top of page
  • Writer's pictureChuck Cusumano

Understanding Engagement – What Does It Really Mean?

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

When it comes to the varying meanings of words, things often get confusing.

Especially when it comes to words packed with serious punch – words like engagement, for example.

Engagement can cover all sorts of categories, including:

  • How did they pop the question? A marriage engagement.

  • What time should I arrive? A dinner engagement.

  • How does the clutch assist in the meshing of gears? A mechanical engagement.

  • Did the invading army encounter fierce resistance from our troops? A military engagement.

  • Did you feel like you were the only one in the room when they spoke to you? An interpersonal engagement.

  • Did you hear that our proposal was accepted for the project? A work engagement.

  • How did the assessment results come out with the staff? An employee engagement.

All of that to ask the obvious question – how confusing is the word engagement?

In short, very.

Engagement – Breaking Down the Complexities

Let us start with some perspective.

Merriam-Webster ranks the word engagement in the top 1% of words looked up online.

This source also tells us it was first used in print in 1601 in the context of a marriage engagement.

Not until Willian Kahn, psychologist, introduced the theory of employee engagement in his 1990 paper, Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work, did we see the first use of engagement as a term that related to Human Resources and employees. Prior to that, organizations used "employee satisfaction" in the 1970s and 80s.

Before all of that, of course, we just had a social contract for some time that said, “Keep your mouth shut, leave your problems and home life at the door, and do your job – then, at the end of it, you will get your pension or a retirement check." That is, until we did not (but more on that another time; P.S., for a look at how we transitioned from “glad to have a job” to “glad we are at our job,” see this history.)

If you happen to be a frequent reader of our blog, then you are likely aware that employee engagement, team concepts, and remote work are topics that we tend to discuss frequently.

Still, we have never specifically and intentionally engaged (you see what we did there, right?) the three concepts into a single, linear process.

Here is what we typically think of when we engage (yes, we made the same joke twice) with clients on this subject.


Gallup Research tells us that employees seek out and stay with organizations that have exceptional workplace cultures.

Their research finds that these cultures can be characterized by overall feelings of trust, belongingness, and inclusion.

The employees that say they have these traits at their place of employment are twice as likely to be engaged in their work.


When you examine the components of a team, trust makes the list in almost every respectable book written on the subject.

In the book, The Speed of Trust, award-winning author Stephen Covey shares his research with the following quote: “In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.”

In his New York Times Bestseller Leaders Eat Last, author Simon Sinek shares, “Leaps of greatness require the combined problem-solving ability of people who trust each other.”

And lastly, Patrick Lencioni, another New York Times best-selling author states in his groundbreaking book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, that an absence of trust is the basis of the dysfunction of teams.

Working with Others

Remote working can be achieved in so many ways.

If you are a remote worker, whether an employee or a contractor who works solo, then John C. Maxwell’s best-selling book, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, is a must-read.

Maxwell states the Law of Significance as, “For the person trying to do everything alone, the game really is over. If you want to do something big, you must link up with others. One is too small a number to achieve greatness.”

So, if you have a remote worker, a remote team of individual workers, or are a remote worker yourself, then the challenge lies within the “how” behind creating an environment of trust, inclusion, and belonging.

If we have trust, then teamwork can exist.

If we have teamwork, then a sense of something bigger than ourselves can exist.

If we believe we are part of something bigger than just our own work, then belonging can exist.

If we truly believe we belong, then we can feel safe and then included in a group bigger than a team of one.

We then can have a culture where work is not a commodity, and the work product will not be considered a commodity.

Organizations that create a culture where people are not seen as just human capital will ultimately benefit because their teams will create products or services that are not just viewed as commodities in the marketplace. They show their value with the uniqueness they create.

Let me clear things up.

There is nothing inherently wrong with producing a commodity. That being said, if you are going to play in that arena then the rules are simple, straightforward, and brutal.

You will need to invest to ensure you are bigger, faster, and more efficient. It is always a race to the lowest cost provider – and that needs to be you.

This is true whether you are an organization or if you choose to be a remote freelancer.

At some point, the only differentiation in your work product is cost. And from our experience, someone will always find a way to do it cheaper than you.

Conversely, if you invest in building trust, in working with people, and in creating relationships, then teams can form.

If you invest in creating relationships with customers, coworkers, employees, and leaders, then you have taken the longer, more rewarding route.

Yes, it is the harder way because people, after all, are so unique. There is not a one-size-fits-all formula that makes this work, and it is harder to scale.

As we have seen, rugged individualism is scalable. The independent person is wonderful for movies and tabloids. The rise of the celebrity CEO sells lots of print articles and can sell more stock on Wall Street than others. But most great companies outlive their celebrity leaders or collapse because of them.

The rise of the individual politician, serving only their reelection cause, does help in the reelection campaign – but at the cost of gridlock.

At The Joshua Group, we feel the evidence is clear: Take the long road. Choose the harder road. This road will lead to better engagement, better teams, more sustainable results, and ultimately, a better outcome for all involved!

The formula is simple:

Trust > Teamwork > Culture = Better Engagement.

Engaging with others is what kickstarts the trust cycle – this leads to better employee engagement! And that is why engagement, at its root, is such a confusing word!


Ready to learn more about engagement? Are you prepared to start your trust cycle but unsure of how to go about it?

We can help. Reach out to us at The Joshua Group at

62 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page