Skip to content Skip to Programs Navigation

News & Stories

The holy grail of talent management

talent managementBusinesses beware! 

Employee engagement is critical for leveraging talent, but be sure you are not paying for old wine in a new bottle. 

Employee engagement is rapidly replacing job satisfaction as the “holy grail of talent management best practices. But is it more than just a buzz-word?

For years businesses paid consultants top dollar for satisfaction surveys under the assumption that satisfied employees are loyal and motivated. And the evidence suggests that they do perform better when they are satisfied with their jobs.

Now companies are paying for engagement assessments hoping that they will garner new knowledge. But they might not be getting what they’re paying for.

Not all engagement surveys are created equal, as I’ve found in my research. Some are simply just old wine in a new bottle they measure job satisfaction.

But others are indeed unique and can help businesses measure and improve the motivation of their best people.

The concept of work engagement is only useful if it explains performance and motivation over and above the age-old constructs like job satisfaction and job commitment. In a 2011 meta-analysis with University of Arizona colleagues, we found that employee engagement predicts task performance and “good citizen” behaviors when it is conceptualized correctly.

How is it different? Most importantly, work engagement is about the work itself. Employees who find meaning in the work itselfnot just satisfaction from the pay or opportunities for promotion that are part of the jobare more likely to feel attached and invest their energy in their daily tasks.

We found that surveys that examined engagement in terms of the emotional (dedication), cognitive (absorption) and physical (vigor) connection with work tasks could predict performance and citizenship behavior over and above traditional measures of employee satisfaction.

And managers have the power to alter this connection. We showed in our meta-analysis that critical predictors of work engagement include:

  • Providing variety

  • Increasing the perceived significance of the work tasks

What else can managers do to encourage work engagement?

  • Hire people who have a natural propensity to be engagedpeople who tend to be conscientiousness and have positive emotions.

  • Ensure that employees don’t feel obligated to work if they’re sick or in pain. In a study we found employees are more engaged when they are not working while sick or in pain. 

  • To increase engagement, treat employees with respect on a daily basis, as we showed in another study.  

The bottom line? By targeting your employees’ connection with the work itself, you can cultivate engagement to leverage the talent in your organization.

By Michael Christian, associate professor of organizational behavior