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The Levels of Employee Engagement Debunked

The Levels of Employee Engagement Debunked

Only when you understand the 3 levels and types of engagement can you come up with effective strategies to boost employee engagement, productivity, and overall organizational success.

The Levels of Employee Engagement Debunked

While many companies view employee engagement as a vague feeling of general satisfaction at work, it translates into concrete behaviors. Employee engagement theory involves breaking down engagement into different levels and types to better understand employee behavior throughout their engagement cycle.  

Only when you understand these levels and types of engagement can you come up with effective strategies to boost employee engagement, productivity, and overall organizational success. 

We’ll help you understand the levels and types of employee engagement in this article. 

The 3 Levels of Employee Engagement Explained

About 20 years ago, Gallup launched an employee engagement tracking survey to evaluate employee behavior and engagement in American companies. Based on the results, Gallup came up with a simple 3-level framework that gauges how engaged employees are. 

The 3 main levels of employee engagement developed by Gallup are: 

  • Actively engaged, 
  • Not engaged, 
  • Actively disengaged.

In addition to the three main levels of engagement, some companies introduce intermediate stages like "mildly engaged" or "passively compliant." You can customize these layers to fit your company's specific context and needs.

For simplicity, we'll concentrate on the fundamental three levels. 

The three levels of employee engagement

Actively Engaged 

Actively engaged employees are enthusiastic and passionate about their jobs, motivated to work, and optimally productive. This is the ideal employee engagement scenario.  

Actively engaged employees are willing to contribute to the company’s growth and success, come to work on time, and go above and beyond their job description. They're connected to the company's mission and feel part of the community. 

Overall, actively engaged employees:

  • Approach their work with genuine excitement and passion, 
  • Consistently maintain high levels of productivity, 
  • Understand and connect with the company's mission, 
  • Are the most enthusiastic advocates of the company, 
  • Actively participate in fostering a sense of community within the workplace, 
  • Take initiative in identifying and addressing challenges, 
  • Actively contribute ideas and suggestions, 
  • Are excellent teammates, 
  • Build strong relationships with coworkers and managers.

Not Engaged 

Not engaged employees are simply indifferent to the company’s success and their role in it. 

They do their jobs fairly well and meet goals and expectations but aren’t enthusiastic about their work or workplace. 

Most of the time, not engaged employees come to work to collect their paycheck at the end of the month and don’t strive for anything beyond that. To identify not engaged employees, look out for the following behaviors: 

  • They don't proactively participate in problem-solving or contribute ideas, 
  • They don't care about the company's success,
  • They put minimal effort into tasks just to meet the basic requirements,
  • They may arrive late to work or take extended breaks,
  • They tend to work in isolation, with minimal engagement in teamwork,
  • They have no interest in participating in team-building activities, 
  • They don't ask for feedback and often ignore problems, 
  • They criticize the company and complain but don’t seek change. 

Actively Disengaged 

Actively disengaged employees are the lowest possible level of employee engagement and can negatively affect the company’s success and coworkers’ morale. They’re beyond simply disengaged - they’re very unsatisfied and eagerly let everyone know about it. 

They’re spiteful, difficult to work with, and cynical. They openly criticize the company, complain about things, and may even undermine their coworkers. They’re often unwilling to quit and are waiting to get fired so they can collect severance pay. 

Actively disengaged employees: 

  • Openly complain about the company in a not-so-subtle way,
  • Sabotage colleagues and undermine managers,
  • Don’t want to work at the company and are vocal about it, 
  • Aren’t receptive to constructive criticism or feedback, 
  • Underperform and blame it on the company or management, 
  • Are applying for other jobs or waiting to be fired.

Did You Know There Are Also 3 Types of Employee Engagement?

The levels of employee engagement categorize employee behavior depending on how engaged they are in their work. But that’s not the only way to classify employee engagement. 

Another way to do it is to take a closer look at the employee psyche. This means taking a holistic approach to employee engagement that encompasses 3 areas of employee well-being. 

The 3 types of employee engagement under this classification are: 

  • Cognitive engagement (the knowing), 
  • Emotional engagement (the feeling),
  • Physical engagement (the doing). 

Let’s dive deeper into each of these types.

The three types of employee engagement

Cognitive Engagement

Cognitive engagement is all about the extent to which employees know and understand their mission within the company.

Cognitively engaged employees have a clear understanding of how they contribute to the company’s growth and success. They’re quick to adapt to changes, proactive in problem-solving, and happy to suggest their ideas. 

Overall, cognitive engagement is about actively grasping and internalizing the company's mission, which creates a foundation for meaningful work. 

Emotional Engagement

Emotional engagement is all about how employees feel about their jobs and workplace.

Are they emotionally attached to their job? Are they happy and satisfied? Do they feel safe, comfortable, and valued within the company? 

Emotionally engaged employees feel like they're part of the community, do meaningful work, and are appreciated and recognized for their contributions. 

If you create a comfortable, safe, and healthy work environment, employees will naturally develop a strong emotional attachment to their jobs.

Physical Engagement

Physical engagement is all about employee behavior and the actions they take at work. Physically engaged employees tend to come to work with a cheerful attitude, happily participate in the life of the company, and proactively suggest solutions to problems or ideas. 

They actively contribute to a positive and energetic work atmosphere and inspire and motivate others.

Their behavior reflects a genuine commitment to the success and well-being of the company, creating a dynamic and cheerful work environment.

The Levels of Employee Engagement for a Strategic Approach to Employee Engagement

So, why does this all matter for your business?

It's mainly useful for organizing your employee engagement data and planning your strategy. Once you've measured employee engagement using tools like NPS scores or surveys, you'll want to organize the data to make sense of it. 

Categorizing employees into engagement levels (whether 3 or more) and types is the most practical way you can go about it. 

This "map" helps you pinpoint areas and groups that need attention. Plus, it allows you to create multiple employee engagement strategies with different budgets to address various groups and situations.

For instance, if a significant number of employees falls into the "actively disengaged" group, it signals a high priority for improving employee engagement. You could decide to implement a culture of innovation. 

By backing it up with concrete data on engagement levels, you can justify the need for such a project.

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