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Engagement and Job Demands

Work engagement is the topic de jour. Kahn (1990) originally pioneered the concept, proposing that engaged employees are physically, cognitively, and emotionally involved in their work roles. To date we know that engagement is shown to have strong statistical relationships to meaningful organizational outcomes: performance (e.g., Saks, 2006, Crawford, LePine, & Rich, 2010), profitability (e.g., Harter et al., 2002; Harter, Schmidt, Killham, & Agrawal, 2009), psychological safety (e.g., Harter et al., 2009; Nahrgang, Morgeson, & Hofmann, 2011; Wachter & Yorio, 2014; Zohar, 2000), customer satisfaction (e.g., Coffman & Gonzalez-Molina, 2002), and lower turnover and intention to leave (e.g., Bakker, Demerouti, & Euwema, 2005; Brunetto et al., 2014; Harter et al., 2002; Saks, 2006; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). In addition, employee engagement at the business unit level has been connected to customer satisfaction, productivity, profit, employee turnover, and accident rates (e.g., Harter et al., 2002; Schneider, Macey, Barbera & Martin, 2009; Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Heuven, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2008).

If you’re thinking, “Wow!” we definitely agree with you. Since Kahn brought engagement to our attention, researchers from all corners of the world have suggested varying definitions and strategies for measurement (e.g., Hakanan & Roodt, 2010), but the most popular and well-researched model to date is the Job Demands-Resources model (JD-R; Bakker & Demerouti, 2007, 2008). The idea behind the JD-R is that job demands balanced by job and personal resources drive engagement. For Reference, Job demands are: the workload, emotional and cognitive demands of a job.  Resources that can moderate these demands of daily work include job resources (feedback, social support, and developmental opportunities) and personal resources (self-esteem, self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism).

The combination of the two types of resources lead to engagement whereas few resources and high work demands lead to burnout. If you work at a nonprofit or social impact org, you know the risk for burnout is high (Schaufeli, Leiter, & Maslach, 2009). What if we focused on crafting our workplaces to facilitate high engagement while simultaneously avoiding burnout? Engagement is important in every sector of every industry, but we see the heart of NGOs and social impact orgs, and we want the missions that drive you to be complemented by the workplaces that pay you.

 The following interventions have been empirically tested and compared by researchers Knight, Patterson, and Dawson (2016). According to their meta-analytic study,

·      Building personal and job resources, having leadership training, as well as promoting health show promise as the most successful intervention types for building engagement.  Building personal resources typically involves finding ways to increase an individual’s self-efficacy (the belief that someone has the ability to meet a given challenge). 

·      Building job resources may look like increasing the autonomy an employee has at work.  While building personal and job resources is important, having training for the leadership of an organization allows for a “trickle down” effect to happen. By increasing the knowledge of leadership, workers will perceive an effect of increased job resources. Though a word of caution is given to make sure the training is specific to the organization’s needs and not a general training. 

·      Lastly, by promoting healthy behaviors at work, employees can benefit from the physiological effects of exercise such as reduced stress and positive mental health states. Starting by building in elements of mindfulness into the work place are a simple, low investment way to reap these benefits. 

There are many different ways to work towards building increased employee engagement at work.  Choosing one or two strategies from the list above to discuss with your employees is a great first step. 



Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007).  The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22(3), 309-328.

Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2008).  Towards a model of work engagement. Career Development International, 13(3), 209-223.

Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Euwema, M. C. (2005).  Job resources buffer the impact of job demands on burnout.  Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2), 170.

Brunetto, Y., Shacklock, K., Teo, S., & Farr-Wharton, R. (2014). The impact of management on the engagement and well-being of high emotional labour employees.  The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(17), 2345-2363.

Coffman, C., & Gonzalez-Molina, G. (2002). A new model: Great organizations win business by engaging the complex emotions of employees and customers.  The Gallup Management Journal, 12-21.

Crawford, E. R., LePine, J. A., & Rich, B. L (2010).  Linking job demands and resources to employee engagement and burnout: A theoretical extension and meta-analytic test.  American Psychological Association, 95(5), 834-848.

Hakanan, J. J., & Roodt, G. (2010).  Using the job demands-resources model to predict engagement: Analysing a conceptual model.  In A. B. Bakker, & M. P. Leiter (Eds.). Work engagement: A handbook of essential theory and practice (pp. 85-101). Hove, East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.

Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Hayes, T. L. (2002).  Business-unit –level relationship between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(2), 268-279.

Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., Killham, E. A., & Agrawal, S. (2009).  Meta-analysis: The relationship between engagement at work and organization outcomes. II Gallup Inc., Princeton.

Kahn, W. A. (1990).  Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work.  The Academy of Management Journal, 33(4), 692-724.

Knight, C., Patterson, M., & Dawson, J. (2016).  Building work engagement: A systemic review and meta-analysis investigating the effectiveness of work engagement interventions. Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Nahrgang, J. D., Morgeson, F. P., & Hofmann, D. A. (2011).  Safety at work: A meta-analytic investigation of the link between job demands, job resources, burnout, engagement, and safety outcomes.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(1), 71-94.

Saks, A. M. (2006).  Antecedents and consequences of employee engagement.  Journal of Managerial Psychology, 21(7), 600-619.

Schaufeli, W. B., & Baker, A. B. (2004).  Job demands, job resources, and their relationship with burnout and engagement.  A multi-sample study.  Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25(3), 293-315.

Schaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2009).  Burnout: 35 years of research and practice.  Career Development International, 14(3), 204-220.

Schneider, B., Macey, W. H., Barbera, K. M., & Martin, N. (2009). Driving customer satisfaction and financial success through employee engagement.  People and Strategy, 32(2), 22.

Wachter, J. K., & Yorio, P. L. (2014).  A system of safety management practices and worker engagement for reducing and preventing accidents: An empirical and theoretical investigation.  Accident Analysis & Prevention, 68, 117-130.

Xanthopoulou, D., Baker, A. B., Heuven, E., Demerouti, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2008). Working in the sky: a diary study on work engagement among flight attendants. Journal of Occupational and Health Psychology, 13(4), 345.

Zohar, D. (2000). A group-level model of safety climate: Testing the effect of group climate on microaccidents in manufacturing jobs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(4), 587-506. 


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