The Theory of Employee Engagement

Jon Hellevig

The Theory of Employee Engagement

09.10.2012 employee engagement 0 Comments

This represents a summary of the theory of employee engagement as presented in Employee Engagement in Russia, an Awara Guide written by Jon Hellevig (you can access the full book here).

Employee engagement is about how to achieve a company’s strategic goals by creating the conditions for human resources to thrive and, for each staff member, manager and executive to be fully switched on in their jobs so as to deliver their best efforts in the best interest of the business.

The theory of employee engagement, when stated simply, looks like common sense. According to the theory, leaders of an organization must ensure that all their staff members are fully engaged, that they are fully switched on at their jobs. The ideal is that the staff is fully committed, in the same way entrepreneurs care for their businesses or people in general look after their own household. Being engaged simply means that you are fully involved and interested in the work so that it really holds your attention and inspires you to do your best.

To expand on this definition a bit, we can say that employee engagement is also a two-way street: a reciprocal relationship of trust and respect between employer and employee. It requires an organization’s executives and managers to communicate their expectations, clearly and extensively, with the employees, empower the employees at the appropriate levels of their competence, and create a working environment and corporate culture in which engagement will thrive.

Simple it may be, but the theory is needed to counter the habits and practices rooted in hundreds of years of mismanagement. These bad practices have created a situation where few employees are truly engaged in their work. Surveys back up this conclusion: British and other European studies find that the level of active engagement in companies is usually very low, something like one in ten employees, with a majority claiming to be only “moderately engaged.” We can imagine the waste of potential this represents by asking whether any professional sports team, performing arts organization, or military unit would manage to survive with such a low level of engagement from its members.

Employee engagement is more than the elements that go into it

It is easy to confuse engagement with other concepts that are seemingly similar to it. These concepts include job satisfaction; employee commitment; and employee empowerment.

The first of these, job satisfaction, holds that employers should strive to make their employees as happy and comfortable as possible at work. This theory can be summarized by the dictum “a happy workforce is a productive workforce.” What distinguishes job satisfaction from employee engagement is the fact that the former is effectively a one-way street. In the job satisfaction theory, the entire burden of engagement is placed on the employer, whose paternal concern for the workers is manifested in various benefits and allowances. The problem of this approach is that a worker who is merely satisfied – content with his situation – is not necessarily compelled to contribute his best to the company.

Employee commitment is another theory which bears a certain similarity to employee engagement but does not match entirely. Commitment focuses more on compulsion – creating conditions in which the employee will feel compelled to work. Engagement aims to create a situation where the employee develops an intrinsic desire to work for the best of the organization. Engagement is a more emotional choice, aimed at harnessing the employee’s positive motivations.

Finally there is empowerment. This is the idea that you have to endow your employees with authority to make business decisions. However, empowerment cannot serve as a positive force independently of other efforts to engage employees and a relevant corporate culture of engagements. One may empower only those employees who are adequately engaged – which brings us back to the overall centrality of engagement.

So what are the characteristics of engaged employees?

Let us look deeper at employee engagement in action. It is largely about motivation – in the sense that management strives to create conditions in which employees feel intrinsically motivated. Things like job satisfaction and empowerment derive from the properly directed energies of a motivated workforce, rather than being ends in themselves. Companies’ focus remains, quite properly, on ensuring the success of their business strategy and ultimately on profits and shareholder value.

Engaged employees have certain characteristics. Overall, we can say that they are fully committed to doing their best in their jobs – that is, they are not merely putting in time in the workplace in exchange for a paycheck. They actively want to contribute to the success of the company; therefore, they put their best efforts forward (including time commitment), and do not take accepted habits at face value, but challenge them by bringing in fresh ideas and perspectives. They are concerned with things like quality, costs, customer service, and safety – not because they have to be, but because they want to be.

Employee engagement demands that company leaders make active efforts to bring about these positive characteristics in the employees. They do this by creating the appropriate corporate culture of engagement and self-discipline.

The importance of corporate culture

Engagement does not take place in a vacuum. It has to be anchored in a corporate culture that stimulates and sustains engagement. Briefly defined, corporate culture is the totality of all actions of a company, the decisions and behavior of its management and all of its employees, as well as business practices and processes. One can compress this definition still further: Corporate culture is the way business is done in the firm.

Corporate culture is important because the highest level of employee engagement is reached in a self-sustainable culture of engagement which is built on the pillars of self-organization, self-motivation, and self-discipline. Such an organization is low on hierarchy, low on bureaucracy, low on interference and meddling from management, and low on micromanagement. It all adds up to a culture of success where the “self” serves not just the individuals but the needs of the company.
A leader needs to recognize that a corporate culture is not a thing that should be taken as given by the circumstances, rather a good leader needs to make it his priority to change the corporate culture so that it will be aligned with the strategic goals.

