In an ideal world, we can all thrive at work. There would be no work-life balance. Only a meaningful and sustainable work-life integration. However, today’s working environment portrays a different reality.

How engaged are we?

When we look at research on employee engagement, the numbers are startling:

  • Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2015: According to this study, 87% of business and HR leaders rank employee engagement as a top strategic challenge. The strong emphasis on engagement even makes it the number one human capital trend around the world.
  • Gallup State of the Global Workplace: Based on Gallup’s research, 63% of the entire workforce is not engaged. Another 24% is ‘actively disengaged.' Only a mere 13% of the global workforce is engaged, Gallup researchers state.

Who cares about engagement?

On the one hand, engagement appears to be a strategic priority. On the other hand, the global workforce does not seem very engaged. Is this an actual problem?

Empirical studies argue it is. Two decades of research convincingly demonstrates the positive effects engagement might have. On the individual level, and the company as a whole. That is, high employee engagement is related to more creativity, better performance, and higher retention. For a suggested reading list on the empirical findings, I refer to this SlideShare deck.

In a nutshell:

  • engagement is a strategic priority
  • the workforce is not very engaged
  • engagement can have positive effects on the employee and the organization.

So, one might argue that nourishing engagement can be a lever to sustainable competitiveness.

What do we actually mean by 'engagement'?

The concept of engagement has been defined in a variety of ways. This should come as no surprise, given the attention that engagement receives both from scholars and practitioners. A potential downside of defining one word in multiple ways is that you and I might no longer be talking about the same thing. From an organizational perspective, this reality could blur the strategic focus.

Hence, the first challenge is to reach consensus on what we actually mean when talking about engagement.

One way to define engagement—and I’m not saying this is the holy truth—is based on three pillars: vigor, dedication, and absorption. From that perspective, engagement is a motivational state of well-being characterized by:

  1. Vigor = To feel high levels of energy when working.
  2. It's about a person’s feelings that they have physical durability, emotional vitality, and cognitive liveliness, they can use to pursue an assignment or task.

    Sometimes, after a vitalizing meeting with colleagues, I feel energy rushing through my entire body and mind. I can’t wait to get working on the next challenge.

    When we experience vigor, we feel energized and ready to go.

  3. Dedication = Committed to and feeling proud about your work.
  4. Have you ever talked to a stranger about your work in a highly complex and way too detailed fashion, seeing them yawn after a while? I have. Plenty. That’s because we are proud of our work, and want to share the things we do. Being dedicated means that you identify with your work.

  5. Absorption = To forget time while immersed at work.
  6. When I was young, I liked building sand castles at the beach. One time, without realizing it, the sand castle got completely destroyed by the ocean’s tide. Because the sand castle was my sole focus, I forgot about the surroundings and the fact that time inevitably brought along a flood.

OK, so now we know that engagement can be described based on three pillars. How could the organization, and its managers, in particular, facilitate engagement?

Tap into the ABC of your employee!

ABC refers to three psychological needs derived from self-determination theory. According to this theory, every human being seeks to satisfy three needs. Working in an environment that meets these needs, enables us to feel engaged and thrive.

  • Autonomy. To have degrees of freedom over your work. To act (in)dependent, and experience ownership of your behavior.
  • Belongingness. To a meaningful group that positively shapes your self-definition. To realize that what you do contributes to a larger entity. Seeking belongingness refers to the desire to experience a connection with others.
  • Competence. To develop and deploy your knowledge and skills. To be recognized for the path you chose and the results that were delivered.

As a manager, tapping into the ABC of your employee can be a powerful lever to increase engagement. Satisfying these three basic psychological needs enables us to feel engaged and thrive at work.

A hands-on toolkit for managers

To illustrate, I provide a brief hands-on toolkit for managers to nourish engagement.

  • Ask your employee: “What can I do to fully support your autonomy?” Posing this question puts you in a servant position. It encourages your employee to shape her or his ideal working environment.
  • Connect with your team and inquire: “What could we do to further develop our team identity and purpose?” For team members to connect and relate to each other, a common purpose is a great starting point. Employees can then identify with the team mission, and care for each other in realizing the mission.
  • Recognize your employees’ performance. Both what they did, and how they did it. Recognition can appear in a variety of ways. They can be financial or non-financial. Further, you can recognize on an individual level or the team level. So, create a 2x2 matrix (financial, non-financial; individual, team) and discuss with your team members how you can enable their development and recognize them accordingly.

In sum,

  • Engagement is a strategic priority.

  • You can nourish engagement through ABC.

  • How? Ask, inquire, recognize.

That leads me to my final question:

What can you do today to nourish your employee's engagement tomorrow?

First published on Tijs' Linkedin account.