Author(s), Title and Publication
Lemon, L. L., & Palenchar, M. J. (2018). Public relations and zones of engagement: Employees’ lived experiences and the fundamental nature of employee engagement. Public Relations Review, 44(1), 42-155. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2018.01.002
While employee engagement has been primarily explored within the business, human resources and management disciplines, public relations research has more recently taken an interest in furthering its understanding. Specifically, the authors examined how employees personally perceive and experience engagement to provide deeper insights on engagement strategic communications. Additionally, findings suggest a new definition of disengagement, which is similar but unique to negative engagement. Researchers collected data through 32 in-depth interviews with participants from 12 different organizations. The findings demonstrated that employees personally experience engagement through six zones of meaning; (1) non-work related experiences at work, (2) freedom in the workplace, (3) going above and beyond roles and responsibilities, (4) when work is a vocational calling, (5) creating value, and through (6) connections.
The first zone, nonwork engagement focused on experiences not related to actual work, such as support during tough times, sending out holiday cards, leadership support, finding common points of interest with leadership and community service. Second, engagement as freedom in the workplace, centered on opportunities to explore projects or assignments outside of narrow job responsibilities and roles. This type of engagement was also experienced through a feeling of trust where learning and mistakes without fear of punishment are encouraged. The third engagement zone detailed an employee’s willingness to exert extra effort, to do more than what is expected. Participants expressed this experience as proactive and identified the lack of this specific zone as disengagement, characterized by employees doing just enough to get by. The fourth zone, vocational calling, was constructed as seeing one’s job more broadly. This experience entailed the desire for involvement and accomplishment and was summarized as feeling passionate about one’s work. Fifth, participants described the process of creating value for employees as a zone of engagement, characterized not by formal human resources processes, but through organic alignment of individual talent, organizational goals and objectives. Participants equated this engagement with visualizing connectivity between challenges, recognition and impact of work. Finally, connections, an employee’s ability to identify and connect emotionally to an organization’s mission, goals and initiatives enabled engagement. Rather than a tangible point in common between two people, connections inspire excitement, collaboration and meaningful engagement experiences.
Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) ensure consistent and clear communications align with the organization’s mission, values, and work roles, (2) create visibility to organizational challenges to encourage employee autonomy and extra-role contributions (3) connect employee contributions to organizational and higher-level outcomes to encourage engagement and satisfaction, (4) connect with individual employees regularly to reinforce trust and safety, utilize the time to seek meaningful feedback and make necessary adjustments as engagement is an evolving experience.
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