What is the latest science on employee engagement?
18-19 years ago Professor Bakker did a study at a hard-working consultancy firm. The researchers identified high levels of work pressure scores and high levels of burnout, as 75% of the employees reported having a high level of work pressure. When presenting these findings to the senior leadership, one of the members of the audience enthusiastically replied: "How can we make that 100 percent?" Listen to our conversation with Work and Organizational Psychology guru, professor Arnold Bakker of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
We firmly believe that understanding what makes a great place to work for people, compared to a bad place to work, one must tackle the issue from a number of angles. The physical workplace is one, HR policies is another, family friendliness yet another discipline. However, some of the most important insights when researching this issue come from disciplines tackling workplace health, either through occupational health angle, or from io psychology, or Industrial and Organisational psychology - the speciality of Dr. Bakker. As he states:
Enthusiastic employees excel in their work because they maintain the balance between the energy they give and the energy they receive.
Arnold Bakker is Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Past President of EAWOP. His main research interests are positive organisational phenomena, such as work engagement, Flow, happiness at work, and also the processes that lead to job performance. He is interested in people and what drives them - just like we are - and this curiosity and quest for more insight is the key motivator for his research, lectures and speaking career.
In our conversation there was so much we could have tackled from the many excellent studies and papers by Dr. Arnold, but due to the limitations of time, we picked out some of the most exciting issues.
Let's start at the foundation, what is work engagement?
There have been so many articles about this in the past couple of years, in particular, driven by the famous Gallup surveys. However, the fact that there may be a low level of burnout or absenteeism, doesn't necessarily mean that people are fully engaged in their work. Work engagement is the state of people feeling full of energy and enthusiasm about their work, because we can potentially have an impact on the working lives of a lot of people.
Working hard is OK for performance, but it comes with a price!
The workplace of the future? They key-word is: recovery
It's OK to work hard - but it is just as important to recover. So organisations need to build in opportunities for recovery throughout the work-day, and some of the most pioneering and forward-looking organisations are already embracing this point of view. Employees need to be able to take breaks to recover and be recharged with new energy, employers need to ensure that employees have sufficient resources to cope with the challenges of work, build resilience and be able to benefit from sufficient social support from colleagues, have the necessary skills.
What other work factors are shaping the way we need to look at engagement?
- Burnout versus engagement - is the time now for a paradigm shift from scarcity (what we don't have) to abundance (all that we already have)?
- in which situations can people flourish at work?
- is it possible to decouple notions of success and performance from sacrifice and suffering, and long hours of work?
- how we can imagine the workplace of the future? What are the things employers are still getting wrong?
- to what aspects do we need to pay close attention to when redesigning workplaces?
- what are the opinion of Professor Bakker on ping pong tables and yoga classes at the workplace?
- what are the skills managers need to be equipped with?
- what are the factors that make people disengaged at the workplace?
- where the idea of flow comes into this discussion?