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Employee Engagement

Engagement as a concept came into the academic literature through the work of Kahn (1990), where he talks of personal engagement (which involves a particular behaviour that individual bring to work and keeps them connected to the job) and disengagement (which involves getting disconnected from work). Since then the term has become very popular in organizations especially in the department of HR (Truss, et al., 2013). To fully understand the meaning of employee engagement, there has to be a clear definition of what it stands for.

However, deciding on a one-fit-all definition for the term engagement has not been an easy task for scholars.So there are different definitions to the term. Engagement as defined by Kahn, (1990, p.700) is “the simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s ‘preferred self’ in the task behaviours that promote connections to work and to others, personal presence (physical, cognitive and emotional) and active full performance”.  For Schaufeli, et al. (2002, p.74), they defined engagement as “a positive fulfilling work related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption”. Vigor is exemplified by a willingnessto work, it also means exerting one’s energy into the given job, dedication is showed in the commitment an employee is ready to give to the job even in the face of challenges (this form of dedication can be said to give the employee a sense of achievement) and lastly, absorption has to do with being fully engrossed in the job.

Another definition views employee engagement as “a high level of energy and a strong identification with one’s work”(Bakker, et al., 2008, p.189). Meanwhile,  MacLeod and Clarke (2009,p.9 cited in Truss et al 2013, p.2659), viewed engagement as “a workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organization’s   goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being”. This definition suggests a broader scope for the term engagement because it argues that employees should be able to also improve their own well-being and not only organisational goals. Furthermore, employee engagement can also be defined as “an individual’s sense of purpose and focused energy, evident to others in the display of personal initiative, adaptability, effort and persistence directed toward organizational goals” (Macey, et al., 2009, p.7).

Disengagement and Burnout

Research has shown that disengagement from work comes as a result of burnout (Bakker, Demerouti and Verbeke, 2004). Also Practitioners have identified engagement and burnout as opposite ends of a continuum (Cole, et al., 2012).

Job burnout is best understood with these three terms: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy (Maslach, Schaufeli and Leiter, 2001). Exhaustion is an extreme form of physical or mental weariness that has been prolonged over a period of time. Cynicism results when an individual gradually begins to distance him or herselffrom task and even co-workers and inefficacy shows feelings of lack of accomplishment, incompetence and even failure in one’s job (Demerouti, et al., 2003; Bakker, Demerouti and Verbeke, 2004).

The studies of Maslach, Schaufeli and Leiter, (2001), described burnout as a gradual process starting with emotional exhaustion followed by the involvement of cynicism and finally the feeling of inefficacy. Meanwhile, thework of Cole, et al. (2012), argues that individuals on starting a job, start with an engaged attitude, but as time passes, burnout sets in.

 Disengagement results from employee distancing himself from work. This disengagement can be seen in the emotions and behaviours of the employee (Bakker, Demerouti and Verbeke, 2004). According to Swarnalatha and Prasanna (2013), they identified that the opposite of an engaged employee is a zombie employee. This zombie employee is so disengaged from his duties, specializes in lowering the moral of others and is a burden financially to the organisation. Disengaged employees are most often uncoupled from their roles, they do not have any attachment to their work as compared to engaged employees who have physical, cognitive and emotional attachment to their work (Truss, et al., 2013).