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Monday, September 20, 2021
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Research & Trends

Meaningful work: The key to employee engagement

Levels of job satisfaction can be found in the difference between what individuals expect and what they experience at work. When people experience job satisfaction, they have higher levels of motivation. Motivated employees also have better mental health at work and are more productive. It’s a win-win for organizations and their employees. One of the most important consequences of positive attitudes toward work and job satisfaction is work engagement.

There are many factors that can influence work engagement. This includes pay, the perception of the attractiveness of the work, the possibility of both professional and personal development, as well as the level of stress at work. Improved work engagement can help reduce burnout, absenteeism and turnover intention.

So, how can businesses improve employee engagement? The answer lies in the relationship between job satisfaction, meaningfulness of work and work engagement, explored in my recent research published by the Canadian Journal of Career Development and co-authored with Marcin M. Ociepa.

The research

Between 2016 and 2019, I carried out studies with Dr. Romuald Derbis and Marcin M. Ociepa on the determinants of work engagement among managers and micro-entrepreneurs in Poland and Germany. Our research found that increased meaningfulness of work gives rise to higher engagement, which translates into benefits for both individuals and the organization.

Work engagement consists of three components:

  1. Vigour: a high level of energy; the will to invest effort and perseverance at work, especially in the face of difficulties.
  2. Dedication: identification with one’s work, a sense of its importance, a sense of enthusiasm and pride in performance.
  3. Absorption: concentration at work, a sense of time at work passing by rapidly.

Engaged employees more often demonstrate organizational citizenship behaviours: voluntary behaviours by an employee that are outside of the scope of their formal duties and help foster organizational effectiveness (e.g. organizational loyalty, individual initiative, self-development).

That brings us to the more specific question: What is the most effective way to increase work engagement?

According to psychologist Albert Bandura, engagement at work is determined more by an individual’s opinions and feelings related to work than their objective working conditions. Our research results suggest that the meaningfulness of work is an important predictor of work engagement. We found that employees often demonstrate the initiative to seek out meaning in their work.

Coherence at work

The idea of coherence at work brings together all of the factors affecting job satisfaction. Coherence expresses the degree to which a person has a durable sense of certainty that elements of work environment (e.g work conditions and responsibilities) are structured, predictable and explainable. It includes three factors:

  1. Meaningfulness of work: the extent to a person feels that their work is worth their effort, dedication and commitment.
  2. Work comprehensibility: the extent to an individual feels that their work is clearly structured and has a high probability that everything will work out as well as expected.
  3. Manageability at work: the extent to which a person perceives they have sufficient resources to meet the requirements of their role.

Our research findings indicate that job satisfaction increases the level of all components of coherence at work, which leads to high level of work engagement. A strong sense of coherence at work helps in strengthen a positive relationship between job satisfaction and work engagement. These conclusions are consistent with previous theoretical intuitions of William Kahn, wherein it is difficult to imagine perceiving one’s work as sensible without prior understanding of it and the feeling that one can do it.

To summarize: if a person is happy with their work and, therefore, more engaged in the work, they are increasingly likely to 1.) know what it is about (scope of duties), 2.) see its sense (purpose range) and 3.) have the tools needed to do it (scope of skills).

What this mean for practice?

Our findings highlight the importance of work environments that are conducive to work engagement. Firstly, work engagement can be created by job resources, which are defined as positive aspects of work environment. In this context, work resources include mentoring, training and constructive feedback. Sufficient resources lead to high levels of employee well-being, thus stimulating work engagement and professional development. Work conditions are important too. If we want to increase the level of work engagement, we should apply clear organizational rules and motivational systems based on achievements.

Secondly, strong feeling of meaningfulness at work are also key to employee engagement. Ancient philosopher Seneca Minor said: “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.” So, we can say the cornerstone of meaningful work are measurable work-related goals. Ambitious but rational strategy and, consequently, realization of new challenges combined with appreciation services for the company are the basic conditions needed for effective and committed employees.

Leaders or managers at the workplace are responsible for creating these conditions. In my opinion, a leader can inspire the team by pointing to a goal and the values of the organization.

We all need to know that work engagement is determined by the answers to three questions: Does the professional role make sense to the employee? Does the job give them a sense of security? Are they able to perform work-related tasks?

Arkadiusz M. Jasiński, PhD, MBA, is a researcher in the Institute of Psychology at the University of Opole, Poland. His research interests focus on work and organizational psychology, especially: occupational stress, job satisfaction, work engagement and professional ethics. He is a manager in the non-government sector. In the past, he managed projects financed by the Ministry of Digital Affairs and Ministry of Education and Science. Currently, Arkadiusz is an expert of Polish Accreditation Committee (the only Polish statutory body entrusted with the responsibility of evaluating the quality of higher education).
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Arkadiusz M. Jasiński, PhD, MBA, is a researcher in the Institute of Psychology at the University of Opole, Poland. His research interests focus on work and organizational psychology, especially: occupational stress, job satisfaction, work engagement and professional ethics. He is a manager in the non-government sector. In the past, he managed projects financed by the Ministry of Digital Affairs and Ministry of Education and Science. Currently, Arkadiusz is an expert of Polish Accreditation Committee (the only Polish statutory body entrusted with the responsibility of evaluating the quality of higher education).
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