On the right track to higher work engagement

7 September 2009

Improved focus on work engagement is likely to produce more vigorous, motivated, and productive employees, claims Professor Astrid M. Richardsen of BI Norwegian School of Management.

Group of people

Research @ BI: Work motivation

The ideal employee is vigorous, energetic, motivated to perform and gets things done. This is not always the case in working life. We often read about employees who suffer from stress and burnout syndrome and consequently fail to be fully functional at work. 

”Organisations could benefit a lot from focusing more on the positive aspects of work rather than concentrating on things that don’t work,” says Astrid M. Richardsen of BI Norwegian School of Management. She is an organisational psychologist, and one of Norway’s leading experts in the field of stress and burnout.   

In later years we have seen a trend-shift towards positive psychology, also in the field of work environment, stress and health research. Positive psychology focuses on human strengths and optimal performance , rather than on  individual weaknesses and poor performance.  

In her research, Ms Richardsen seeks to find factors that trigger work engagement. She views engagement as the opposite of burnout. Job engagement represents a motivational process in which the available work resources stimulate activity, efficiency and work performance.  

A higher degree of work engagement is the right track to improved health and work performance, claims the BI scientist. Not a bad result. 

Work engagement in the health and care professions 

Together with Monica Martinussen of the  Centre for Mental Health for Children and Young People at the University of Tromsø,  Astrid M. Richardsen has conducted an extensive study of people’s work engagement in six different health and care professions in Norway, including physiotherapists,  child-care worker , social workers, social educators, nurses, and auxiliary nurses. A selection of teachers were also interviewed. 

Few studies have been made of the work engagement within the health and care sector. These are professions associated with highly demanding jobs and lack of resources. 

The researchers conducted interviews with a total of 995 employees to investigate the connection between the different work requirements, job resources and job engagement.  

The findings of the study has been published in the Journal of the Norwegian Psychological Association.

The study finds that the following aspects of work (job resources) are positively related to a high level  of job engagement:

  • Autonomy or the opportunity for making individual decisions concerning important work aspects
  • social support from supervisors and co-workers
  • Career satisfaction 
  • Career opportunities in the organisation

This means that when all these important job resources are present and are viewed as positive, there is a high probability that the working environment and work tasks will reinforce and improve the employees’ enthusiasm, making them deeply engaged at work, according to Richardsen and Martiniussen. 

The study results indicate that organisations can sustain workforce motivation and work engagement  by ensuring that the employees have the job resources necessary to successfully mastering their jobs. 

In practical terms this might mean support in the form of information and practical assistance, as well as emotional support from co-workers and supervisors; realistic and  forward-looking career opportunities as well as control of people’s own work and decision-making participation.

Advice to organisations

”To improve job satisfaction in the form of vigour, enthusiasm and absorption, it is necessary to reinforce those aspects of the working conditions that improve the employees’ abilities to master the job requirements,” underlines Astrid M. Richardsen.

Focussing on work engagement, which represents positive feelings for the workplace, rather than focussing on strains and negative reactions, can be a favourable angle for both individual and organisational measures, according to the researchers. 

Rather than concentrating on negative aspects of the work or weaknesses in individual work performance, an enhancement or improvement of positive work resources such as autonomy, support and opportunity for development and growth and various career opportunities will act as stimulants to improved levels of energy, enthusiasm and sense of fulfilment at work will probably be easier measures to implement and attain general approval for.  

The researchers point out that a positive approach represented by work commitment might be the road to take to an improved understanding of factors that contribute to healthy and motivational working environments.  

The results from the study also indicate that in order to improve energy and enthusiasm at work,  measures should be taken to combat work-related  stress and conflicts. 

Richardsen, Astrid M.  and  Martinussen, Monica (2008): Hva skal til for å øke arbeidsglede og motivasjon? En undersøkelse av jobbengasjement i helse- og omsorgsyrker. Tidsskrift for Norsk Psykologforening, Vol 45, nummer 3. Article in Norwegian.

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