The ideal future organization of engagement is based on the principle of self-organization of self-motivated and self-disciplined people. Some hierarchy is undoubtedly necessary, but it should be kept to a minimum. Teamwork, allowing individuals to merge and utilize their combined competencies, is the most important principle. Success in business is therefore based on a paradox: companies that provide the best environment for the positive actions of the self create the best teams in the process.

Engagement drivers

We have recognized the below list of engagement drivers, which also are the drivers of a healthy modern corporate culture.

  • Trust, fairness and respect among employees, managers and leaders, as well as clients, suppliers and partners
  • Alignment of members of the organization, to ensure that vision, mission guiding principles and strategy are clearly communicated and believed in
  • Communication, internal and external stimulates free flow of information, to bring efficiency and better business results on all levels
  • Empowerment of employees within a clear framework and involvement of employees at all levels of planning and decision making
  • Efficient processes, having certain rules in place where necessary, leaving space for questioning the status quo and enhance development, change and improvement
  • Organizational structure that facilitates team work, project management and management by processes
  • Self-discipline of all individuals of the organization and “having the right people on board”
  • Focus on customer satisfaction and quality
  • Leadership and management behavior acting according to the principles, setting examples for other employees
  • Quality of Life and a balanced work-life for all employees and managers
  • Job profiles that are broadly formulated and leave opportunities to develop, as oppose to narrowly defined functions
  • Reward systems and recognition for individual talents of the employees
  • Strong HR business partner who takes the role of leading change

Employee Engagement in Russia by Jon Hellevig

Awara Group has recently published, Employee Engagement in Russia, a book written by the company’s Managing Partner, Jon Hellevig, tackling the challenges and opportunities involved in managing a Russian organization. In the last few years, the management theory of employee engagement has gained increasing recognition. The theory presented in this book addresses  the question of how a company can achieve its strategic goals by creating the conditions for human resources to thrive and for each staff member, manager, and executive to eagerly deliver their best efforts in the best interest of the business. The book is based on Hellevig’s personal experience of managing Russian organizations since the 1990s and his studies of human behavior and social practices as expressed in his other books, Expressions and Interpretations, All is Art, and the two books in the series of A Biological Philosophy: The Case Against Noam Chomsky and Mental Processing. The book is fully finalized, however with the view to develop a further version of the book which will take into account the experience of the larger public, we have decided to publish a preview version of the book online, with the aim of engaging our readers by inviting them to share their opinions and insights on the topic. The preview e-book can be downloaded free of charge at:


Awara is the leading expert in employee engagement in Russia. We offer a wide range of services aimed at increasing bringing employee engagement to perfection in any company.

We work with the best international specialists in employee engagement and can deliver lectures and courses both in English and Russian.

Here is what we can do:

1.Lectures/training to Business Leaders

Help to raise awareness about importance of employee engagement among the business leaders – shareholders, board members, CEOs, top executives

What we offer:

–    Lectures to the business leaders about employee engagement, its importance and how to do it

–    Individual consulting on employee engagement

–    Coaching the chief engagement officer

2.Lectures/training to HR specialists

In-house training courses on employee engagement tailored to the needs of the firm

3. Lectures/training to middle management
4. Audit of present level of employee engagement (Audit of corporate culture)
5. Engagement surveys
–    Tailored surveys for any needs of engagement analysis
6. Development of strategy for employee engagement
7. Development of HR management strategy
8. Developing of business strategy
9. Development of Vision and Mission statements, Guiding principles (Organizational principles)
10. Corporate-wide employee engagement implementation
11. Recruitment of the best potential for engagement
12. Assessment of individual employees and teams
13. Advising on optimal organizational structure
14. Design of reward systems, salary levels, total remuneration, bonuses, incentives, stock options

Awara Direct Search, the recruitment, executive search and HR management consulting arm of Awara Group, assists clients in finding the best people for the best jobs all around Russia, Ukraine and the CIS countries. Awara’s recruitment and executive search experts possess the solid experience required to provide a quality service, based on years of experience working with global companies of all sizes and industrial dedications. Awara’s recruitment method is direct search. It is an individual search tailored to meet the challenges of the particular search assignment and designed to identify on the wide market the unique professional in demand. We also have a detailed knowledge of the latest governance regulations, compliance solutions, and best practices, which is of utmost importance in Russia, Ukraine and the CIS countries.

If you want to discuss this article, please contact the author:

Jon Hellevig, Managing partner of Awara Group

Eva Hua, Vice President, German Relations and Business Consulting

Helenika Hellevig, Executive Consultant of Awara Group

Recruitment Services in Russia


Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Leave a Reply