Denise Mortimer of the NHS Trust will be speaking at next month's Health @ Work Summit in London

Denise Mortimer, Project Manager – Fit for Business, Mid Essex Hospitals NHS Trust offers her expert opinion on 5 key factors that matter to employees concerning engagemnet and ensuring a healthy work life. Denise’s qualifications include a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology, BSc in Sports Science, Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (specialising in Emotional Intelligence), and a diploma in Life Coaching. Always curious about how to improve work life, Denise’s Master’s thesis was based on the factors that make an organisation an attractive place to work.

Denise will be co-presenting Building Sustainable Wellbeing at next month’s
Health @ Work Summit. If you would like to learn more about how you can participate at Health at Work please visit:

Employee engagement: 5 Factors that matter to employees

Building Sustainable wellbeing

Employers want employees who will do their best work. Employees want jobs that are worthwhile and fulfilling. Organisation’s leaders want winning solutions that meet their corporate goals and the needs and those of their employees. They require committed employees to enable their success. This article outlines, from an employee perspective, some of organisation- based factors contribute to employee engagement in the NHS.

In organisations, often ‘softer’ issues such as employee engagement are prioritised below more easy-to-measure activities. However, prioritising engagement can increase employee satisfaction as well as enhance performance. This paper outlines some of the ways in which leaders can enhance employee engagement.
What is engagement?
Employee engagement as defined by the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Professional Development) as a combination of commitment to the organisation and its values plus a willingness to help out colleagues. Engagement is discretionary; it cannot be ‘required’ by an employer (CIPD, 2009).

The benefits of an engaged workforce are reflected in performance and productivity, improved quality and customer care, enhanced cooperation amongst the workforce, reduced staff turnover, reduced absenteeism and disputes and added value by drawing on the skills and knowledge of all employees.

Organisational culture and the impact on engagement

It is the people who design the culture of an organisation, and the culture is defined as an employee’s perception of events, practices and procedure and the kinds of behaviour that gets rewarded supported and expected (Schneider, 1990). An organisation’s culture needs to support behaviours that enable employee engagement.

An organisation with a positive and enabling culture can help employees feel that they have some level of ownership over how the organisation operates A positive and enabling culture is positively linked to satisfaction with the organisation, job satisfaction, work behaviour, performance, a sense of belonging and discretionary behaviours (also known as ‘organisational citizenship behaviours’).

So what is within the organisation’s gift to encourage a culture of employee engagement? Below are some contributing factors that can make a difference. The list is neither exclusive nor exhaustive, and should provide some insight into easily implementable actions.

Contributing Factor I: Corporate Values

Corporate values have an enormous influence on the choices, beliefs and behaviours of employees (Schroeder, 2002; Velasquez, 2002). A values statement describes how an organisation behaves, what is important to it, what it stands for and how its employees behave. ‘Values’ give an organisation ‘purpose beyond profit’. Genuine values should be evident in behaviours of leaders and all staff consistently to ensure the values are more than a paper exercise.

When employees hold values that match the values of their employer, they have higher job satisfaction, identify more closely with the organisation and seek to maintain employment relationships (Kristof, 1996, Kristof-Brown; Meglino & Ravlin, 1998, as cited in Edwards & Cable 2009).

Recommendation: Leaders need to establish corporate values and consistently demonstrate these through their behaviours. Link values to appreciation and reward schemes, to reinforce the values and their significance.

Contributing factor II: Ethical Leadership and the Psychological Contract

Leaders need to actively demonstrate the organisation’s values from a place of integrity, if there is to be meaningful engagement with employees. When employers deliver on their commitments (when their actions fulfill employees’ expectations), this reinforces employees’ sense of fair play and trust in the organisation and generates a positive ‘psychological contract’- an unwritten mutual obligation- between employer and employee (CIDP, 2009).

There will always be polarities in organisational life, such as the need to maintain stability and change, concern for people and for task, for internal cooperation and external competitiveness. It is normal to prioritise one end and minimise the other (Quinn, 2004, p.160). However, it is the role of our leaders to create a balance to ensure that we do not value ‘tasks’ and ‘processes’ over people

Recommendation: Leaders need to ensure they marry up being ethical with being effective, authentically valuing staff and meeting targets. Leaders need to have a true appreciation of the impact their decisions and behaviours have on the workforce. They need to align themselves with the corporate values and create an open and fair work environment for employees (assuming that “open and fair” are’ among the Values!)

Contributing factor III: Organisational Citizenship

Organisational citizenship is the tendency for people at work to help each other and put extra effort in beyond what is required. These are discretionary behaviours, not required for the job and often not recognized by any formal reward system. These behaviours mark the difference between the most profitable organisations and the rest (West, 2005). When there is a sense of citizenship amongst employees it can be often correlate to a strong psychological attachment to the organisation, resulting in employees that are more likely to be motivated towards making a meaningful contribution to the organisation, thus embodying what engagement is.

