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Engagement at Work

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:

  • better health
  • 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
  • providing social support2

In this interview, Doug Conant, former president & CEO of Campbell Soup Company, reflects on key engagement actions he took with thousands of employees globally:

Author Daniel Pink discusses Autonomy & Management:

Job characteristics matter too.

Characteristics of the job or team context can also improve engagement:

  • Autonomy – control and choice over how to accomplish work outcomes
  • Task variety – opportunity to work on multiple assignments or projects that require different sets of skills
  • Task significance and meaningful work – feeling that the work being done has an impact on others
  • Feedback – receiving frequent and specific information about work efforts and results
  • Psychological safety – feeling safe to share opinions, ask questions, and suggest new ideas2

References

  1. Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Sanz-Vergel, A. I. (2014). Burnout and work engagement: The JD–R Approach. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1(1), 389–411. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091235
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Saks, A. M. (2006). Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21(7), 600–619. https://doi.org/10.1108/02683940610690169
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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