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Four Uses of the Word Engagement - Part 1

“Engagement” is a word which peppers our language in numerous contexts; a fuzzy social concept that is difficult to explain and therefore sometimes poorly understood. One of the challenges is that we use the same word to describe more than one phenomenon.

“An engagement” is an interaction between two entities. In organisations we witness interactions between individual people and various other members of staff, different forms of technology and other tangible non-human assets, numerous stakeholders, other organisations and countless alternative entities.

People in organisations are constantly involved in engagements with different entities. Engagements may be micro or macro – both in time and space. A conversation with a manager, an examination of a document and a telephone call with a customer all represent focal or micro-engagements. On a macro scale, engagements occur between individuals and the organisation, between individuals and a course of study, between customers and suppliers. Some engagements are brief, other macro-engagements can last a lifetime and involve many micro-engagements between the same entities.

Individuals can simultaneously be involved in interactions with a work colleague, a mug of coffee, the general buzz in the office and a particularly annoying telephone which is not being answered. Whilst the focal engagement is with the work colleague, the other interactions in the macro-environment all impact on the individual and on the focal engagement.

The “experience of engagement” is emphasised by some commercial organisations as the whole of engagement. Deloitte even went so far as to suggest in 2016 that engagement is passé and that we should rather be concerned about experience. How people experience their interactions in organisations is a vitally important part of the system of engagement, but it is not the whole and there is a danger in making it so. People can feel great at work and yet be extremely unproductive. Customers can have a very enjoyable test drive in a fancy motor car and love every experience they have with the brand, yet never buy the car. In neither case are they optimally engaged.

The experience of engagement focuses on an individual’s emotional or sensory response in an interaction and their level of absorption or focus in the interaction. When someone derives positive personal benefit from an interaction they are more likely to choose to maintain or repeat the engagement. However, this does not necessarily mean that the engagement is optimal for both parties.

In the next post, I will discuss the “Engagement in” and “Engagement of” components of the engagement system.


Bersin by Deloitte, 2016. Predictions for 2017. Deloitte Development LLC.

Haurum, H., 2018. Customer Engagement Behavior in the context of Continuous Service Relationships (Doctoral dissertation, Copenhagen Business School [Phd]).

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