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    The Relationship Between Employee Engagement and a Workplace Culture of Excellence & Ethics

    Eric D. Martin

    Adult Learning and Organizational Performance

    Drake University



    A study by the Gallup Management Journal (2006) found that when employees are

    engaged, they stay with their company longer than less engaged employees. They are also more

    productive, innovative, safe, employees and more invested in building strong relationships with

    their customers. The same study indicates that approximately 15% of workers that are 18 or

    older in the United States are disengaged workers. The authors estimate that disengaged workers

    costs the U.S. economy approximately $328 billon. According to Loehr and Schwartz (2003) in

    order for employees to be fully engaged in the workplace, they must look beyond their

    immediate needs and self interest and align themselves emotionally, physically, mentally and

    spiritually with a purpose greater than their everyday tasks.

    According the United States Department of Labor (2012) there are 12.7 million

    unemployed workers in our country. Disengaged employees cost billions of dollars in our

    national economy. Reasonably, therefore, studying engagement in the workplace is a worthwhile


    The concept of employee engagement, however, is still relatively new and that academic

    researchers are starting to complete more research on the topic (Macey & Schneider 2008).

    Robinson et, al., (2004) content that there is very little academic research on employee

    engagement in academic literature or journals. The study of engagement is in its infancy and this

    topic would benefit from continued research and exploration.

    Definitions of Engagement

    Saks (2006) argues that while there are varied operational definitions of engagement

    presented in current research it is important to note that while related, engagement is different

    than other employee constructs such as organizational commitment, citizenship behavior and job


    involvement. He suggests that engagement is the level when a person is attentive and absorbed

    in the performance of their roles and how they invest themselves in the performance of their

    jobs. Individuals must actively integrate their emotions and behaviors with their thinking. This

    alignment of cognitive and emotional elements provides an environment for people to be fully

    present and attentive to their work.

    Kahn (1990) provides one of the most widely referenced operational definitions for

    personal engagement and personal disengagement. Each term denotes the personal behaviors

    that people demonstrate or omit in the workplace. Kahn defines personal engagement as the

    harnessing of organization members selves to their work roles; in engagement, people employ

    and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally during role performances (1990,

    p. 694). In contrast, when people withdraw themselves in the same engagement domains they

    are exhibiting personal disengagement.

    Further, Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalex-Roma & Bakker, (2001) define engagement as a

    positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and

    absorption (p.74). Vigor relates to energy level, mental resilience, investment and persistence.

    Dedication includes involvement, significance, enthusiasm, pride and challenge. Lastly,

    absorption is presented as being so involved in your work, time seems to slip by quickly and you

    have trouble disconnecting from the tasks at hand. This engagement model presented by

    Shaufeli et. al., served as the basis and operational definition of engagement for this study.

    Engagement and Culture

    In order for employees to successfully engage and feel challenged in their work and to

    exhibit behaviors such as enthusiasm, dedication, and resilience, we must consider the workplace

    culture that they are working in every day. Intentionally creating a positive workplace culture


    provides the backdrop and environment for employees to be productive and satisfied with their

    work and those colleagues that they work with everyday.

    Schein (1985) suggests that the culture of an organization is based on beliefs, values and

    basic assumptions that are common to people in that organization. Identifying core shared

    values and belief systems are critically important for an organization to build a strong workplace

    culture. Seijts and Crim (2006) support this notion by highlighting the importance of identifying

    a strategy that engages employees in the decision making process which, enables trust and

    creates a culture where employees want to take charge of the challenges presented to them and to

    find solutions. Furthermore, leaders in an organization must craft an environment that stimulates

    trust and collaboration.

    As the professional workplace landscape changes over time, the shared values of an

    organization can impact the attraction and recruitment of employees. In one study, Catanzaro,

    Moore and Marshall (2010) researched men and women and their preference of working at an

    organization that was more competitive or on that offered a more supportive environment and

    culture. They found that when given a choice of working for an organization that was considered

    more competitive with more attractive salaries, benefits and advancement opportunities versus

    working for an organization that was more supportive with a strong emphasis on work-life

    balance, both men and women had a stronger preference for the supportive work culture.

    Participants in this study indicated that they were more interested in working in a supportive

    environment to allow a balance of personal and work life and the perception that the company

    was more friendly and supportive of the employees.

    The notion of being happy and engaged in a supportive work environment and positive

    culture is supported by Csikszentmihalyis research and study of Flow (1990). The flow concept


    is based on the idea of being happy and engaged in what you are doing so that you tend to loose

    yourself in the activity and are in a state of enjoyment. This experience is what

    Csikszentmaihalyi calls an autotelic experience; is something that humans strive for in both our

    work and leisure time. According to Csikszentmihalyi, in order to obtain this level of flow and

    engagement, your workplace culture must include a clear set of goals, knowledge of skills and

    perceived challenges, rules as well as immediate feedback. The intrinsic motivation needed to

    become engaged and loose oneself into their work is supported by what Pink (2010) describes as

    Motivation 3.0. He contents that this paradigm shift is needed to meet the new realities of how

    we organize, think about, and do what we do (p. 77). Pink makes the case that there are three

    elements needed to be successful with his motivation theory. The three elements are Autonomy,

    Mastery and Purpose (p. 80). He goes on to state the science confirms that this sort of behavior

    is essential to being human-and that now, in a rapidly changing economy, it is also critical for

    professional, personal and organizational success of any kind (p. 81).

