Employee engagement: the role of global mobility

Employee engagement is a hot topic in HR. Dr Sue Shortland explains the links between a motivated workforce, employer branding and business success, and the role global mobility professionals play.

Employee engagement
Employee engagement is a hot topic in the HR arena. The role of employer branding is also a key issue today in defining organisational success. The interrelationship between these two concepts is critical to mobility professionals, as it is vital to maintain both engagement and employees’ roles as brand ambassadors during periods of disruption such as relocation. With the advent of Brexit and uncertainty being generated over mobility, keeping employees engaged and on brand is crucial to organisational performance. It is, therefore, important to ensure awareness of these issues and understand what the global mobility function can do to contribute to improving engagement, as well as ensuring that relocated employees remain as organisational ambassadors.

Defining employee engagement

Employee engagement is widely discussed, but often not well defined. Its key dimensions are intellectual, affective and social.‘Intellectual engagement’ refers to employees’ thinking how to do their job better and being absorbed in their work. ‘Affective engagement’ refers to employees’ feeling positive emotional connections in relation to doing a good job. ‘Social engagement’ concerns employees’ making the most of opportunities to discuss work-related improvements with colleagues at work. The concept of engagement is widely debated. Employees can be engaged with their organisation and/or with their individual jobs within it. Engagement may be considered as a state of mind or as behaviour.Individual engagement is known to vary, as individuals are not necessarily fully engaged all of the time. As a result, definitions of engagement can vary considerably. For example, a sample of personnel professionals was asked to define employee engagement. Their definitions included:
  • The level of motivation and commitment of the employee to the organisation to drive high performance and meet goals
  • The level of employees’ emotional investment and intellectual and behavioural commitment towards their work and the organisation in general
  • The extent to which the workforce feels passionate in relation to their jobs and the organisation, and how much discretionary effort is applied by each individual
  • A mixture of various aspects, such as dedication, commitment and psychological state, which impact on employees’ length of service within their organisation
  • Going beyond seeing the job as purely salary, rather caring about what you do and believing in better outcomes
The characteristics of employee engagement, therefore, include such factors as having a positive attitude, a strong team ethos, employer loyalty, productivity, job and career satisfaction, and mutual trust. As such, the environment in which employees work needs to be communicative and collaborative, and it must enable autonomy and voice.Employees should feel rewarded (although not necessarily financially) for what they do. For global mobility professionals, ensuring strong and consistent communication, and listening to employees and involving them in decision-making, will be positive ways in which engagement can be fostered during relocation.

Drivers of employee engagement

In the literature, the drivers of employee engagement are reported as being closely linked to senior management vision and integrity backed up with strong communication. In addition, positive and enabling line management who encourage employees to feed their views upwards are crucial. These factors are enhanced by a supportive work environment, a good person-job fit, job resources and meaningfulness of work.These issues act together to promote a climate that facilitate employee engagement. In particular, the relationship between individuals and their line managers is critical to fostering engagement. Global mobility professionals should, therefore, work closely with the line to ensure that relocation policy implementation supports senior management vision and enables employee voice, and that line manager-employee relationships are maintained effectively.Job demands, including urgency of work (for example necessitating a speedy relocation to another country), workload, role conflict/ambiguity, and organisational politics all play a role in mediating the success of employee engagement.Care should also be taken in relation to issues such as overwork and work-life balance. Employees who over engage in terms of workload can suffer burnout. Role conflict and ambiguity can lead to stress. In addition, over-engagement can damage family relationships through poor work-life balance.Global mobility professionals should be aware of the factors that can damage both engagement and employee health, and mitigate these as far as possible. Academic studies have demonstrated a correlation between employee engagement and business outcomes. Highly engaged workforces are characterised by high levels of discretionary effort leading to high performance. Engagement goes beyond the concept of commitment. While committed employees work hard and are loyal, engaged employees will have more authentic relationships with their clients, customers and other contacts.Engaged employees’ values and emotions ‘fit’ the requirements of the job and the organisation, resulting in their labour and communication’s being closely aligned with the organisational mission and values. This leads to the strong connection between employee engagement and employer branding.

Employer branding as a business concept

Employer branding is defined by the CIPD as “a set of attributes and qualities, often intangible, that makes an organisation distinctive, promises a particular kind of employment experience, and appeals to those people who will thrive and perform best in its culture”.In relation to HR principles, employer branding is seen as an extension of branding as a business concept. Employees are central to the organisation’s marketing and act as brand ambassadors. As such, the concept of employee branding aims to align employees’ behaviour towards each other, the organisation, and the customers. Employees who are ‘on brand’ become ‘brand agents’. In order for employees to align themselves with the organisation’s employer brand, organisational values must be transmitted to applicants and existing employees. The unique qualities of the organisation must be differentiated from those of others, and the vision and values of the organisation clearly articulated and communicated systematically.Again, global mobility professionals have a key role to play here in ensuring that relocated employees (whether they be recruits or existing staff) are aware of the role that mobility plays in organisational strategy, and that communications are conducted efficiently and effectively.With Brexit on the horizon – and mobility becoming a key issue in organisations’ forward planning – the role of global mobility professionals in fostering employee engagement and branding has become even more critical to organisational performance enhancement.
Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.For information on sponsorship opportunities, call Fiona Murchie, managing editor, on +44 (0)1892 891334, or email A range of aligned products and resources will be available from the new Relocate Global e-commerce store, coming later this year.

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