Employee engagement is a relatively new concept that has been examined in organizations (Macey & Schneider, 2008). Based on my own research and the work of many scholars in the field of organizational development, employee engagement may be the most important outcome to understand because it drives business performance (i.e. revenue and profit) and other outcomes in companies (e.g. job satisfaction and morale). The deterioration of the engagement of employees is the most challenging and complex problem that I face in consulting in small, medium, and large, domestic and international companies.

Towers Watson (2012) has done extensive research on employee engagement. I find their operational definition and measurement of employee engagement an extremely useful tool that I have applied successfully in my consulting.

Towers Watson have coined the term ‘Sustainable Engagement’. “Sustainable engagement describes the intensity of employees’ connection to their company based on three core elements: ·

  • The extent of employees’ discretionary effort committed to achieving work goals (being engaged) 
  • An environment that supports productivity in multiple ways (being enabled) 
  • A work experience that promotes well-being (feeling energized)” (Towers Watson, 2012).

One value of their work is that the organizational consultant can quantitatively measure each of these elements and then classify employees in one of four groups: highly engaged, unsupported, detached, and disengaged. By classifying employees into levels of engagement, the consultant can then identify the behavioral manifestations of each in the work environment.

A workforce that is highly engaged is productive and workers express high morale and high job satisfaction. According to the research conducted by Towers Watson (2012) about 35% of the world’s workforce is highly engaged and about 25% of the global workforce is disengaged. Disengaged employees are associated with lower morale, lower job satisfaction, a reduced ability to manage stress and lower productivity. These characteristics of disengaged employees manifest themselves in the work environment in a number of ways. Some of the more salient ones are: a tendency to make mistakes on the job, a lower interest in meeting customer needs and producing quality products and services, and a lower commitment to work.

The concept of employee engagement parallels student engagement. And the factors that compose the sustainable engagement of workers also defines the sustainable engagement of students. If students lose their commitment to achieve the goals of the course (being engaged) and that they are working in an online environment that does not provide them the tools to achieve their goals (being enabled) and the class work (assignments, lectures, discussions) do not excite them (being energized) then they retreat and lose their engagement.

All three of these elements of sustainable engagement have direct corollaries to the online instructional environment. I think that that the student is responsible their own commitment (being engaged), the school is responsible for the tools to help students (being enabled) and the instructor is responsible for creating excitement and interest in the class (being energized). In that way all three participants – the student, the school and the instructor are engaged in the success of students.

Macey, W. and Schneider, B. (2008). The Meaning of Employee Engagement, Industrial and Organizational Psychology I, p.3–30. Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Tower Watson, 2012 Global Workforce Study: Engagement at Risk – Driving Strong Performance in a Volatile Global Environment, NYC, New York: Towers Watson Consulting.

Class – How would the Organizational Development (OD) /Communications practitioner help organizations maintain high levels of employee engagement during a major change process?

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