Is Employee Engagement Central to Change?

Engagement is a concept that is commonly used in discussions about teaching and learning. However, it is typically associated with students. Those of us who focus our efforts on improving teaching and learning are used to seeking out practices to improve student engagement, for we know that engagement is key to motivation and learning. But what about employee engagement?

In 2013, Gallup found that only 13% of the worldwide workforce is engaged. The report, which surveyed employees from 140 countries from 2011-2012, defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and who contribute to their organization in a positive manner.” They’re also the ones that are most likely to “drive innovation.”

Employee Engagement Categories and definitions

As I see it, employee engagement is a critical facet of leading innovation in higher education. While identifying employee engaging as an organizational priority may feel like a 180 degree turn from on institutional effectiveness, the two are actually intertwined.

From my experiences supporting faculty, I recognize that faculty who a try new approaches in their teaching often share that changing how they teach increases their motivation for their work. At the same time, those who are willing to try new teaching approaches are also those who are more engaged to start.

What do you think? When you examine the three categories of employee engagement, illustrated to the left, which category do you fall into? Engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged.

I see employee engagement as a continuum with engagement at one end — represented by employees who are passionate, collaborative, and dedicated to the organizational goals — and  active disengagement at the other end — represented by employees who are hostile, disruptive, and quick to point the finger at others.  Engaged employees are more likely to feel as if they are treated with respect and experience enjoyment and actively disengaged employees are more likely to experience stress and anger. As you reflect on your co-workers, can you identify behaviors are described in the category summaries?  What if these behaviors were understood to be effects of our organizational culture, instead of intrinsic personality traits?

If your organization deployed the Gallup employee engagement survey, what would the results look like? Would there be a correlation between organizations with high employee engagement and innovation? Finally, could these findings be used to design development programs for emerging higher education leaders?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights about these ideas.




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