Engagement Everywhere: Personal Engagement and Engaged Wellbeing

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Engagement Everywhere: Personal Engagement and Engaged Wellbeing

This is part 3 of a 12 part series on engagement everywhere. The wheel of engagement represents an array of ten different engagements for organizations and businesses. The second slice from the wheel focuses on personal engagement and engaged wellbeing. This article will outline these two elements of engagement and conclude with three recommendations to improve both personal engagement and engaged wellbeing.


William A. Kahn is considered by many to be the grandfather of employee engagement with his article in 1990 on the Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement. He focused on personal engagement by looking at how individuals harnessed their selves to their work roles. His article was the first article to get the field of employee engagement launched in academia.

I believe Kahn’s work is still very relevant today with his focus the keys of meaningfulness, safety, and availability.  Is our work meaningful? Are we safe at work? Are we fully available to do our work? For example, one strong indication of the lack of psychological safety in organizations is the reliance on anonymous surveys because employees don’t feel safe to own and declare their current state of engagement.

The impact of relationships on personal engagement

Kahn is still advancing personal engagement almost 25 years later with a focus on how relationships contribute to personal engagement. Along with Emily D. Heaphy, Kahn wrote a chapter about the Relational contexts of personal engagement at work in Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice edited by Catherine Truss and others.

Kahn and Heaphy concluded, “the relational context of personal engagement is a crucial, if overlooked, dimension of engagement. Indeed work tasks cannot be clearly separated from work relationships…when workers are considered as persons, not just employees, relationships assume greater prominence…” (page 92).

Extending the views of personal engagement has been a very strong focus and ground swell of interest in engaged wellbeing and the connections between wellbeing and employee engagement. This focus has includes the work of Gallup’s Tom Rath and Jim Harter on Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, Martin Seligman on Flourish, and the Engage for Success movement’s white paper on wellbeing.

Defining engagement

Engage for Success used the following World Health Organisations (WHO) definition of mental health as a useful definition of overall employee wellbeing:

… a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.

Engage for Success has distributed a report bringing together the evidence for the connections between engagement and wellbeing using organization case studies and research from both academia and consultancies. Well Being and Employee Engagement: The White Paper concluded:

Employees who are engaged and experience a positive state of wellbeing tend to be physically and psychologically healthier than other employees. This leads to improved physical and psychological presence in their work, the former evidenced by lower employee absence and turnover, and the later illustrated by the significantly lower accident rates associated with a healthy, engaged workforce. These relationships clearly support a virtuous circle between employee engagement and wellbeing, with engaged workers taking better care of themselves and their co-workers, and with healthier workers being in a fit state to fully engage with their jobs and employing organisations. This virtuous circle presents an opportunity for organisations that are aware of its potential.

I have the utmost respect for the work of Martin Seligman, the former president of the American Psychological Association. He has been doing a lot of scientific study of happiness and wellbeing with strong implications for work. It was Seligman’s research that convinced me that we have the opportunity to find wellbeing right inside the very work we are doing.

Putting this into practice

Here are 3 things you can do to enliven personal and wellbeing engagement:

1. Use Kahn’s key questions to monitor and enhance personal engagement.

2. Learn more by reading one of the three sources of wellbeing referred to in this post:

3. Work to flourish by heightening and enhancing positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement, and strengths at work. The application of these six psychological mechanisms can go a long way to work making employees well.

The two previous posts in this 12 part series were:

The next post in their series will examine work, task, and project engagement.

Your turn: How do you promote personal and wellbeing engagement in your organization?



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