A question of engagement

‘If you ask the wrong questions, you’ll probably get the wrong answers or at least not quite what you’re hoping for’.  The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) appear to have ignored this truism in its recent attempts to measure employee engagement.  Not only that, it seems confused as to what engagement is. 

It shouldn’t be confused because organisational researchers have already established that engagement is a positive motivational state of mind characterised by feelings of vigor, absorption and dedication. Thus to understand whether workers are engaged, the right questions to ask them are ones about their levels of energy, mental resilience, effort, persistence, involvement etc.

However, when it was creating its Employee Engagement Index, the CIPD didn’t ask about these factors. Instead its questions included:

  • “To what extent do you take on more work to help colleagues?”
  • “To what extent do you work more hours than you’re paid or contracted to do?”
  • “To what extent are you satisfied with your job content?”
  • “To what extent do you think your employer treats you fairly?”

As it didn’t actually ask the respondents anything about their positive motivational state, how can the CIPD deduce that 36% of employees are engaged and 3% are disengaged? It’s a bit like asking “Are you satisfied with the amount of football on TV?” and then deducing that all those who answer “Yes” enjoy playing football.

Alas, the CIPD is not alone in asking the wrong questions when it comes to employee engagement. It seems to be a common misconception among HR professionals, consultants and survey companies that engagement is the same as feeling satisfied or it’s when the employees go the extra mile.  Of course, job demands, job resources, and personal resources do contribute to whether or not we become engaged, and engaged workers have been found to be more creative and more productive, but measuring the inputs and the outputs doesn’t tell us how engaged people actually are.

If you’re keen to find out the real level of engagement in your workforce make sure you use a survey tool that has good validity and reliability, or to put it simply, asks the right questions.

If you need help understanding what work engagement really is, contact gill@unisonmedia.co.uk



Arnold B. Bakker, Evangelia Demerouti, (2008) “Towards a model of work engagement”, Career Development International, Vol. 13 Iss: 3, pp.209 – 223 

CIPD (Winter 2011/12). “Employee outlook: Part of the CIPD outlook series”.  Accessed from: http://www.cipd.co.uk/binaries/5756%20Employee%20Outlook%20SR%20(WEB).pdf  on 27/01/12.

Schaufeli, W.B., & Bakker, A.B. (2004).  “Job demands, job resources, and their relationship with burnout and engagement: a multi-sample study.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 293–315

Schaufeli, W.B., Bakker, A.B., Salanova, M. (2006). “The measurement of work engagement with a short questionnaire: A cross-national study.” Education and Psychological Measurement, 66, 701-716.

Xanthopoulou, D., Bakker, A.B., Demerouti, E., & Schaufeli, W.B. (2007).  “The role of personal resources in the job demands-resources model.”  International Journal of Stress Management, 14, 122-141


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