Engagement is a psychological response an employee has to the job that motivates the employee to invest his or her whole self – head, hands, and heart – to work. Valid measures of engagement tap characteristics of the response, not characteristics of the work itself. “I feel energetic,” is an example of a valid engagement question, while “I have a best friend at work” is not. One is about the response; the other is about what might cause the response.
One acceptable way to measure engagement is Dr. Arie Shriom’s Vigor Scale. Shriom defines vigor as the positive feeling of physical strength, emotional energy, and cognitive liveliness that arises in response to an individual’s evaluation of the work that they do. It’s not my favorite way to measure engagement, but it works.
A study recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior (full citation at the end of this post) found that employee vigor was a significant predictor of organizational citizenship behavior. Good organizational citizens go above and beyond what’s written in their job descriptions to either help others at work or to improve the functioning of the organization. Mediocrity is the best your organization can expect to achieve if your employees do not exhibit good citizenship behavior.
This study of 331 repair generalists in a large building facilities and maintenance organization also showed that a personality trait called attachment style was a significant predictor of vigor. Individuals are characterized as having either a secure, counterdependent, or overdependent attachment style.
Individuals with secure attachment form healthy, reciprocal relationships with people. They can work well autonomously but also know when and how to call on others for help when needed. Counterdependent folks avoid close relationships and tend to push others away, even when they need help. Overdepenent folks cling to others and seek more support than they need, which results in driving others away.
As predicted, people with a secure attachment style were more likely to experience vigor at work, while individuals with either a counterdependent or overdependent style experienced less vigor. I think we can conclude that if we value employee engagement, we need to try to hire people with a secure, interdependent attachment style. In my own research, I’ve found that individuals with a secure attachment style had a more trusting relationship with their supervisor, and that trust was a significant predictor of employee performance.
Vigor is a valid way to think about engagement. If your employees appear peppy, energetic, and interested in the work they do, they are likely engaged. If this does not describe your employees, you could certainly look for new ones, but I’d recommend starting with partnering with them to continuously improve the work that they do.
Full citation: Little, L.M, et al. (2011) Integrating attachment style, vigor at work, and extra-role performance, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32: 464-484.