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How employers can help workers become more dedicated and engaged — new research

Written by Rweyemamu Ndibalema, Lecturer in Management, University of Birmingham


Whatever your occupation, you may have noticed that some of your colleagues are energetic and passionate about their job, while others appear bored and disinterested. The difference between them is known as “employee engagement” and can be seen in everyone from a passionate lecturer to an enthusiastic flight attendant.

Work engagement has been described as a “positive motivational state of mind characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption”. During this state, employees are said to be physically and mentally resilient, enthusiastic, and happily immersed in their activity. They may also feel tired, but even this comes with a satisfactory feeling of accomplishment.

So why are some employees so positively engaged while others are not? This can be explained by the “job demand-resources” theory, which claims that possession of “resources” is what drives a person to become engaged. These resources aren’t necessarily related to money or perks, but can be anything that helps employees achieve their goals at work, promote their personal growth or reduce stress.

My recent study on employee engagement among academics identified some specific ways employers can try to build employee engagement. Here are five things for company bosses to consider:

  1. Organisational support. Valuing an employee’s contribution by trusting them to take on new and more significant roles in the organisation is essential for making an employee engaged in their work. A promotion, for example, is one way an employee could feel rewarded, but it should be accompanied by recognition from colleagues, not just senior management.

    In practice, this means that praise for creative or transformative ideas should not be given behind closed doors, but made known to other employees. Employees also feel valued when an organisation cares about their wellbeing. This, in turn, makes employees ready to work harder. When someone feels valued by a company, they tend to value the company in return.

  2. Constructive feedback. Providing clear guidance on what an employee needs to do to improve their work creates a greater understanding of how they can achieve goals. It also encourages them to work harder but under reduced stress.

  3. Fairness. When employees feel that both the material rewards and the procedures for getting them are fair, this in itself becomes a resource because they can determine the extent to which they are rewarded by adjusting their efforts. This gives employees the incentive to work harder.

  4. Job characteristics. The way a job is designed is likely to influence the extent to which an employee feels they have control of their work and their potential to achieve goals. Clarity, in terms of a role and requirements, offers autonomy and a reason to feel motivated and engaged.

  5. Training and development. Providing adequate training to employees enables them to build skills that enhance their performance. This makes them feel positive, more confident, and less inhibited – and on their way to full engagement.

Personal benefits

My study also found several factors relating to employee engagement that are not in the control of an employer. Instead, they rely on the personal resources of the employees themselves.

These include the “intrinsic motivation” of an employee who feels a sense of satisfaction from just doing a job (and not from external benefits such as pay or prestige) and is more likely to experience the state of work engagement than those who are driven by external rewards. Also, positive emotions have been found to broaden the mind and improve resilience, which can foster a sense of optimism and boost self-esteem in employees.

It’s worth noting, too, that engagement at work is by no means confined to paid employment. Experiencing a state of work engagement can occur (and bring benefits to) a variety of situations. A student working on an assignment, a musician trying to compose a new piece, and even a toddler trying to take their first wobbly steps are all examples of activities aided by a state of work engagement.

Toddler taking first steps.
Big steps.
Shutterstock/Ivanko80

And while a positive state of employee engagement has benefits for organisations because it improves performance at work, the far greater benefit is to a person’s physical and mental wellbeing – and as a gateway to unleashing true human potential.

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