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Employee engagement matters more than you think

Why do we work? To live our lives with comfort and dignity, for food and shelter, to provide for our loved ones, to apply our talents, contribute to society and be valued.


Work also offers opportunities to learn new skills and advance, to interact with others and learn from them. In fact, work occupies such a large part of our lives that it defines our identity to a great extent, and is often the primary way a person is identified by others.

Work and family are the two major domains in most people’s lives and, contrary to what many think, they can never be entirely separate. The reality is that even if we are on the job from 9 to 5 – or likely far longer – work doesn’t leave us when we leave the office. Just as work intertwines with identity, emotions at work entangle with other areas of our lives. This shows in the form of ‘spillover’  –  from work, to life away from it and vice versa. At another level, it manifests in the form of ‘crossover’, where a person’s work stress negatively impacts their spouse or partner and children.

People who are disengaged or unhappy at work are stressed and this causes them to be anxious and unable to give fully of themselves to their families or communities. Research has shown that such people are far more likely to be obese and be at higher risk of heart disease. The stress also adversely affects their marital relationship and their children’s behaviour.

However, the reverse also holds true. When a person is fully engaged, the effects show in his/her interactions with family, work and community. An enriching job usually results in a stronger marital relationship. There is a strong positive correlation between your job and your life satisfaction. Being fully engaged at work permeates the employee’s entire life – it is part of a vibrant, productive and happy work-life continuum.

At the organisational level, engaged employees possess a strong sense of organisational pride, proactively recommend their organisation as a good place to work and are committed to staying with their employer. A fully engaged workforce provides a real competitive advantage to the organisation – research has shown that when employees are engaged, organisational productivity and profits are higher. If your workforce is not engaged, or is largely disengaged, your organisation is not maximising its resources, does not enjoy employee confidence and is bound to have retention issues. Disengaged employees are unhappy, they tend to spread discontentment to co-workers, adversely affect company productivity and image and sometimes impacting client relations as well. They are not committed to the company and they do the bare minimum of work.

Although the benefits of full engagement have been established, most people and research take the view that organisations are solely responsible for engagement. The truth is it’s a two-way street.

The onus for employee engagement does not lie entirely with the employer. Employees should also work at developing a sense of ownership about the organisation they work in, and they should reflect this in every facet of their work life. It has to be a mutual give-and-take relationship between the employer and employee for true engagement to be achieved. 

For individuals to have a deep feeling of engagement in their career, they need to find the intersection  – the bulls-eye – of passion, purpose and pay. For employers to foster engagement, they need to command their employees’ trust, be willing to invest in their growth and development, and recognise their efforts and contributions to the organisation’s success.

The work-life blend that exists in society today makes it imperative that we are fully engaged, not just with one aspect or the other, but engaged with life. Achieving this involves a fundamental shift in the way we live our lives and perceive our work.

Rudy Karsan is CEO of Kenexa and co-author of a new book We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement.