by Kathleen Riemenschneider
For more than two decades I have managed and developed education and community engagement programs, but while earning my doctorate in leadership studies I learned about ‘employee engagement.’ I began to wonder if there was a relationship between community engagement and employee engagement. There are similarities: both are about increasing involvement in the decision-making process or at least giving a group more input into activities – for community engagement this is more input into programming decisions, while employee engagement is about giving employees more input into the work environment. Like community engagement, employee engagement is a 21st century concept, in that both have increased in importance in the last 20 years.
Considering that a vast majority of highly engaged employees believe they can positively affect the quality of the organization’s product and its customer service, Kumar and Pansari (2016) wondered if there were a relationship between employee engagement and customer engagement. In their study, Kumar and Pansari (2016) found that the more employees were engaged in their work, the more customers were engagement with the company, which led to high sales and profits. They encourage organizations to adopt an “Engagement Orientation” – a policy that ensures all strategies of an organization focuses on engaging employees and customers, maximizing value for all stakeholders. In other words, strategies that benefit employees can benefit customers which in turn benefits the organization.
Kumar and Pansari (2016) focused on for-profit companies. So, I have ‘translated’ their concept into non-profit arts terms (see figure 1). An increase in employee engagement can affect audience engagement and community engagement which assists in meeting the four objectives of arts organizations – artistic, financial, market, and social (for more information of these objectives, see Radbourne (2003) and Voss, Cable, and Voss (2000)). Audience engagement is engaging an organization’s current audience base, while community engagement is working with the community to decide programming. There is a double arrow between the two because 1) ideally, an organization’s audience is reflective of the community, and 2) once an organization begins presenting programming with the community, the participants of these programs become part of the organization’s audience. They are not mutually exclusive and influence each other (see Kim (2017) as an example). Audience engagement will directly influence the market objective since it is about customer satisfaction, while community engagement influences the social objective, which is focused on making arts accessible. Following Kumar and Pansari (2016), higher audience and community engagement can impact the financial objective. Although there is not research in a professional setting, a study (Meyer, 2006) that focused on integrating community engagement into the training of musicians found that the students felt community engagement made them “a more conscious and conscientious performer” (87).
What is Employee Engagement?
When discussing employee engagement, most researchers reference Gallup’s three levels of engagement – disengaged, not engaged, and engaged (for more information, https://www.gallup.com/topic/employee_engagement.aspx). Disengaged employees are not connected to the work or organization. They may have a pessimistic attitude and high absenteeism. The work also may not be done in a timely manner or not at all. Not Engaged employees do the minimum work required of them. The work that they are required to do gets done but nothing more, and they may have a lackluster attitude toward the organization and work. Engaged employees ‘go above and beyond’ what is required of them. They show initiative and are enthusiastic about the work. They have affinity for and are loyal to the organization. Most strategies of employee engagement focus on moving the ‘not engaged’ employees to the ‘engaged’ category.
Relationship of Employee Engagement and Community Engagement
Strategies of employee engagement are being refined and several exists. Young Lee, Rocco, and Shuck (2020) examined several studies and developed a taxonomy of resources for employee engagement. They state that employees and employers are in constant negotiation about resources. “Employees strive to obtain, retain, and protect resources as a means of increasing their well-being and preventing future loss” (p. 13-14). The resources, and their sub-categories in parentheses, are:
- Organizational resources (organizational climate and culture, reward and recognition, learning and development opportunities, policies and services, and leadership)
- Social resources (supervisor and colleague support, and team support; network outside of work)
- Job resources (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback)
- Home resources (home support; work-home balance)
- Personal resources (cognitive, psychological, physical, and career (adaptability; personal goals))
For this blog I will focus on a few of the employee engagement resources that can support community engagement.
The Organization Resource focuses on the resources the organization can directly provide to the employee. Ideally, the organization would have a climate and culture that is supportive of community engagement. If it does not, it is a long, slow process to change it. However, learning and development opportunities can contribute to that change. Learning and development is about providing employees opportunities to grow as individuals and as employees by increasing their knowledge base and skill sets. By training all employees in community engagement, they have a stronger understanding of not only what community engagement is but how to implement it throughout the organization. The more employees understand and appreciate community engagement, it will become part of the culture of the organization. Organizational leadership is important to this process because the leaders of an organization should encourage all employees to participate in community engagement. Furthermore, it is the leadership of an organization that communicates how community engagement connects to the organization’s mission, values, and goals.
The network outside of work (social resource) is especially important to community engagement. Who employees know outside of their work environment can be the connection to community organizations and the establishment of community partners. The more diverse employees are within an organization, the more diverse the networks outside of work will be. However, supervisors and colleagues should support employees non-work networks and encourage those connections in support of community engagement.
Task significance (job resource) is about employees understanding why the work they are doing is important. “When employees perceive that their work has meaningfulness to others, they tend to commit to their work” (Young Lee, Rocco, Shuck, 2020, p. 23). Employee engagement is about making the work meaningful to the employee. In The Art of Relevance, Simon (2016) discussed the importance of creating programs that are meaningful to the community. An important relationship between employee engagement and community engagement is that both are about connecting to people’s meaning-making process – how people make meaning from their experiences. Organizational leadership should convey why the work is important not only to the organization but to the community. But also, why the work each employee does is important not only to the organization but to the community. The challenge is helping staff who are not directly involved with community engagement to see how their jobs affect community engagement.
Employee engagement is a strategy that can assist in community engagement because internal engagement can be a model for external engagement. Organizational leadership that provides learning opportunities especially in community engagement for its employees, encourages employees to develop their networks outside the organization, and emphasizes the importance of job duties not only for the organization but for the community provides a context to make the organization and its programming meaningful not only for the employees but for the community. Employees who experience engagement within the organization have a better understanding in how to engage communities external to the organization.
Kim, M. (2017). Characteristics of civically engaged nonprofit arts organizations: The results of a national survey. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 46 (1): 175-198.
Kumar, V. & Pansari, A. (2016). Competitive advantage through engagement. Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. LIII (August 2016), 497-514.
Meyer, D. E. (2006). Advancing the preparation of professional musicians through systematic education for community engagement. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 170 (Fall, 2006), 79-90.
Radbourne, J. (2003, Fall). Regional development through the enterprise of arts leadership. The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, 33(3), 211-227.
Simon, Nina. 2016. The art of relevance. Santa Cruz, California: Museum 2.0.
Voss, G. B., Cable, D. M., & Voss, Z. G. (2000, May-June). Linking organizational values to relationships with external constituents: A study of nonprofit professional theatres. Organizational Science, 11(3), 330-347.
Young Lee, J., Rocco, T. S., and Shuck, B. (2020). What is a resource: Toward a taxonomy of resources for employee engagement. Human Resources Development Review, Vol. 19 (1), 5-38.
 Customer engagement is measured in terms of brand loyalty and likelihood of recommending a brand to others.
Kathleen Riemenschneider, Ed.D., has developed and managed arts education and community engagement programs for 25 years. She has completed the Community Engagement Trainer training with Doug Borwick and serves on the Community Engagement Network advisory board. Dr. Riemenschneider founded the Cincy Emerging Arts Leaders in 2006 and has served on boards of directors and committees for non-profit organizations. Dr. Riemenschneider has a Doctor of Education in Leadership Studies from Xavier University, a MA in Comparative Studies from the Ohio State University, and a BA in English from Indiana University.