Public sector engagement: what should employees be contributing?

Employees working hard
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Fatima Elmi
Research and Development Analyst
Martin Reddington Associates
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Based on an innovative and forward-thinking whitepaper, this blog series highlights several key parts of how a new empoyment deal for public sector staff could revitalise the sector and tackle disengagement.

Employee contributions describe what employees feel they are bringing to the employment deal. These include job engagement, capability and organisational engagement.

Job engagement [JE]

We understand this concept to mean being ‘psychologically present’ when performing a job role.

This is manifested by physical, emotional and cognitive behaviours such as enthusiasm and preparedness to take on challenging tasks, leading to performance outcomes e.g. quality of work. The J.E score for highly disengaged employees was 73%. At first glance the figure of 73% gives a misleading impression of employee engagement, in that it suggests this group is doing relatively well.

A closer inspection of other measures such as conversational practice, capability, workplace tensions and overall engagement tells you a much more authentic story about their employment experience.

Engagement is much more than the psychological measures of drive, motivation, pride and enthusiasm. People can show commitment, passion, enthusiasm, loyalty to their team members, line manager and clients and yet still feel detached from the wider organisation.

This is evident in the following free text comments:

"My manager and my team are the reason I enjoy my job. I don't feel the council cares about me on my Pay Grade []. The people I work with are my motivation, not the Council."

"Being able to help housebound people in the community by providing them with a tailor made service which delivers books etc. to their door. Being able to help children and adults find the information they need, particularly if they are not computer literate."

"My colleagues, the work I do and working in the public sector."

The additional statistical analysis performed on job engagement was able to reveal the components driving job engagement.

Job pressure and negotiating the more-with-less-tension both made positive contributions to job engagement. Other factors that were found to be important included perception of job control and understanding the availability of support when carrying out a job role. 

Capability [Cap]

This component measures the perception of confidence and competence that an individual possesses enabling them to perform in their role and contribute to individual and team performance.

Our analysis revealed the importance of conversational practice to capability levels. Engaging in good quality dialogue improves the perception of capability amongst employees.

This research once again draws attention to the fundamental role of the line manager. Conversational practice is strongly determined by the trust in the line manager [see conversational practice article].

The ideal working relationships with managers are cultivated in an atmosphere in which managers recognise that speaking openly about problems in the workplace create opportunities to improve things – an essential ‘enabler’ to allow meaningful conversations to take place.

Managers that are competent at building and maintaining an environment in which employee voice is sought after on a consistent basis create a sense of of being valued, which in turn helps to reinforce their perception of self-efficacy.

The following quotes capture how feeling supported, encouraged and having the space to explore ideas encourages employees to perform confidently and competently in their job role.

  • "My manager instils confidence in my ability and provides guidance when required."
  • "My line manager is open and engaging and reflective - this enables me to get tasks done."
  • "I am able to approach my line manager to discuss tasks and ideas as to the best way to approach the task and get the outcome we desire."
  • "My line manager gives me opportunities to explore different ways of thinking and doing things."

Organisational Engagement [OE]

In TEDD® this concept is defined as the individual’s psychological presence with their organisation.

This is manifested by the expression of organisational commitment and citizenship behaviours e.g. advocacy, helping behaviours and constructive challenge.

There were stark differences in overall engagement levels between the highly engaged and highly disengaged employees.

The former scored 92% while for the latter group it was 51%. For the highly disengaged group their OE score is considerably lower than their JE figure.

Further granular analysis of the data revealed that overall engagement levels were driven by clarity around obligations and promises, encouragement to use initiative and feeling valued. These are all psychological contract and perceived organisational support components.

To summarise, the Job Engagement and Organisational Engagement scores for those belonging to the highly disengaged group illustrate the importance of not relying solely on an ‘engagement score’.

By simply relying on measuring things like going the extra mile, motivation, pride, passion and being in the state of flow when working on projects, the conceptualisation of engagement is limited only to psychological dimensions. As we have seen already, a good engagement score does not necessarily translate into peak performance.

This JE score obscures the realities of workforce dynamics by telling you only a partial narrative about the state of employee engagement.

Measures of organisational engagement at a broader level rather than focusing on the personal and psychological perspective draws attention to the structural issues driving performance. The following quotes attributed to the highly engaged and highly disengaged groups reflect this.

The highly disengaged group tend to emphasis their job role, team and clients as being the main things they they enjoy about their job but the highly engaged group focused on psychological contract and perceived organisational support components.

“The final salary pension, personal development opportunities, support line, annual leave entitlement and flexi working arrangements. In my particular area of work, we have a manager who 'leads from the middle' and is supportive and understanding of his team.” (Highly Engaged)

The only thing I enjoy about working with the council is the support I receive from my work advisors. The upper management team have no thought or respect for what we do. (Highly Disengaged).

This again underlines the importance of taking a holistic perspective that considers the myriad of factors impacting on performance outcomes when analysing employee engagement.

References

Bandura, A. (2004). Self-efficacy. In N.B Anderson (Ed.) Encyclopedia of health & behaviour (vol. 2, pp. 708-714). Thousound Oaks. Sage Publications.
Kahan, W., (1990) Psycholgical conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work, Academy of management Journal, 33 (4).
Saks AM (2006), ‘Antecedents and consequences of employment engagement’, Journal of Mangement Psychology, 21(7), 600-619. 

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