Employee engagement has been a hot topic of organizational research since 1990, with leaders and HR teams scrambling to build more of it. Here's what the research says...
When people are engaged, we bring our “whole selves” to work.
Engagement is a positive, fulfilling work-related state in which we bring our whole selves to work, invest personal energy, and experience an emotional connection with work.
Engagement has three components:
Vigor - high energy, willingness to exert effort, and persistence
Dedication - strong involvement and enthusiasm, pride, and inspiration
Absorption - full concentration and high engrossment in work3,6
Engagement varies across people and within people.
Is engagement variable over time? Yes. Engagement can fluctuate within a person over time and can vary in response to situations we're in. Therefore, it’s important to try to continuously cultivate engagement.
Is engagement relatively stable over time? Yes. Generally speaking, some people are more engaged than others. Like personality or abilities, each of us seems to carry a range of work engagement that we'll tend to be in most of the time6,7,8.
Engagement can increase job performance above and beyond other work attitudes.
The biggest research debate about employee engagement is whether it's really different from other work attitudes that have been researched for decades (i.e., job satisfaction, organizational commitment).
A recent meta-analysis (a statistical summary that combines data from multiple studies) found that measures of engagement added to the picture on top of other job attitudes including satisfaction and commitment:
accounted for 19% of variation in task performance
explained 16% of variation in extra-role behaviors (i.e. helping)
Since research supports engagement as variable and as contributing to positive work outcomes, it's worth considering how to improve engagement specifically1,2,.
Watch Jeff Havens describe engagement:
Engagement affects much more than job performance.
Engaged employees report:
more positive emotions (cheerfulness, energy, inspiration)
openness to new experiences
higher degrees of active learning
Engaged workers are also:
less likely to leave the organization
more likely to hold favorable job attitudes, such as higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment
more likely to foster positive customer interactions and customer satisfaction1,5
Personality traits can predict potential engagement.
As mentioned earlier, people differ in ranges of engagement.
People who tend to be more engaged typically are also:
optimistic - hopeful about the future
high in self-efficacy - confident in personal abilities for a situation or task
extraverted - sociability and outgoing
conscientious - careful and vigilant
emotionally stable - calm and even-tempered, not highly reactive to stress
proactive - creating/controlling a situation rather than reacting after it's happened1,2,4,
Whiteboard guide from author Ed Muzio about thinking through engagement with a person:
Leaders and managers can influence team member engagement.
Transformational leadership improves engagement.
Transformational leaders inspire and motive people by:
sharing a compelling vision
role modeling behaviors
stimulating the team intellectually
encouraging creativity and innovation
demonstrating a genuine concern for people
Being a transformational leader is not the only path to improve engagement. In more basic day-to-day management and supervision interactions, keys to increased engagement include:
building high-quality relationships with individual subordinates
Christian, M. S., Garza, A. S., & Slaughter, J. E. (2011). Work engagement: A quantitative review and test of its relations with task and contextual performance. Personnel Psychology, 64(1), 89–136. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2010.01203.x
Kahn, W. A. (1990). Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 692–724. https://doi.org/10.2307/256287
Mäkikangas, A., Schaufeli, W., Tolvanen, A., & Feldt, T. (2013). Engaged managers are not workaholics: Evidence from a longitudinal personcentered analysis. Revista de Psicología Del Trabajo y de Las Organizaciones, 29(3), 135–143. https://doi.org/10.5093/tr2013a19
Schaufeli, W. B., & Salanova, M. (2007). Efficacy or inefficacy, that’s the question: Burnout and work engagement, and their relationships with efficacy beliefs. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping, 20(2), 177–196. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615800701217878
Schaufeli, W. B., Salanova, M., González-romá, V., & Bakker, A. B. (2002). The measurement of engagement and burnout: A two sample confirmatory factor analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(1), 71–92. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015630930326
Sonnentag, S. (2003). Recovery, work engagement, and proactive behavior: A new look at the interface between nonwork and work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(3), 518–528. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.88.3.518