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Employee Engagement and Commitment Are Not the Same Thing


As recruiting remains a challenge, I believe organizations will focus their resources toward making sure that they can keep the employees they have. Just like it’s easier to retain a customer (versus getting a new one), organizations will realize the same about employees. 

So retention will be a priority for companies, which means employee engagement will be a priority as well. Because companies cannot keep employees who are not engaged with the business. Please note: I said engaged, not committed. As I spend more time thinking about it, engagement and commitment are two different things.

I know, I’m guilty of using the terms interchangeably. But I think it’s time we draw the distinction. As a starting point, I looked up both definitions. 

Employee Engagement: The intersection of maximum contribution for the company and maximum satisfaction for employees. It’s a sustainable level of high performance that benefits both parties.

Organizational Commitment: An employee’s positive emotional attachment to the organization. 

I can see how a person could feel a positive connection to the organization but not necessarily engaged. I think about some of my former employers with great fondness. Keyword there being “former” employers. Even though I enjoyed working there, it wasn’t enough to keep me there. That’s where I think companies could get lulled into a false sense of “we have a super duper engaged workforce” when the reality is, the company has a lot of people who are proud of their affiliation with the company. 

In thinking about the definitions, it seems to me that employee engagement comes from a different place. Employees do work that they know has value or meaning. It’s satisfying work. In addition, the company acknowledges the employee’s contribution as being valuable. Both pieces need to exist. Have you ever worked someplace where you knew that you were doing great work, but no one else seemed to notice? I have and that’s not engaging (at least to me it wasn’t). It’s not enough just for the employee to know they’re doing good work. The company needs to know it as well. 

Now, if my line of thinking makes sense, then it’s possible that organizational commitment can lead to employee engagement. But I’m not sure it works the other way around. Which is why organizational efforts to improve culture with bean bag chairs, open office environments, free food, and bring your pet to work day are great for building commitment but not engagement. Let me say, this doesn’t mean any of these things are bad or wrong. They have the ability to build a foundation – which needs to happen.

But to truly build employee engagement, companies need to make the investment in activities that create the win-win. Employees need the tools and resources to do their jobs well. Or they won’t be satisfied with their work. And managers need the tools and resources to communicate and coach employees. So they know that the work they do brings value. “No news is good news” isn’t how employees learn the value they bring to the company.

Regardless of what you think of the term employee engagement, it’s an important concept. And it’s a necessary ingredient for employee retention. Companies cannot afford to ignore it. Too much talent will leave the organization.