39 Lessons from Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice: The Psychology of Engagement
Lessons 4 to 11: (Reading time: 5 minutes)
Routledge publishing released a new employee engagement textbook, Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice edited by Catherine Truss, Rick Delbridge, Kerstin Alfes, Amanda Shantz and Emma Soane. This post will outline 9 lessons from the four chapters in part 1 of the textbook: The psychology of engagement. My lessons are illustrative and idiosyncratic rather then comprehensive and general. They are also a little quirky and may imply more than the authors intended.
4. We can not afford to be psyched out at work. Because of changes in work over the previous few decades the workplace requires psychological skills and abilities from the workforce. For example, organizational change requires adaptation while job crafting requires personal initiative. Employees need to bring their entire person to work and their psychological abilities and skills will influence levels of engagement. While there has been extensive focus on the social media elements of work, this section of the book brings the psychological elements of work into sharper focus.
5. DAVE makes a difference at work. Wilmar Schaufeli and others believe that work engagement is composed of vigor, dedication, and absorption. With the addition of energy I created the acronym DAVE: Dedication, Absorption, Vigor, and Energy. Ultimately we want the vigor of high levels of energy, resilience and persistence; the dedication of pride, involvement, and significance; and the absorption of concentration and flow within work. Use DAVE to assess your own level of engagement and the level of engagement of those you work with.
6. Get the picture on work engagement with the JD-R model. The jobs demands-resources model has been used as a frequent framework for engagement. As you read this book play close attention of the components and interactions of this model. We need both job and personal resources for work. These interact with job demands. In work we can move towards work engagement or burnout and this pathway will influence work outcomes. This model offers some useful perspective on engagement but as with any model we are best to remember Korzybski’s line: “the map is not the territory.”
7. At work, it can be a positive thing to be a deviant and we need to appreciate inquiry. Positive deviancy and appreciative inquiry are two positive-oriented models that can be used to examine or foster engagement. We can benefit from a study of our most engaged employees, especially in situations where the mass of our employees are disengaged. What do they do differently that we can learn to teach others to be more engaged? I adore the line from positive deviancy, “never do anything about me without me.” When this line is lived employee engagement becomes a collaborative effort. Appreciative inquiry also contributes to building engagement through the use of fuller organizational involvement and great questions to promote deeper understanding and change.
8. PsyCap is the new superHERO for employee engagement. PsyCap refers to an individual’s positive psychological state or psychological capital. PsyCap becomes a HERO as we broaden and build an employee’s Hope, Efficacy, Resilience, and Optimism. I think we would be served well to focus more on efficacy (the sense one can produce an outcome) than self-esteem at work. I also think that building resilience, and understanding the framework of learned optimism, would help many employees manage the negative effect that setbacks have on engagement. The textbook offers a brilliant array of important psychological concepts and constructs that can move the dial on engagement.
9. We tend to undervalue the importance and contribution of relationships in engagement. Relationships are the building blocks of organizations and they affect how work gets done. Engagement wilts or thrives often based on relationship. We must bring relationships to the foreground of engagement rather than sitting in the background. Maybe Gallup’s Q12 question about having a best friend at work isn’t as creepy as many people think.
10. To weather yourself through stormy seas at work, tie yourself to the MAST. Kahn, has been instrumental in the development of personal engagement and the overall study of engagement. He focuses a lot on meaningfulness, availability, and safety. If you add trust to meaning, availability, and safety you can construct the acronym MAST. To help employees stand tall and upright at work and to have them sail into their work build a strong workplace MAST: meaningfulness, availability, safety, and trust.
11. Safety at work is more than wearing a hard hat. In my own work, I would argue that more organizations have a bigger safety problem than an engagement problem. For example, the heavy reliance on anonymous surveys indicate that it is not safe to disclose your level of engagement or disengagement at work and that disengagement may be treated as a personal punishable offence. To rephrase Kahn’s definition into a question: Am I able to show and employ myself without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status or career?
12. Engagement grows as employee voice is amplified and acted upon. One of the four enablers of engagement according to the growing UK’s Engage for Success movement is employee voice. There are so many tools to create safety and communication of employee voice. Are employees ready, willing and able to voice concerns, speak up about conflict, voice difficult experiences, engage in challenging conversations, and voice their experiences at work. I believe that engagement is more of an experience to be lived than a problem to be solved. Engaged employees have safe ways to express their experience. If you are a leader your mantra for 2014 should be: listen up!
Previous Posts: Click on the titles below to read the previous posts on this textbook:
Next post in the series: 9 lessons from the HRM implications of employee engagement.
David Zinger is a Canadian employee engagement speaker and expert currently working on a 12 module course on employee engagement based on the pyramid of engagement.