(From theguardian.co.uk) -- All areas of the economy are experiencing financial strain, including the public sector where the workforce is having to negotiate a considerable amount of change. This is evident in places such as the NHS, where staff will be tasked with implementing the recent Health and Social Care Act.

Given that employee engagement is an idea that helps develop strong positive attitudes among people towards their work and their organisation, and this plays a major role in ensuring that they give their best even when times are tough, surely we need to improve it now more than ever.

The concept itself is not new; the mix of factors that make up employee engagement have been around for a long time. These include organisational commitment, job satisfaction, and organisational citizenship – the willingness to go outside one's specific role to be helpful.

The distinctive feature of employee engagement as an idea is that it pulls all of these positive job and work attitudes together under one umbrella. Advocates argue that the research clearly shows that when employee engagement is high, organisations do better.

In general, this is true. There are many research studies and case histories – including a review by David Macleod and Nita Clarke titled Engaging for Success – that link higher levels of employee engagement with better performance and productivity, more customer satisfaction and lower rates of absence through sickness.

But although the evidence appears extensive and convincing, a closer look reveals that the picture is not as straightforward as it seems. To start with, employee engagement is not a single, unitary construct. In itself this is not a problem, but it is important to recognise that each of the different factors that are bundled together under the engagement umbrella do not have the same consequences or causes. For example, it is perfectly possible for someone to be committed to their job but not to their organisation.

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