Cultivating Employee Engagement and Embeddedness

Organisations whose employees have a high level of work engagement and have a sense of embeddedness in the organisation outperform those whose employees perceive themselves as “passing through” the organisation or who see their work as merely a way of earning a living.

In an earlier article, we noted that employees engage in organisational citizenship behavior partly as a result of their level of work engagement and embeddedness. We acknowledged that engagement reflects the extent to which an employee is absorbed and enthusiastic about their work to the point of displaying a high level of allegiance to the organisation. We also noted that embeddedness reflects the extent of their attachment to the organisation seen through the quality of none work related relationships they have with their co-workers and with the role they perform in the organisation. A critical question for the organisation is how to achieve a high level of employee engagement and a level of embeddedness that makes the employees work role and relationships extend beyond the work environment to constitute an integral part of their lives. It is at that level of employee-organisation attachment that exiting the organisation becomes a costly option for an employee. In a world where the war for talented employees is intensifying, it is growing increasingly important for organisations to minimize levels of turnover among talented employees.

Achieving Employee Engagement

Engagement linked to competitive advantage. Engaged employees are emotionally and mentally absorbed in their work. As a result, they perform better regarding productivity and profitability. Further, because they are always psychologically ‘present,’ they observe health and safety regulations and display responsible corporate citizenship. Engaged employees exhibit high levels of commitment and loyalty and are less likely to harbor quitting intentions. Notwithstanding the apparent benefits of maintaining and engaged workforce as much as 70% of the of the global workforce unengaged – they are just earning a living. Most workplaces are not configured to facilitate employee engagement. Exceptions are those that have embraced high-performance cultures that depend on employees completely owning their work and going the extra mile.

Critical areas organisations need to address to facilitate employee engagement are hygienic issues; depth and meaning in work; opportunities for growth – stretching and challenging; let the work environment suck them in by promoting embeddedness.

Basic hygienic issues

Although at times employee engagement concerns go beyond pay, pay and related hygienic problems are central components of employee engagement as they are a fundamental prerequisite. A decent remuneration is the starting point, a point that is taken for granted to the extent of being ignored. It is necessary that employees’ remuneration is consistent with their qualifications, experience, and contribution and that there is transparency in the administration of remuneration. Employees should not waste precious time agonizing over their pay and benefits. It drains them of energy and compromises their ability to focus on the job at hand. While salary may not be a motivator, it creates the base from which other motivational issues are handled. No amount of “nice add-ons” can make up for an inadequate pay package. As a starting point for creating an environment that nurtures employee engagement, dissatisfactions associated with the organisation’s remuneration system must be eliminated. Remuneration must be structured in a manner that addresses individual employee’s needs without compromising on fairness and consistency.

The increase in knowledge type workers and women in workplaces necessitates looking beyond financial rewards to incorporate relational type rewards such as making work meaningful, opportunities for growth through stretching and challenging assignments, supportive leadership, work-life-balance and an organisational culture that facilitates employee embeddedness.

Meaningful work

People want to derive more meaning from their work that goes beyond earning a living to address their inner needs relating to their larger life missions.  They look to the workplace imbuing a job role with a sense of meaning and purposefulness that transcends the workplace and its financial rewards. There is a growing interest in combining professional and life values and therefore wanting workplace values to be consistent with personal values so that one leads an integrated life. In such a situation there is an alignment between employee and organisational core values which reinforces employee sense of oneness with the organisation, self-discipline and seeing work as an integral part of one’s self-development. It also encourages employees to engage in positive organisational citizenship behavior.

Opportunities for growth

Part of meaningful work is one having a sense that their job role gives them opportunities to grow. Talented employees are on a continuous growth trajectory and can quickly disengage from a work situation devoid of challenging assignments and opportunities to develop their capabilities. Opportunities for growth do not necessarily have to be linked with an increase in remuneration as this is what tends to dissuade some supervisors from exposing their subordinates to more challenging higher grade assignments. It is better for growth opportunities to be viewed as part of an individual’s training and development.

Supportive leadership

A supportive leadership that ensures that employees have the necessary resources to get the job done facilitates employee engagement. A leadership style that is overly overbearing while not providing resources can lead to a sense of disillusionment and reduce the employer-employee relationship to a contractual transaction where everyone only does enough to cover their contractual obligations. A leadership that gives employees opportunities to participate in decisions that affect their work and embraces transformational leadership practices of idealized influence, inspirational motivation, individualized consideration, and intellectual stimulation supports employees interested in meaningful and challenging work. Employee engagement is likely to occur when superiors provide satisfactory answers to three fundamental employee questions:

  • Do you care about me? How do you show you care?
  • What do I need to do to get ahead?
  • Where can I go to get justice?

Getting employees embedded in the organisation

Linked to employee engagement is embeddedness which refers to the employee’s level of attachment to the organisation in terms of social linkages, level of perceived fit and what the employee sees as potential loses they may incur if they were to leave the organisation. Conditions for employee embeddedness are created through making the work environment and the job itself “fit” the employee’s interests and needs so that work becomes an extension of the employee’s way of life where relationships go beyond the position. Embeddedness is achieved through work-life balance, teamwork, healthy organisational culture and remuneration systems that incorporate delayed compensation.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance is a situation where an employee’s job leaves them sufficient space to lead a fulfilling life outside the job such as getting involved in community activities they consider important. Work-life balance activities that extend to an employees’ family such as social amenities can increase an employee’s embeddedness making it difficult for them to quit a job as that could disrupt family routines.


The absence of teamwork in a workplace pressurizes those who value it to leave the organisation at the earliest opportunity.  Teamwork, on the other hand, creates a sense of cohesiveness, altruism, shared accountability and a determination to see the team succeed. Relationships formed within groups can reduce quitting intentions as a result of employee embeddedness in the team. Some team relationships extend well beyond the work environment and therefore convert a working relationship into a social relationship that increases an employees’ feeling of belonging, and makes them identify themselves as part of the team.

Organisation culture

Organisation culture reflects shared values, guiding principles, beliefs, principles, and assumptions which evolve through accepted customs and practices. Organisational policies, procedures, and practices are representative of its culture. The culture, therefore, affects both employee engagement and embeddedness as it can either nurture or destroy them.  Where organisational values that constitute the culture are a reflection of inner employee needs, beliefs, and aspirations, employees find meaningfulness in their work and have a sense of being one with the organisation – a sense of being embedded. Part of organisational practices that are part of the culture is delayed compensation as a way of incentivizing employees to commit themselves to and identify with future corporate performance. The reward can be both monetary and non-monetary. The latter may include specialized training and development opportunities linked to progressive stages of a career ladder.

Employee engagement and embeddedness touch on many aspects of employer-employee workplace relations. An integrated approach that draws from different points of organisational management to achieve high levels of employee-job engagement and sense of embeddedness in the organisation give a business employees-based competitive advantage ahead of its counterparts.

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