Dr. Arnold Bakker on Employee Engagement and Work (Part 2)

Guest Contributorby David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Dr. Arnold Bakker on Employee Engagement and Work (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a two-part interview with Dr. Arnold Bakker, a leading academic studying employee engagement and work. If you haven't already done so, I encourage you to read part 1 of this interview.

In this post you will learn:

  • about the Job Demands-Resources model of engagement,
  • more about Bakker's research,
  • two fine research papers for HR practitioners to read,
  • what he would focus on if he was suddenly the VP of employee engagement, and
  • where he sees work and engagement headed as we move rapidly towards 2020.
Arnold Bakker

Dr. Arnold B. Bakker is a Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at Erasmus University, Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and Past President of EAWOP. He's also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa) and an Adjunct Professor at Lingnan University (Hong Kong). You can learn more about Dr. Bakker and his research at www.arnoldbakker.com.

David: What's the Job Demands-Resources Model and what are one or two implications for work?

Arnold: The JD-R model is a scientific model that can be used to predict employee well-being, including burnout and work engagement. Accordingly, although every job is different, each job has certain characteristics that can be categorized as job demands or job resources. Job demands (e.g., workload, emotional demands) are the drivers of a stress process undermining employee health, whereas job resources (e.g., autonomy, feedback, opportunities for growth) are the drivers of a motivational process in the workplace.

The model has been applied in hundreds (perhaps thousands; we don't have an up-to-date overview) of organizations around the world.

The studies that have been published show that job resources predict work engagement, and can buffer/mitigate the impact of job demands on strain (e.g., job stress, exhaustion, headaches).

In recent versions of the JD-R model, we've included job crafting and self-undermining as variables explaining the feedback loops in the model - in which for example work engagement is not only the outcome but also the predictor of job resources over time.

David: What has most stood out for you during your years of research into work and engagement?

Arnold: This is a fascinating field of study. I'm really very happy with the fact that our papers on work engagement are highly cited. It signals that our theories work and are useful for practitioners who apply them in organizations. This suggests that my own work has impact and is meaningful. That's an important driver of my own engagement.

David: If HR practitioners or CEOs were to read just one or two of your articles, which one/s would you recommend?

Arnold: Two articles come to mind. The first I would recommend offers an overview of the Jobs Demands-Resources Theory. This article explains how job demands and resources have unique effects on job stress and motivation. And the other I would suggest covers the daily fluctuations in employee work engagement. Here, I examine the predictors and outcomes of daily engagement, and how individuals can advance work engagement from one day to another.

David: What still puzzles you about engagement and work or what is your current interest in work and engagement?

Arnold: What still puzzles me about work engagement is how vulnerable "state work engagement" is. Even individuals who are generally very high on work engagement have regular "off-days" during which their level of engagement is very low.

On the one hand, lows in engagement are natural, because there can be no peaks without lows. We all need to regularly detach from our work (i.e., recover) in order to stay engaged.

On the other hand, it's remarkable that simple and short negative events that happen during a day (e.g., a failure, complaining customers, annoying meetings) can have a powerful negative impact on our daily employee work engagement.

Fortunately, we can influence our own daily levels of employee work engagement by proactively optimizing our job resources. Some examples include talking to enthusiastic colleagues, creating our own positive feedback, and starting new and challenging projects. My current interest is, not surprisingly, particularly in the latter self-management behaviors people use to influence their own work engagement (e.g., job crafting, strengths use, mobilizing ego resources, resource exchange, team boosters).

David: If you left university work and became the VP of Employee Engagement for a large organization who have done nothing with engagement so far, what would be your first two or three recommendations or actions?

Arnold: My first action would be to create ample opportunities for the exchange of job resources between employees, by creating structural working conditions and processes that foster the exchange of feedback, social support, ideas, communications, etc. These resources would foster work engagement and build cohesion among employees.

A second action would be to organize workshops for all managers to teach them about theories of work engagement, and show them what they can do as leaders to facilitate engagement among their employees.

David: Where do you see employee engagement and work headed as we move towards 2020?

Arnold: I believe that employee work engagement is here to stay.

Even though I always emphasize the importance of top-down approaches in my talks about work engagement, I think that bottom-up initiatives like job crafting (i.e., optimizing your own work environment; and creating your own job challenges and job resources), strengths use (i.e., capitalizing on your strong points), and social exchange (of job resources) will become more and more important.

The reason for this is that we're living in a highly individualized world, in which managers do not always have time for employees, or in which we work in other places than the office (e.g., new ways of working at home, in the plane/train, at the client's place). This means that employees have an important role to play themselves. They need to proactively work on their engagement in order to stay engaged.

Employee engagement is worth the investment

I'd like to thank Dr. Arnold Bakker for taking the time out of his schedule to share his insights on employee engagement. As I've written before, it's important to consider the many variables which impact engagement and put together an equation to help guide your efforts in positively moving the dial.

It's clear from Dr. Bakker's research and thought leadership that employee engagement, as an ongoing process that measures employee engagement and work engagement, takes a lot of time and effort. But I believe we can all agree - it's time and effort well spent.

Motivation Self-Assessment

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Motivation Self-Assessment

Better understand what motivates you and your employees.

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