Organisational citizenship can be actively encouraged through supporting social connections at work. This is known as ‘the water cooler effect’ (Rath, 2008). People who report having friends at work have a higher sense of commitment to the workplace and support for their colleagues and can reinforce their psychological contract. These workplace friendships help to sustain employees through difficult times. Having a friend or friends at work is a strong predictor for being a happy and productive employee.

Recommendation: Leaders should recognise that people who have a ‘friend at work’ are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Leaders need to be aware that there are a variety of types of ‘friends’, and variation in the quantity of ‘friends’ necessary for any individual. If employers can make the workplace conducive to friendships, employees will be happier more engaged and productive.

Contributing factor IV: Dunbar’s number and a little help from my friends..

In any organisation where there are more than 150 people, there is a tendency to break into smaller more manageable groups (referred to as ‘Dunbar’s number’). Our brains are wired to pay attention to around 150 people, give or take a few. When the number exceeds that we become less familiar with people. Larger groups require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms in order to maintain stability and cohesion. When the smaller groups are formed they create subcultures. The subcultures have beliefs and values specific to them, that which transcend that of the whole organisation. Employees identify with and favour their subculture more readily than they identify with larger organisation.

Pluses and minuses go along with subcultures. On the plus side, they can provide support, a sense of identity and community. On the minus side, they can lead to employees being or feeling ‘left out’, bullying, informal leaders within the subculture, peer pressure and expectations to conform to the rules of the subculture

Recommendation: Acknowledge that subcultures will exist in larger organisations, instead of trying to create (an impossible!) sense of unity among all employees. Through observation and understanding of their department leaders need to ensure that the subculture is one that supports the best of the employees rather than being destructive.

Contributing factor V: communication

Communication covers a range of both tangible and intangible ways to share information. It is complex and the word “communication” conjures up different meanings for different people. A communication matrix can help define how the organisation communicates, the preferred communication media systems, the commonalties, and the peculiarities. In larger organisations, employees (in their subcultures) may access information on a ‘need to know within the subculture’ basis and ignore ‘corporate messages’ as not relevant to them. Employees must take responsibility for accessing information.

Communication links to corporate values, and if  ‘good’ communication is a value, then it becomes more prioritised for employees.

Recommendation: Where resource permits, it would be beneficial to carry out a communication audit to gain a greater understanding of the dynamics in place. This can be a departmental audit or across the whole organisation.

Prioritise regular team meetings as a critical part of departmental communication; and employees should be abler to offer their views on how to improve communications both within their departments and throughout the whole organisation.

Appreciative Inquiry (a method helping groups improve – can have a positive impact on communication. The nature Appreciative Inquiry is positive conversations, thus enhancing communication. For more information contact visit:
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Corporate inductions for new employees should include a section on ‘how we communicate’, and leaders needs to highlight that employees need to take personal responsibility

What else?

Employee engagement is about valuing the employee. “The above five factors are a good start”. There is a whole range of other factors worth exploring to maximise engagement -such as the resources, professional and personal development, feedback, and task significance – all of these and more play a part on employee engagement. This paper offers some recommendations to improve employee engagement and possible ways to implement them. Engaged employees are productive, active and connected—in other words, indispensable. It is good business sense to invest in engagement as an integral part of working practice. Organisations who see the connection between engagement and company performance will gain the ultimate advantage.


Bolino, M.C., Turnley, W.H., Niehoff, B.P., (2004) The other side of the story: Re-examining prevailing assumptions about organizational citizenship behaviour. Human Resource Management Review, 14, 229-246

CIPD staff, (2009) Employee Engagement, retrieved on 21st July 2009, from:

Ghosh, D., (2008) Corporate Values, Workplace Decisions and Ethical Standards of Employees. Journal of Managerial Issues , xx(1) 68-87

Highbury, S, Thornbury, E., Little, I. S., (2005) Social Identity Functions of Attraction to Organisations’, Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 103, 134-146

Rath, T, (2006) Vital Friends; The people you can’t afford to live without. Gallup press, New York.

Quinn, R.E., (2004) Building the Bridge as you walk on it: A guide for leading change. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco

Schneider, B., (1990) The Climate for Service: An Application the climate construct. In B. Schneider (ed) Organisation climate and culture. Pp. 383-412, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Schroeder, D.(2002) Ethics from the top: Management and Ethical Business, Business Ethics: European Review 11(3) 260-267

West, M, (2005) People Management as quoted in and retrieved on 23rd July 2009,

Information about the author:

Denise Mortimer has a rich history of helping people get the best out of themselves. Currently, she is delivering a whole range of wellbeing initiatives to staff at an NHS Trust including:

  • Using an Appreciative Inquiry approach for team-building events;
  • Consultation and development of corporate values and vision;
  • Being lead advisor to staff on issues regarding wellbeing at work;
  • Providing exercise classes, health checks and healthy eating workshops;
  • Creating a range of opportunities and events for engaging staff in workplace activities.