How to keep your employees engaged using positive psychology
It is estimated that only 19% of employees are actively engaged at work at any one time, while another 19% are actively disengaged. Active disengagement at work costs the UK economy about £38bn a year. David Bolchover took it upon himself to find out what actively disengaged employees do when at work (and also when not). Scouring the research, he found that:
- 1 in 3 people have taken illegal drugs at work, such as ecstasy, cannabis, and cocaine
- 1 in 5 people have had sex at work
- 70% of porn site hits happen during working hours
- The actively disengaged have twice as much time off sick (and many of them are to be found at Alton Towers, apparently)
- 1 in 5 people describe themselves as constantly surfing the net, while a majority of people estimate they spend the equivalent of a day a week on non-work websites at work
- 7% send more than 20 personal emails a day
- 1/3 of young professionals confess to being hung over twice a week at work; and
- A quarter of people have fallen asleep at work.
So what is an ‘engaged’ employee?
Britt suggests that the definition of engagement is when people feel ‘responsible for, and committed to, superior job performance, so that job performance matters to the individual’. The question then is how to promote engagement throughout the organization. Fortunately positive psychology is providing us with the answers.
To promote positive engagement at work, organizations need to help people:
Use their strengths and talents
People encouraged to use their strengths at work are about 2 & 1/2 times as likely to be engaged as those who are encouraged to focus on their weaknesses. They are particularly more likely to be engaged if they get to use their strengths every day.
Flow, a term first coined by Csikszentmihalyi, refers to a state where people are so absorbed in what they are doing that they not only loose all sense of time but become largely un-self-conscious. Flow is by definition an engaging experience. We can all think of hobbies which we engage in in our own time which bring on this state to one degree or another but flow experiences also occur at work, though they aren’t always recognised as such.
Use skill in setting goals and reward structures
Much goal setting at work is poorly done. At its best goal setting provides opportunities for people to experience plentiful, positive and meaningful rewards (positive reinforcement). Working for social or self-reinforcing rewards can be highly motivating and engaging.
Find meaning in work
When people are engaged in work that they experience as meaningful, they are more engaged. People can be helped to create positive meaning at work, particularly when groups are given the opportunity collectively to discover why their work is meaningful to them, to the organisation, and to the world.
Active engagement at work is related to improvements in individual wellbeing and attendance, employee retention, effort and performance, quality, sales performance, income and turnover, profit, customer satisfaction, shareholder return, business growth, and success. Clearly engaged employees are good news at work.
Bolchover D (2005) The Living Dead. Capstone
Csikszentmihalyi, M., 2002. Flow: The Classic Work On How To Achieve Happiness. Rider. London
Sarah Lewis is a chartered occupational psychologist and managing director of Appreciatingchange (which is a trading name for Jemstone Consultancy). Sarah and her team work with managers and leaders in organisations to achieve effective organisational change at individual, team and organisational level. Her forthcoming publication is Lewis S: (2011) ‘Positive Psychology at Work: How Positive Leadership and Appreciative Inquiry Create Inspiring Organisations.’ Wiley Blackwell (published March 2011) she is also the lead author of Lewis S, Passmore J and Cantore S: (2007) ‘Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management: using AI to facilitate organizational development.’ Kogan Page.
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