Category

Engagement

The Link Between Inclusion & Engagement

People staircase

In Dignii’s last blog post, Elisabeth, the Co-founder of Dignii, talked about extending the discussion around Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace to include “elevating the dignity of the individual”  – which is Dignii’s purpose! – by respecting and valuing each employee fully for who they are. Elisabeth expounds that this requires embracing diversity in all its shapes and forms and recognizing the myriad intersections that represent the sum total of each of us, who we are physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially, and based on our life experience. 

This week I’m writing about the link between employee engagement – Dignii’s core product focus – and Diversity & Inclusion.

To me, the intuitive link is clear: from my experience as an employee, it is when I feel respected and valued at work that I am the most engaged. My best experience of engagement was when the owners of a consultancy trusted me to handle their biggest client; I was incredibly motivated and put in 50 to 60 hour weeks fully absorbed in my work.

The opposite is also very familiar: there were instances of jobs where I lost sight of how my role contributed to the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization and essentially felt left out and not valued. The result was that even my normally good work ethic was ground down and I gradually burned out and left. Unfortunately, we all have similar stories.

Let’s move from the personal intuitive understanding of employee engagement to examine the science behind it.

What is Employee Engagement? A Positive Occupational Health Psychology Perspective 

According to Professor Schaufeli*, one of the World’s leading authorities on employee engagement, employee engagement is: “a positive, fulfilling, work related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption; [whereby vigor refers to] high levels of energy and mental resilience; [dedication refers to] being strongly involved in one’s work [and] experiencing a sense of significance; [and absorption refers to] being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work.” (Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá, and Bakker, 2002: 74)

Professor Schaufeli developed this definition of engagement based on engagement being defined as the opposite of burnout in certain psychological models. For example, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of General Hospital Psychiatry (6th Edition): “Burnout is a pathologic syndrome in which prolonged occupational stress leads to emotional and physical depletion and ultimately to the development of maladaptive behaviors (e.g., cynicism, depersonalization, hostility, detachment).” We can see that “depletion” is the opposite of “vigor”, and that “depersonalization, hostility, detachment” are the opposite of dedication. 

For a more nuanced understanding of engagement vs. burnout and engagement vs. satisfaction, it is instructive to refer back to the foundational Circumplex Model of human emotion by James Russell which maps human emotions on the dimensions of “valence” (pleasure/pleasantness) and “arousal” (activation/energy).

3: Typical circumplex model. Adapted from Feldman Barrett & Russell (1998).

Reviewing the top right quadrant which represent states of high valence and high activation: “work engagement” occurs when employees are experiencing a state of “excitement” and “elation”. The direct opposite of “work engagement” is “burnout,” which occurs when employees feel “depressed” and “lethargic” (bottom left quadrant; states of low valence and low activation). 

Interestingly, the history of engagement surveys has tended to measure more the “valence/satisfaction” dimension than the “activation/energy”. Gallup was instrumental in bringing engagement to the forefront of workplace discussions but their initial surveys were more a one dimensional measure of satisfaction. The danger of measuring only the valence dimension is that you cannot distinguish between engaged employees (top right) and employees who are satisfied but much less constructive in their workplace than they could be (bottom right).  Unfortunately, many organizations are not providing the right resources to the employee relative to the demands of the job leading to stress and burnout instead of engagement.

Now that we have an intuitive and academic definition of employee engagement let’s make the link between inclusion and engagement.

*Dignii is a licensed vendor of the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale survey, developed by Professor Schaufeli.

The Link Between Employee Engagement and Inclusion 

One framework to apply is to think of ‘inclusion’ as valuing others, and ‘engagement’ as involving others. However, in my opinion, this is somewhat reductive. A more comprehensive definition of inclusion by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.” This definition of inclusion comprises both valuing others (treat individuals fairly and with respect) and involving others (employees have equal access to opportunities and can contribute fully). To me, the broader definition of inclusion includes a precondition of engagement, which is ensuring employees can contribute fully, since contributing fully necessarily involves “vigor”, “dedication”, and “absorption”.

Engagement is a state of emotional well being that is a result of inclusion in action at the workplace. Employees need to feel trusted, and to trust in their organization, before they feel connected as a whole. Employees feel trusted when they are given a high degree of autonomy, which is one of the three intrinsic motivators of engaged employees alongside mastery, and purpose, according to Daniel Pink.

When framed this way, the overlapping drivers of engagement and inclusion are clear to see, and it is not surprising to find studies that confirm a high correlation between the two states. A study by The Winters Group found .78 correlation between inclusion and engagement. An earlier study by Gallup in 2005, found that 60% percent of respondents with the highest scores on diversity and inclusion questions were engaged whereas only 11% of those with the lowest scores in diversity and inclusion items were engaged.

Therefore, feeling trusted and valued (employee inclusion) is a necessary precondition for employee engagement. An engaged employee is

“a person who shows up to work each day as their best self by passionately adding value, and proactively seeking to achieve their company’s mission. Engaged employees demonstrate this through their interactions with coworkers, their attitude, and of course, their work.”

Finally, I share some additional resource on work engagement and inclusion:

The History of Work Engagement by Professor Schaufeli

How Diversity and Inclusion Drive Employee Engagement

Compilation of Diversity & Inclusion “Business Case” Research Data