As of this post, we’re coming out of a pandemic that will probably have lasting effects on the way we work. All of us have had to be more flexible and innovative to meet the dual goals of staying healthy and continuing to provide services and products. Front-line people are continuing to work at physical locations to provide essential services while adjusting their procedures to minimize risks and to deal with the new challenges. Others are transitioning to remote working, figuring out new technologies, practices, and ways to maintain relationships for their jobs. For everyone, being engaged and committed is the underlying motivation that keeps us moving forward in times like these, as well as in “normal” times.
In spite of all the obvious bad, this global health and economic tragedy has forced us to reflect and, in unforeseen ways, to change our assumptions about education, work…and life. But human nature hasn’t changed. Although organizations and work patterns may look different, at least for a while, the basics still apply. The best companies will continue to be driven by people who are engaged in the values, mission, and vision of the organization. When thinking of employee engagement, organizations have plenty of research and resources from which to pull. There are many measures of employee engagement, lists of employee engagement ideas, and tips for how to drive employee engagement. There is research that shows the positive results from focusing on engagement. For example, employees who are engaged are invested in and passionate about their company and their work. They devote extra mental, physical, and emotional energies to help the organization succeed. And, they are more satisfied, more effective in their performance, and more likely to make a positive impact on their organization. Companies with engaged employees see the benefits in outcomes like customer loyalty, higher sales, and better profitability.
However, recent research a adds new dimension to our understanding of engagement. Employee engagement has sometimes been conceptualized as an on-or-off thing: people are either engaged in their company and job, or they are disengaged. While this way of thinking can be useful, new research suggests that engagement can vary within the same person in the same job. This research emphasizes that jobs are multi-faceted and changing, and that engagement can vary from task to task. This insight leads to practical steps to help people stay fully involved and engaged.
In a recent study (reference below) published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, psychologists conducted two studies to find out how engagement changes as people work on different tasks. One study was in the field, where NASA Human Exploration Research Analog crew members worked on a variety of tasks in simulated missions. A second study was in the lab, where college students were studied as they performed various firefighting simulation tasks. As the study participants worked on their tasks, measures were taken of their task engagement, task performance, positive feelings about the task, and their attention to the current and previous tasks. They found that task engagement is energizing and spills over into engagement in and performance on the next task. A downside, however, is that this investment can cause “attention residue.” That is, people who were highly engaged in one task had difficultly switching their attention from that one and redirecting their thinking to the new task. So, through this mechanism, it was seen that high engagement in one situation can inhibit performance in a second task.
What This Means for Organizations
This research indicates that engagement is not a unitary, overall job construct, but can change as employees move from one task to another. The authors suggest practical ways for organizations and employees to structure work, so that we take advantage of our full energies and maximize our engagement throughout the workday.
Employee engagement is important for employees to be satisfied and productive at work. Thinking about how to maximize the benefits of task engagement and how to minimize attention reside, which takes away from performance, can harness the power of engagement.
Remember that an essential part of maximizing employee engagement is making sure you have the right person for the job and your company culture. For help selecting the right person for the job and helping people develop on the job, contact us.
Newton, D. W., LePine, J. A., Kim, J. K., Wellman, N., & Bush, J. T. (2019). Taking engagement to task: The nature and functioning of task engagement across transitions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(1), 1 18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/apl0000396