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"I've learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances." Martha Washington

So, too, does a great part of employee engagement. Some people may feel engaged at times; some may act engaged; others are engaged. As Dr. Paul Warner, DecisionWise coach and engagement expert writes, "All things being equal, [some people] are naturally more engaged than others." If so, what are the implications for organizations?

"Dispositional Construct"

In "The Meaning of Employee Engagement," authors William H. Macey and Benjamin Schneider explore three aspects of engagement: that is, engagement as:

  • A psychological state (feeling of energy, absorption, empowerment, etc.).
  • Behavior (engaging in acts that "go beyond" expectation).
  • Disposition ("trait engagement").
Those disposed to engagement typically have a positive view of life and work, proactive personality, positive affect, and a strong locus of control. They are likely to have an autotelic outlook; that is, they believe that work has an end and importance in itself.

Let's take a look at four different facets of engagement as a dispositional construct:

Positive Affectivity (PA) as Trait Engagement

When people have a positive affect (PA), they experience and interact with the world around them in a positive way. They're usually energetic, enthusiastic, confident, artistic, and active. (Sounds like a good hire!)

It's important to note that PA, or trait engagement, is similar to but not the same as "satisfaction." It goes beyond more transitory satisfaction and gets to the heart of adaptive, and relatively stable, behaviors.

Proactive Personality as Trait Engagement

Have any go-getters in your organization? Their behavior is the result of both disposition and situation. These people can create and influence their work environment, and in many roles (e.g. sales, real estate), this is the biggest factor in success - more important than even conscientiousness and extraversion.

Conscientiousness as Trait Engagement

Conscientiousness is one of the "Big Five" personality traits and is characterized by organization, carefulness, and responsibility. Folks with this disposition are industrious and thrive in order (or help create it). They're typically "hard working, ambitious, confident, and resourceful."

Autotelic Personality as Trait Engagement

Research has linked autotelic personality to the concept of "flow" and "being present." Remember that those with autotelic personalities engage in work for its own sake rather than for external rewards. They are open to new challenges; they are persistent in the face of challenge; and they are ready to engage with their work.

This relates back to Kahn's assertion that people "can use varying degrees of their selves, physically, cognitively, and emotionally, in the roles they perform..." Employees with this type of disposition are more willing and able to bring more of their selves to work.

Macey and Schneider conclude that engagement as a dispositional construct is comprised of a "number of interrelated facets" tied together by the tendency to view work positively and approach in energetic and proactive ways.

As Dr. Warner points out, organizations can't force, or even encourage, people to have an engaged disposition. So, are they "powerless in their quest for the engaged organization? Not by a long shot." What leaders can, and should do, is hire people who have the disposition for engagement and nurture an environment in which engagement thrives.

Some people are "naturally more engaged than others." Those are the employees you want - and need - to hire and retain in order to gain a competitive advantage.


Larry Hart

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