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Exploring Employee Engagement in a Global Context – The Example of Germany

Wylegala, Andrea (2020) Exploring Employee Engagement in a Global Context – The Example of Germany. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This research aims to gain in-depth understanding of the views, conceptualisations, and adaptions of Employee Engagement in Germany. While the empirical study focuses on Germany, the literature review was based on the findings from rich Anglo-US sources and was drawn from Human Resource Management, Human Resource Development, and Employee Engagement literature. Here, the topic of Employee Engagement was of increasing interest in academia, and to practitioners. Moreover, the limited literature on Employee Engagement published in German and on Germany was also reviewed. The review considered different perspectives on the phenomenon as well as emerging frameworks, and revealed that there was no unified Employee Engagement definition, but rather different drivers and output factors associated with the phenomenon. Furthermore, the author also reflected on potential German equivalents of the untranslatable Employee Engagement term, including Mitarbeitermotivation, for example. The social construction of the phenomenon according to literature was reviewed and is presented along with its evolution and various measurement approaches. Finally, the author reflected on cross-cultural and generational differences, as well as on the impact of language on the term’s meaning as well as its role in human resources. The empirical study itself used a multiple method approach, combining in-depth interviews and a documentary method, to gather data on the understanding and establishment of Employee Engagement in organisations in Germany. A pilot interview was conducted, followed by 18 indepth interviews with HR managers or equivalents from different industries, which contributed rich detail concerning the interviewees’ understanding of the phenomenon and its adoption and establishment by organisations. The documentary analysis supported the findings from the primary research and provided additional insights into the organisational Employee Engagement conceptualisation, which was primarily based on the implementation of (ad hoc) initiatives to drive Employee Engagement. Nevertheless, the term itself was rarely used and of less importance when it came to the phenomenon’s implementation. Instead, the interviews showed that the organisations’ focus was on perceived drivers, such as development possibilities, recognition, and appreciation as well as communication and transparency. This was to ensure employees’ trust, identification, and contribution into their employer, in order to achieve output factors including an increase in performance and loyalty as well as brand identification and involvement. Similarities and variance between the empirical findings and the literature review were presented and perspectives discussed. Here, definitional inconsistencies were found both in the findings and the existing literature, still parallels were identified with respect to an employee’s willingness to contribute cognitively, emotionally, and physically. These findings were also underpinned and supported by the results of the author’s documentary research. The organisations’ Employee Engagement approaches, especially with respect to the implementation of benefits as a driver, were identified throughout the Page 12 documentary research. While the documentary analysis also revealed no consistent definition for Employee Engagement, alternative approaches such as organisational culture and a strong we-sentiment through associations with family and friends were shown to drive Employee Engagement. Finally, the contribution of the research is presented together with its implications for theory and practice, but the study provides various insights, especially for practitioners of Employee Engagement in large organisations in Germany. The author identified that most organisations were using Employee Engagement in a piecemeal way and their individual reinventions of the phenomenon to tackle individual or common challenges, such as the fight for talents and loyalty, while only a few had established integrated Employee Engagement strategies which relied on different components. At the same time, the study provides national and international practitioners with insights into German-specific requirements and conditions, such as the involvement of workers’ councils in ensuring safety and driving Employee Engagement. Additionally, it contributes due to its use of a multiple method approach, as it enables researchers to analyse both the espoused organisational viewpoint and the perceptions of practitioners at the same time. The documentary analysis provides a rich set of data. Finally, further research implications are outlined, emerging from limitations of the current study, especially with respect to the long-term establishment of Employee Engagement in the participating organisations, its measurability, and its adoption in German Mittelstand business [Engl. Small and medium-sized businesses].

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