    The Culture of Excellence and Ethics

    The Culture of Excellence and Ethics (CEE) framework presented by Davidson,

    Khmelkov, & Baker (2011) from the Institute for Excellence and Ethics is a character

    development-based approach to achieving success and building positive culture in school or the

    workplace. The authors build on the work of Lickona and Davidson (2005) that further defines

    character in two key elements, performance character and moral character. Performance

    character is a mastery orientation that includes values such as diligence, work ethic, positive

    attitude and perseverance. Moral character is relational in nature and includes values such as

    integrity, justice, caring, responsibility, etc., skills that are needed for interpersonal relationships


    and ethical behavior. Striking a balance of both the moral and performance character values

    provides a strong foundation for a positive culture in any organization.

    The Excellence and Ethics approach originates from research conducted in schools across

    the country. Davidson and his colleagues have recently evolved their framework into

    professional workplace applications. The extensive research-based teaching tools and strategies

    found in the CEE resources (Davidson & Khmelkov, 2011) are now being implemented in

    collegiate athletic departments, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities and numerous

    industries including health care, manufacturing, insurance and finance. In addition, they have

    recently created the Culture of Excellence and Ethics Assessment Workplace (CEEA-W). The

    CEEA-W has grown out of their nationally recognized character and culture assessment

    instruments. Components of the CEEA-W were used to capture data for this research project.

    The Culture of Excellence and Ethics framework is designed to intentionally teach

    individuals and organizations to reach excellence through the development of both moral and

    performance character skills based on eight focus areas (2011, p. 37), which include the

    following categories:

    1) Developing positive and productive relationships

    2) Communicating and collaborating with efficiency and effectiveness

    3) Managing priorities and reducing stress

    4) Committing to high standards and continuous improvement

    5) Demonstrating emotional intelligence, integrity, and responsibility

    6) Exhibiting creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving

    7) Leading and serving others

    8) Living a balanced, purposeful, and healthy life


    These eight focus areas are not designed to be specific outcomes but a grouping of topical

    areas. They are based on applied research and the identified areas are often found in policies and

    strategic initiatives that organizations implement systemically to ensure a positive organizational

    culture (Davidson et al., 2011).

    Problem Statement

    The purpose of this research study is to examine the impact of a positive workplace

    culture, specifically promoting excellence and ethics and employee engagement.

    This project sought to investigate the correlation between five of the eight focus areas

    presented in the culture of excellence and ethics framework (Davidson et al., 2011) which

    includes; Developing positive and productive relationships, Communicating and collaborating

    with efficiency and effectiveness, Managing priorities and reducing stress, Committing to high

    standards and continuous improvement and finally leading and serving others. These five CEE

    focus areas were identified as the ones potentially best aligned with the three components of

    engagement; vigor, dedication and absorption defined by Schaufeli et al., (2001).

    Research Methods

    This was a cross-sectional quantitative study. The data were collected from the online

    social network community of human resources professionals Linked: HR (

    via an anonymous survey. Linked: HR had approximately 680,000 members across the globe at

    the time the survey was administered in late February 2012.

    Research Variables

    This study investigated the relationship among the following variables:


    The dependent variable in this study was employee engagement, defined by Schaufeli et

    al., (2001) as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by

    vigor, dedication, and absorption (p.74).

    The independent variable was workplace culture. For the purpose of the study I used five

    of the eight culture of excellence and ethics focus areas presented by Davidson, et al.,

    (2011). These focus areas are values based topical areas derived from a character

    development foundation identifying the skills needed to build a strong organizational

    culture. This character-based approach is further defined in two distinct parts: (1) moral

    character, those skills that help us develop our best ethical self and (2) performance

    character, the skills needed to develop excellence in order to perform our best work.

    Research Question

    This study was guided by the following question: What is the strength and direction of

    the relationships between employee engagement and workplace culture of excellence and ethics.

    Five of the eight focus areas presented by Davidson et. al., (2011) were used for this correlation

    and analysis.


    This project utilized two assessments to gather data. The assessment tools used for this

    project include questions from the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) that includes 17

    questions developed by Schaufeli and Bakker (2003) to measure engagement which is further

    defined as vigor, dedication and absorption. The questions are further delineated by six questions

    related to vigor, 5 questions related to dedication and 6 questions for absorption. Schaufeli and

    Bakker (2004) demonstrate that there has been numerous validity studies have been completed

    on the UWES. The authors note validity studies have been carried out with the UWES show


    that work engagement is indeed negatively associated with burnout, albeit that the relationship

    between vigor and exhaustion and between dedication and cynicism is somewhat less strong than

    was expected. Further more, engagement can be discriminated from workaholism (p.11).

    Through additional reliability studies, he UWES also shows internal consistencies of the scales

    of the various versions of the instrument (p. 20).

    The Culture of Excellence & Ethics Assessment Workplace (CEEA-W) was used to

    seek perceptions regarding the culture and competencies of excellence and ethics (2011) in the

    workplace environment. For the purpose of this study, questions were selected from five of the

    eight focus areas found in the CEEA-W for a total of thirty-five questions. Since the CEEA-W

    used in this study is a relatively new assessment tool, validity and reliability studies have not

    been completed at the time of this research project. However, the instrument is built upon the

    constructs of the original Culture of Excellence and Ethics Assessment (CEEA) that have

    demonstrated research on validity and reliability (Khmelkov & Davidson 2010).

    Both survey instruments were used with permission for non-commercial scientific

    research. They were combined into one survey and delivered through Qualtrics

    ( an online data collection system.

    Data Analysis

    The survey yielded 521 responses, the data were analyzed via the S...


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