Employee Engagement: Is Occupation Relevant? 

Jennifer Doyle, director of Vangelis Consulting, has recently completed award-winning research to find out whether the drivers of employee engagement are the same for employees in different occupations. Here, we summarise her research to offer employers some guidance on how to drive the engagement of employees in different occupational groups.

Employee Engagement drivers – how straightforward are they?

In their 2009 report,Engaging for Success, David MacLeod and Nita Clarke identified four enablers to engagement: strategic narrative; engaging managers; employee voice; and organisational integrity. These broad enablers encompass the varied work elements required to nurture an engaged workforce, e.g. leadership and work design. Other research has focussed in on specific engagement drivers, such as job control, autonomy and the physical working environment. This research has been conducted in a myriad of occupational settings; from hotels to call centres. Much of that research views employees as a homogeneous body responding to the same engagement drivers. But is it really so straightforward that everyone is engaged by the same drivers? After all, we choose our employers and careers for different reasons – can the same drivers engage each of us with those different employers and careers? Few would disagree with the logic of the four enablers, but is engagement more nuanced when the lens is magnified to specific occupation?

Why this matters

Prior to establishing Vangelis Consulting, Jennifer worked as a City employment solicitor. Law firms employ two distinct employee groups: fee-earning professionals and their support service colleagues. She observed the differences that are inherent in these employee groups, such as training requirements and job tasks. The juxtaposition of contrasting employee groups is not limited to law firms, yet these differences are rarely acknowledged in HR and engagement strategies. But, if employee engagement drivers vary between occupations, aren’t we missing a trick? This is what Jennifer sought to establish and, in doing so, was awarded the Peter Saville Prize for Excellence in Research. 

What the research found

Jennifer’s qualitative research involved a systematic literature review of over 3,000 pieces of quantitative, empirical research drawn from respected international databases. A formal research protocol extracted the most robust evidence to draw the following conclusions:

A number of drivers are unique to professionals: pride in one’s profession; variety of professional skills used at work; and aspects of how professionals fulfil their job task as a professional undertaking.

Support staff appear to value social drivers more consistently and more highly than their professionally-qualified colleagues.

Job control is important for engaging all employees, but is harder to achieve for employees who have less autonomy, such as those in administrative roles.

Professionals appear to value drivers relating to career and development opportunities more than their support service colleagues; possibly because of the value professionals attribute to their complex, specialised knowledge, and their sense of career and knowledge ownership.

A one-size-fits-all approach might not engage your workforce

Knowledge of what drives your employees’ engagement is the first step to moving ahead of the competition. Further research (ideally empirical) is needed to draw a comprehensive conclusion on these important issues. However, this research suggests that occupation does influence how employees are engaged. Employers could optimise engagement by understanding what drives the engagement of their employees who work in different occupations.

Vangelis Consulting helps organisations engage with their people. 

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