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What do engaged employees look like and can we clone them?

January 24, 2011

Will an engaged employee have a big stamp on their forehead or wear a certain colour tie? How do we know who are the ‘engaged’ from the ‘disengaged’ – what sort of profile, if that is what we can call it, are we looking for?

Identifying engaged employees is quite important as it has implications for other HRM processes, such as recruitment and selection; if we know what an engaged employee looks like we can try to recruit in their image to continue to get engaged employees through the door. However, as intuitive as this may seem, having researched material on the topic surprisingly there is not much that actually outlines what a typical engaged employee would look like, what behaviours they would exhibit other than the flaky phrase of ‘they will go the extra mile’.

So, having a good dig around in peer reviewed journals, I found an interesting article on ‘burnout and work engagement – do individual differences make a difference?’ (Langelaan, Bakker, Van Doornen & Schaufeli, 2006). The authors state that engagement can be categorised by three behaviours - vigour, dedication and absorption, which can be explained by the following:

  • Vigour: high levels of energy at work, willingness to invest effort, persistence when difficulties arise
  • Dedication: sense of enthusiasm, inspiration, pride and challenge
  • Absorption: happily engrossed in ones work, ‘in the zone’

Vigour and dedication are considered core dimensions for optimal engagement whereas absorption is considered to be a by-product of engagement (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). So, based on this definition we are looking for energetic, persistent, enthusiastic, variety seeking employees, who have the propensity to be happy in their work, to get ‘in the zone’. Aha, so this is what an engaged employee may look like!

So, in terms of individual measurement, the big five dimensions and temperament measures were used to drill down further on the profile of the engaged employee. Results from the research suggested that those who are high on extraversion and low on neuroticism were likely to be the most engaged employees, whereas those high on neuroticism were likely to burnout (the direct opposite state to engagement it was found). It was also found that engaged employees are more open to new experiences, happy to adapt from one activity to another when necessary. Apparently, this research found that engaged employees keep looking for challenges in their job and when there are none they change jobs or look to create challenges.

So what does this all mean? Well, according to this one study engaged employees are more extrovert, emotionally stable and open to experiences. Interestingly, engaged employees have not been found to be more conscientious. So, if you are looking at recruitment and selection options looking at personality may be something of use. If you are writing an engagement strategy you may look at introducing constant challenges within jobs for engaged employees, for example. If you want to identify those who are already in your organisation as engaged to get an idea of behaviours and benchmark changes then you may want to measure the overall levels of engagement within the organisation, which is the next blog in the this space...!

Key Reference:

Langelaan, S. Bakker, A. Van Doornen, L. Schaufeli, W. (2006). Burnout and work engagement: Do individual differences make a difference? Personality & Individual Differences, 40 pp.521-532

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