How much do you really feel that your job, and the tasks associated with it fully engages you to a point where you actually want to go to work every day? Psychologists have studied work attitudes for more than five decades – work attitudes such as satisfaction, commitment along with involvement. What they have often found is that these work attitudes aren’t always strong predictors of work performance. It might be intuitive to say, for example, that the more satisfied you are with your work (that is, high in job satisfaction), that you are more likely to perform better in the workplace. This was what some researchers call the ‘happy-worker-productive worker hypothesis,’ but it has only received mixed support. This is partly due to how we measure ‘happiness’ in the workplace .
In contrast with a universal, general assessment of (merely) being satisfied or happy with work, employee engagement, as it is frequently measured, assesses three key components. The three components are: (1) absorption – how much one is fully concentrated and fully engrossed in one’s work, (2) dedication – how much one perceives a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride and challenge in one’s work and (3) vigour – the level of energy and mental resilience while working and the persistence in the face of difficulties . These components are more ‘emotion-related’, and assess a wider range of emotions that one feels for their job. Indeed, most measures of job satisfaction are what we consider ‘global’ measures, consisting of items as such ‘I like doing the things I do at work’ and ‘I enjoy my co-workers’. When researchers measure more specific emotion-related experiences at work, they find that it has a strong association with work performance. One review found job engagement to be associated with lower employee turnover, safety, as well as having some influence on productivity and profitability. This pattern of results was found across a large sample of 36 businesses across different industries .
How do you craft engaging work? Consider what the three elements of job engagement entail, and what it means for designing your work. Asking yourself questions about the nature of the work that is carried out in the workplace might be a good place to start, if you are attempting to craft tasks that really engage employees.
• Are the tasks absorbing, and engrossing? Tasks that are more likely to be engrossing – and those that facilitate flow and immersion are those that match employee skills with sufficient challenge. Simple, repetitive and mundane tasks that can be automated rarely engage or engross employees. Can some of these tasks be automated? If you are an employee, what tasks can you get involved in that will match and engage your skills?
• Are the tasks likely to enhance dedication and ownership? People take a special interest in projects, assignments that they feel to be a key part of. Designing tasks that employees can identify with, and “see a part of themselves in” is a good way to enhance levels of dedication, involvement, and ownership in them. Tasks that employees dedicate themselves to also enhances accountability and identifiability of individual staff contributions.
• Are the tasks energizing? Challenges, hiccups and errors will crop up from time to time at work. One way to limit to draining, energy-sapping influence of these errors is to make them part of the continuous improvement and learning process. Encourage staff to see mistakes as opportunities for growth, promote a sense of inclusiveness and collegiality at work that helps enhance psychological safety and the chance to learn from one another. Doing so sustain their vigour and commitment to the task, and employees are less likely to dread work as a result.