Work Engagement: A Clearly Defined Idea with a Future

A post that has a lot to say re the fuzziness of engagement in management-speak:
Why Engagement May be the Best management Voodoo Ever

Employee engagement is described and measured as a hodge-podge of commitment, enthusiasm, job involvement and anything else that sounds nice.

The earliest use of the term, engagement, in this general sense I’m aware of in my 1997 book with Christina Maslach, The Truth About Burnout. We defined it specifically as the opposite of burnout. Instead of exhaustion, cynicism, and discouragement, work engagement was energy, involvement, and efficacy. We measured it with the positive end of the MBI burnout measure.

A group in Utrecht (Schaufeli, Bakker) took it as step further by identifying additional items that measured vigor and dedication. In any case, there is a research world that defines work engagement precisely and is building a foundation of solid knowledge.

Later this year or early next Arnold Bakker & I will release our book, Work Engagement: A Handbook of Essential Theory and Research. This book pulls together researchers from around the world who have worked with this concept, struggling with the measurement and analytic issues, to assure that work engagement brings something unique and useful to the world of organizational psychology.

Somewhere along the way, engagement took a wrong term and landed in its current fuzzy place. It’s good for general conversations about the positive end of worklife. Ideas that keep engagement on the agenda and focus managers on enhancing the quality of worklife are useful.

But a precisely measured construct with a sound foundation to organizational research and practice would be a lot more valuable.

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