PrOPEL Hub Knowledge Exchange Associate Nicola Murray explores what work engagement means and how it can support business recovery post COVID-19.
Taking an Evidence-Based Approach
In recent years, ‘employee engagement’ has become somewhat of a buzzword with an array of different definitions and an even wider range of associated claims and promises. This isn’t very helpful if you are a business wanting to take an evidence-based approach to better understand what’s going on in your own organisation.
At the Scottish Centre for Employment Research (SCER), based in Strathclyde Business School (part of the PrOPEL Hub), we focus on a specific element of employee engagement; ‘Work Engagement’. The reason we distinguish ‘work engagement’ from the wider engagement agenda is that, unlike in some areas, there is a strong evidence base that ‘work engagement’ is linked to positive outcomes for both organisations and their employees.
What do we mean by ‘Work Engagement’?
Work engagement focuses on how people feel about their jobs. It can be defined as ‘a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterised by vigour, dedication, and absorption’. This way of capturing engagement was developed by Wilmar Schaufeli and colleagues in the early 2000s. In particular, it considers feelings of resilience and energy (vigour), whether employees find their jobs meaningful (dedication) and if they are happy and immersed in interesting work (absorption).
Over the last two decades, a considerable amount of research has been conducted into this specific definition of work engagement and it has been found to be associated with a variety of benefits for businesses and individual employees including:
- Improved employee wellbeing
- Enhanced individual performance
- Greater innovation in the workplace
- Increased organisational commitment
- Reduced sickness absence
All of which can positively contribute to business recovery in the coming weeks and months.
How can Businesses Influence Work Engagement?
As mentioned above, research tells us that higher levels of work engagement (i.e. vigour, dedication and absorption) can have a positive influence on a variety of factors for individual employees and their organisations – however, perhaps even more important to understand is how work engagement itself can be increased within an organisation.
One of the key ways to enhance work engagement is to focus on job quality and in particular, to invest in what are known as ‘job resources’. The idea of job resources comes from the Job Demands-Resources Model. This is a way of thinking about job quality that centres on the need to balance, on the one hand, ‘job demands’ such as workload, emotional demands, interpersonal conflict, and on the other hand, ‘job resources’ – the elements of good job quality that help people to cope with the demands of the workplace, like effective feedback, peer support, development opportunities, job control and task variety.
Investing in job resources is an evidence-based way to improve job quality in your organisation in order to increase work engagement and all of its associated benefits.
At the PrOPEL Hub we are really keen to help organisations explore what how they can apply research in practice. One way we do this is through interactive workshops and events. If you would be interested in working with us more closely, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org