Employment relations and employee engagement
This free course, Employment relations and employee engagement, explores an important topical concept in Human Resource Management, namely ‘employee engagement’.
Human resource management is premised on the idea that organisational success stems from the ability to extract a greater degree of willing employee commitment to corporate objectives, rather than merely competing on price or product quality. The implication is that what matters is the way in which employees choose to undertake their jobs and, crucially, the extent of ‘discretionary effort’ they are prepared to expend (Rees, Alfes, and Gatenby, 2013). Against this backdrop, raising levels of employee engagement is the latest in a long line of managerial strategies aimed at releasing employee discretion and aligning employee interests more closely with managerial goals, predicated on the assumption that this will in turn boost organisational performance.
Employees who are more engaged with their work are thus viewed to be more likely to behave in positive and cooperative ways, to the benefit of both the firm and themselves (CIPD, 2014a). It is also argued that engaged employees outperform others by showing heightened interest in their work and being prepared to ‘go the extra mile’ for their organisation (CIPD, 2014a). The claim has also been made that engaged employees see their work as more meaningful and fulfilling, and appear to experience increased job satisfaction (Truss et al. 2013). In this way it has been argued that there are potential individual and organisational benefits of employee engagement.
A problem arises however when we look at empirical evidence of engagement. Studies have shown that most employees are in fact not engaged at work – according to one study, it’s fewer than 40% (CIPD, 2012). An employment relations perspective of employee engagement is thus somewhat more critical than the view expressed in the previous paragraph. Questions arise as to the following issues: Who benefits from employee engagement? To what extent is it possible to deal with external contextual constraints to achieve an engaged workforce (for example the state of the economy)? To what extent are the internal contextual constraints (such as poor management, lack of worker discretion, and low levels of employee voice) obstacles to engagement?
This course investigates various facets of employee engagement from a variety of different perspectives. The discussion opens with a critique of the concept itself, as well as the purported outcomes of employee engagement, including an exploration of both engagement and disengagement and the link between engagement and emotional labour. Employee engagement is then examined through the lens of its antecedents, including investigation of the concept of trust, the impacts of partnership and collaboration, as well as employee voice, communication and involvement. The impact of organisational change on employee engagement is also explored.
This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course.