Employee engagement: emperor’s new clothes?

This paper takes a critical look at the concept of employee engagement. Despite having grown in popularity over the last twenty years, there is little scientific evidence to support the impressive claims made about engagement.

Our review of the literature highlights four main problems with engagement as a concept:

  • There is no single agreed definition for engagement and interpretations differ wildly across theorists and organisations.
  • Engagement has a significant conceptual overlap with satisfaction and motivation. Some engagement measures correlate with satisfaction to such an extent that they are measuring exactly the same thing.
  • Measures of engagement differ significantly in what they measure and how they measure it.
  • There is a significant lack of good quality evidence for both engagement as a cohesive concept or for its impact on people and organisations. This is despite the claims made by practitioners and consultancies in this area.

We therefore recommend that claims about engagement and its benefits are treated with healthy skepticism and that organisations reflect before investing in engagement processes. Organisations could better invest in measuring employee satisfaction, commitment and motivation, for which there is superior evidence.