‘Engagement’ expresses an individual’s level of enthusiasm about, and personal investment in, their work or their organization.
There is considerable evidence that ‘engaged’ individuals are more physically, cognitively and emotionally involved in their work. This makes engagement of huge interest if we want to help each other to experience work as fulfilling and to achieve the best we can – for two reasons:
- Engagement has been shown in numerous studies to have a significant influence on both performance and well-being.1
- We actually know from research what drives engagement, and the factors that increase and reduce it. In principle at least, we should be able to provide workplaces where engagement is high and people thrive.2
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
The explosion of research interest in engagement since 2000 has increased awareness of significant benefits for both individuals and organizations. Its benefits are numerous and well-documented3. For example:
When do we feel engaged?
When we experience engagement at work we feel a sense of positive energy, focus and interest in what we are doing. Of course, we have the normal ups and downs of working life, but overall we have an active sense of positive involvement in our work and workplace.
Researchers have discovered three fundamental conditions for this to happen:
- We need to feel a sense of significance and meaning in our work, and its contribution to something that is important to us. We experience this when we feel worthwhile, useful, and valued.
- We need to feel we have the right resources to do the job we are asked to do – physically and psychologically.
- We need to feel safe – again physically and psychologically. (Psychological safety is the feeling that we can express our true self without fear of negative consequences).
These conditions - significance, resources and safety – are quite possible for us to provide and receive if the desire and the determination are there. The evidence is quite clear that organizations, leaders and individuals can all play a critical role in providing the conditions for high engagement. Which will in turn produce massive benefits for the organization and its people. Here is what you can do:
Increasing engagement - the evidence
What organizations can do
The evidence highlights immediate targets for organizations to focus on. From the most basic ‘hygiene factors’ as a start to the more inspirational ‘motivating factors’ :
- Working conditions that are physically safe from health hazards, temperature, noise
- Adequate resources for the job – fairness in not asking people to do more than is reasonable, and justly rewarding and recognising their achievements
- Challenging but do-able jobs with variety – and where appropriate with the opportunity to solve problems
- Opportunities for personal learning and development
And finally addressing as a priority two factors that are known to destroy engagement – minimizing administrative hassles and organizational politics.
What top management can do
Leaders at the very top of the organization have a significant role to play in creating the organization described above. But, in addition, your leadership style plays an important role in creating a positive workplace climate from the top. It is not just ‘what’ is done but ‘how’ it is done that engages people.
There is evidence that leaders who communicate an inspiring vision, lead by example, and are seen as trustworthy and optimistic are more likely to develop a highly engaged staff. We have separate briefings and tips on each of these topics here:
Link to Inspirational Communication section.
Link to Leading by Example section.
Link to Trust section.
Link to Optimism section
What team leaders can do
Additionally, team leaders everywhere in the organization can build engagement, and enhance individual wellbeing.
Leading by example and being seen as trustworthy and optimistic are essential, just as they are for top managers. But because team leaders are so close to their team members they can do much more. There is good evidence that the following build people's engagement:
Team leaders help to provide psychological safety (one of the fundamentals for engagement) by the support and recognition they are seen to give team members. When they treat people fairly, and praise and recognise people’s contributions they take a big step in helping people to feel safe and engaged.
Team leaders also increase our engagement and motivate us when they express confidence in our abilities to achieve great things. They help to develop a can-do culture by giving us autonomy and making sure they don’t micro-manage us - by delegating resposibility and authority, sharing information, involving us in decision-making and encouraging us to take initiative.
Finally team leaders can improve engagement, wellbeing and performance by helping us to develop our skills and our careers. Helping team members with training opportunities, high visibility development assignments and secondments, and fair recommendations for promotion will all build engagement. But just as important is enlarging people’s skills by the simple and cost effective method of giving constructive and fair feedback and coaching people to think in new ways.
What individuals can do
There is also plenty we can do as individuals to enhance our own engagement, and that of our colleagues, by being supportive and constructive co-workers, building trusting and optimistic relationships and recognising the contributions we all make. Cynicism – the belief that people are selfish and insincere – sours organizations and teams, and impedes the development of a culture where wellbeing and achievement can flourish.
1. Saks, A.M and Gruman J.A, 2014 What do we really know about employee engagement?, Human resource Development Quarterly, 25 -2, 155 - 182
2. Knight, C et al, 2017, Building work engagement: A systematic review and meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of workplace interventions, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38, 792 - 812
3. See eg Gallup 2013 State of the Global Workplace.