Do you ever find yourself hearing a term that you know, but you can’t come up with a straight-forward definition?

Employee engagement is one of those terms for me, and though I have a good understanding of what it is, I wonder if my idea of “engagement” is the same as anyone else’s? From satisfaction to dedication to enthusiasm, engagement can represent an abundance of different factors in an employee’s relationship with an organization. The complexity of employee engagement may be one of the reasons that organizations often don’t give it enough attention, but its’ importance and potential benefits are certainly worth the effort.

BlessingWhite, a global consulting firm that helps create high-performance cultures, defines engagement as an alignment of maximum job satisfaction with maximum job contribution. They believe that aligning employees’ values, goals, and aspirations with those of the organization is the best method for achieving sustainable employee engagement required for an organization to thrive.  It seems to me that they are spot on, and while the idea of employee engagement is rapidly transitioning from an academic discussion to an applied strategic objective, there is yet to be a universal framework to achieve its’ full potential. BlessingWhite conducted a study resulting in the Employee Engagement Report 2011, reflecting the interviews with HR and line leaders as well as online survey responses of nearly 11,000 individuals from North America, India, Europe, Southeast Asia, Australia/New Zealand, and China. In this report, BlessingWhite shares a brief overview of engagement levels worldwide, the engagement-retention connection, key drivers, and the ways that behaviors of managers and executives influence engagement.

The study also explores the specific roles and responsibilities of the workforce in building a more engaged organization. Their focus:  individual employees, managers, and executives. These three roles are incremental, depending on someone’s level in the organization: Everyone is accountable for his or her own engagement; anyone with direct reports must coach team members to higher levels of engagement and manage his or her own engagement; and executives set the tone for an engaged organization plus shoulder the responsibilities of individuals and managers. By organizing their findings into tangible recommendations for each of these three roles, this Employee Engagement Report is extremely insightful as well as useful for organizations. Let’s begin with the key findings of this study:

• Fewer than 1 in 3 employees worldwide (31%) are engaged. Nearly 1 in 5 (17%) are disengaged.

• Despite the economic recession, engagement levels around the world remained roughly stable when comparing early 2008 and mid-2010.

• More employees are looking for new opportunities outside their organization than they were in 2008.

• There is a strong correlation between engagement levels and age, role/level, and tenure in the organization. Older employees, people in positions of power, long-term employees (7+ years), and employees who work in departments closest to strategy decisions and customer relationships are most likely to be engaged.

• Engaged employees plan to stay for what they give; the disengaged stay for what they get.

• Trust in executives can have more than twice the impact on engagement levels than trust in immediate managers does. However, employees are more likely to trust their immediate managers than the executives in their organization.

• Managers are not necessarily doing the things that matter most. In some regions relationships trump skills, and employees’ knowledge of their managers as “people” behind their titles appears to impact engagement levels more than manager actions.

• Executives appear to struggle with key leadership behaviors correlated to engagement, yet executive behaviors can have a greater potential impact on engagement than manager actions.

• Executives aren’t getting the basics of performance right! Creating an environment that supports high performance is the item that received the least favorable response in the entire survey; it also has among the strongest correlations with engagement levels.

• Engagement surveys without visible follow-up action may actually decrease engagement levels, suggesting that organizations think twice before flipping the switch on measurement without 100% commitment for action planning based on the results.

With these insights, BlessingWhite takes the reader one step further by providing implications and recommendations for employees, clarifying their roles and responsibilities to ultimately achieve a fully engaged organization. BlessingWhite reinforces that in order to reap the rewards that a more engaged organization promises, your entire workforce needs to be accountable for their piece of the “engagement equation” every day.  Christopher Rice, the President and CEO of BlessingWhite, said that “global findings and trends help us articulate the most common drivers of engagement, but at the end of the day it’s the daily dynamics at play in your team, your division, and your organization that matter.”  The following is a breakdown of recommendations for individuals, managers, and executives:

Individuals: ownership, clarity, and action
As an individual, you need clear direction on what your organization is trying to achieve. You also need to understand your own values, interests, talents, and aspirations. Your manager can coach you in your quest to achieve organizational and personal goals. Your executives can communicate strategy and set the tone. Ultimately you need to own your own engagement.

Managers: coaching, relationships, and dialogue
As a manager, you represent a key leverage point in helping individual employees align and commit with the objectives of your organization. Your effectiveness is determined not only by what you do but also by who you are. Employees must trust in your ability and character – and understand your personal motivation. You won’t be able to match individual passion and proficiencies with organizational priorities if you don’t talk to your people. Get to know them. Understand not only their special talents but also their unique engagement drivers.

Executives: trust, communication, and culture
As an executive, you have significant impact on the engagement levels of people you rarely see – or may have never met. You need to speak with passion about engagement and business results, but if you don’t have the trust of the workforce your message will be lost or twisted. Communication needs to be a priority – in frequency, appropriateness, and depth (the “what” and “why”). You also must be diligent in holding yourself and your peers accountable for building a culture that fuels high performance and engagement.