and operational strategies, such as staffing policies or hours of work, as well as the way they are implemented. He also emphasizes that work climate – the impression made by the organization on people – and the experience of actually doing the job – pace, demand and stress – all influence the way employees experience the work environment. This has an important effect on how they react to HR and reward practices and how these influence organizational outcomes. Employees react in a number of different ways to practices in their organization and this affects the extent to which they want to learn more, are committed and feel satisfied with their jobs. This, in turn, influences engagement – how well they do their jobs and whether they are prepared to contribute discretionary effort.
The quality of leadership and management
The degree to which jobs encourage engagement and positive discretionary behaviour very much depends upon the ways in which job holders are led and managed. Managers and team leaders often have considerable discretion when it comes to how jobs are designed, how they allocate work, and how much they delegate and provide autonomy. They can spell out the significance of the work people do. They can give people the opportunity to achieve and develop, and provide feedback that recognizes their contribution.
Opportunities for personal growth
Most people want to get on. The opportunity to grow and develop is a motivating factor that directly impacts on engagement when it is an intrinsic element of the work.
Opportunities to contribute
Engagement is enhanced if employees have a voice that is listened to. This enables them to feed their ideas and views upwards and feel that they are making a contribution.
Commitment to the organization
The three characteristics of commitment identified by Mowday et al (1982) are:
- A strong desire to remain a member of the organization.
- A strong belief in, and acceptance of, the values and goals of the organization.
- A readiness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the organization.
Kochan and Dyer (1993) indicated that the factors affecting the level of commitment in what they call mutual commitment firms are as follows:
- Strategic level: supportive business strategies, top management value commitment and effective voice for HR in strategy making and governance.
- Functional (human resource policy) level: staffing based on employment stabilization, investment in training and development and contingent compensation that reinforces cooperation, participation and contribution.
- Workplace level: selection based on high standards, broad task design and teamwork, employee involvement in problem solving and a climate of cooperation and trust.
Purcell et al (2003) identified the following key policy and practice factors influencing levels of commitment:
- received training last year;
- satisfied with career opportunities;
- satisfied with the performance appraisal system;
- thinks managers are good in people management (leadership);
- finds their work challenging;
- thinks their firm helps them achieve a work–life balance;
- satisfied with communication and company performance.
On the basis of his research in flexible production manufacturing plants in the United States, MacDuffie (1995: 201) noted that discretionary effort (one of the first times this phrase was used) on problem solving will only be contributed if workers ‘believe that their individual interests are aligned with those of the company, and that the company will make a reciprocal investment in their well-being’.
Following research, it was concluded by Boswell (2006: 1506) that to get employees to contribute effectively: ‘The most fruitful efforts are likely to come in the form of directly linking employee behaviours to firm success through performance feedback, goal setting and employee involvement initiatives.’