Over the past few years the buzzword in organisational language has been “engagement”. Global statistics have shown that an average of 18% of employees are engaged with 65% of them not engaged and 25% actively disengaged. The figures for South Africa are lower, with engaged employees at around 12%.

We hear that engagement leads to job performance, job satisfaction and organisational competitive advantages; something that both individuals and institutions strive towards. That being said, we may not be appreciating the complexity of engagement, and are unsure how to change disengaged employees to engaged ones or alternatively sustain engaged employees.

In 1990 William A. Kahn originally defined engagement as a unique and important motivational concept that harnesses one’s full self in terms of cognitive, physical and emotional energies to perform work tasks. The three terms seem obvious, but it’s the combination that makes it an intertwined aspect.

Let’s review each of these energies in detail.

Engaged employees are psychologically fully present, attentive, feel connected, integrated and engrossed with their tasks and performance.

Cognitive and psychological engagement

Cognitive engagement or job involvement is the degree to which an employee relates and identifies with a job to the extent that they think about their work tasks and challenges outside of their physical working hours. Job involvement is influenced by the company’s characteristics such as safety, environment, protocol, policies and leadership styles. Cognitively engaged employees identify strongly with their work and view work situations as opportunities to become actively involved.

Physical engagement speaks directly to taking action and being intrinsically motivated. What dampens this motivation energy is external constraints, contingencies, freedom of choice or control. Competence, autonomy and relatedness foster motivation, effort and persistence to act and perform.

Emotional engagement is associated with the human desire to fulfil subjective psychological needs and values. As an example, we strive for job satisfaction which is a positive state of pleasure. Receiving positive feedback provides inner satisfaction which results in the willingness to contribute further in the company’s effectiveness and efficiency. Job satisfaction is influenced by the person’s job characteristics, leaders and co-workers and one’s personality.

Engagement means that employees bring all three, the cognitive, emotional and physical aspects to their work. In other words, they bring their complete selves, their heart, hands and head to their tasks, company and team. The crux is that engagement means working with all three simultaneously and not in an isolated, fragmented manner.