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"When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute." -Simon Sinek

You cannot read leadership articles, management books, or even tweets without bumping into the word "engagement." It's omnipresent - and for good reason. Engaged employees are one of the single most powerful competitive advantages a business can boast.

At the same time, engagement, as a subject of scientific inquiry, is in its infancy. In order to leverage its power, organizations must understand what, exactly, it is. One perspective is that engagement is a psychological state; so what role does "absorption, attachment, and/or enthusiasm" play in engagement - and in results?

Engagement as a Psychological State

William Kahn, one of the pioneers in engagement research, defines engagement as "the harnessing of organization members' selves to their work roles." It is "what enables the depths of workers' personal selves to come forth in the service of their own growth and development and that of their organizations."

In "The Meaning of Employee Engagement," a critical examination of research on engagement, authors William H. Macey and Benjamin Schneider tackle the different facets of psychological engagement that drive some employees to bring their selves forward in service to the company.

Engagement as Satisfaction

Are they one and the same? The terms are often used interchangeably, and tools to measure engagement often get at it through satisfaction. For example, the Gallup measure of engagement that Macey and Schneider cite asks questions related to conditions which signify satisfaction; engagement, itself, isn't assessed.

"The measures of engagement we have seen in use in the world of practice are highly similar to the measures used for assessments of job satisfaction, albeit with a new label." Because engagement is not measured directly, leaders have to make "inferential leaps" with their data - a true leap of faith.

The problem is that when satisfaction is assessed as a sense of feeling fullfilled it is not engagement, it's not the "same conceptual space." On the other hand, when it's assessed as feelings of activation - energy, enthusiasm, etc. - then it becomes a facet of engagement. Which is to say, no, they're not the same, but satisfaction can play a role in engagement.

Erickson argued that engagement "is above and beyond simple satisfaction with the employment arrangement or basic loyalty to the employer." Rather, it's passion, commitment, and the willingness to "go the extra mile."

Engagement as Commitment

Another facet of engagement as a psychological state is commitment. When employees are committed, they feel as though they belong and that there is an attachment between them and their employer. They take pride in their work and demonstrate a willingness to put in extra effort in order to achieve goals because they have a "personal identification with the organization."

Engagement as Job Involvement

Rather than an organizational attachment, this aspect of engagement focuses on the job. When people are engaged in this manner, they are "willing to invest effort toward task goal attainment." They identify with their roles; they consider their work important, and their worth is very much tied to that.

Engagement as Psychological Empowerment

Empowerment is the "experience of authority and responsibility." Those who feel empowered are more likely to act, to show sustained effort, persistence, and initiative. They feel a measure of control.

Engagement as Positive Affect

Some experts believe that engagement is an affective state; in this context, people experience feelings of persistence, vigor, energy, absorption, enthusiasm, and pride. Wilmar Schaufeli defined engagement as "a persistent, positive affective-motivational state of fulfilment in employees that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption."

Engagement as the Involvement of the Self

In this facet of engagement, people invest their selves in their work. Kahn writes, "People can use varying degrees of their selves, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, in the roles they perform... the more people draw on their selves... the more stirring their performances." They act authentically; they're attentive, focused, and connected to their work, to the organization, and to their own identity (which is tied closely to all of these).

Engagement is a multi-dimensional construct, encapsulating all of these facets. The key takeaway for leaders is to acknowledge that it is complex, as are their people. When they peel away the layers, they can get at the core of engagement and start realizing better results for their organizations.


Larry Hart

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