This is the fourth blog post in the 12 part
series on engagement everywhere. This post focuses on engagement with work,
task, and project, taking engagement from the general and abstract measurement
of attitudes and attachments an employee has with an organisation to how a
person connects and performs with their specific work, tasks, and projects.
You could view this as the difference between the noun of engagement and the verb of engage. We shift the focus from how I feel my manager or organisation treats me to how am I connecting to my specific tasks, work and projects.
Engagement as an act
Professor Katie Truss captures the dilemma of engagement in her writings on the future of research in employee engagement. "Engagement is an approach taken by organisations to managing their workforce, rather than a psychological state experienced by employees in the performance of their work; ‘doing' engagement, rather than ‘being' engaged," says Truss.
Work engagement in my mind focuses more on being engaged, or "doing" your own engaged working. The dilemma is between the work we do and the organisation that employs us.
One of engagement's leading researchers, Arnold Bakker, defines work engagement on his website as:
"...a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption" (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2010; Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá, & Bakker,2002, p. 74).
I appreciate their focus on vigor, dedication and
absorption. Schaufeli and his team created the Utrecht
Work Engagement Scale UWES which measures vigor, dedication and absorption
as the three facets of engagement. It is the most extensively used academic
measure of engagement. Bakker and Schaufeli articulate the vigor, dedication
and absorption concepts in their paper as:
Vigor is characterized by high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, the willingness to invest effort in one's work, and persistence even in the face of difficulties. Dedication refers to being strongly involved in one's work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge. Absorption, is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one's work, whereby time passes quickly and one has difficulties with detaching oneself from work.
From academic engagement to work engagement
The concept of work engagement demonstrates the divergence between the business of engagement and the academic study of engagement. Consultancies and organisations adopted the concept of employee engagement while academics, looking for more specificity and granularity, leaned towards work engagement. Often we see consultancies recommending annual or biannual surveys while academics study daily or even hourly fluctuations in our experiences and connections with work.
I appreciate the granularity implied in task, work, and project engagement. We often fail to recognize the challenges self-employed people or professionals have with their work. I have been self-employed for 40 years and can claim many periods of disengagement from my work. I also experience continual daily fluctuations in my work engagement. You can be self-employed or a professional and still struggle to engage with specific tasks and to get the job done.
Work engagement implies a focus on shorter stretches of work. I can be engaged with a meeting yet have low engagement with an accounting task later the same working day. My engagement soars with a productive collaborative exercise that overcomes a major setback and has our team experiencing a profound sense of progress.
Making better use of task, work, and project engagement
Here are four recommendations to make better use of task, work, and project engagement:
1. Be more mindful and intentional about the
daily fluctuations in work. Narrow and shorten your focus and make engagement
2. Think less about global employee engagement and more about how you will engage your team with a specific project (I think the keys here are to focus on the huge impact of collaborative progress or setbacks on the engagement of knowledge workers).
3. Make use of the new technologies attached to wearable computing to offer the organisation and employees greater measurement and monitoring of the ever changing state of work engagement.
4. Focus more on the engagement embedded in the work itself as opposed to extra programs and initiatives. Don't keep adding more to management and engagement, rather determine how you can integrate and remove processes to improve engagement. See a brilliant example of how Cargill grain is making use of daily performance management conversations as the mechanism for engagement.
To read previous posts in the engagement everywhere series click here. The next post in this 12 part series will zero in on career engagement.