There’s no doubt that ‘Engagement Has Run Its
Course’ (issue 166, 25 November, p1) is a catchy
headline for your magazine and Professor Roger
Collins’s breakfast presentation. I applaud the
challenge it poses practitioners. Based on research
by Voice Project at Macquarie University, however,
I’d be willing to wager a large sum of money that
managers will still be closely measuring
engagement for many years to come.
Some definitions are needed. Collins accurately
reports advocacy for one’s employer as a common
component of engagement. There are other
components, however, and the most common
component of engagement is feeling a sense of
commitment towards an employer.
Indeed, in a recent edition of the journal Industrial and Organisational Psychology:
Perspectives on Science and Practice, an entire half
of the edition featured commentaries about
engagement by the world’s leading researchers.
There was near-unanimous agreement that
commitment was a central component of
engagement (alongside other features such as
becoming absorbed with one’s job, displaying
discretionary effort and demonstrating initiative).
Finally, the suggestion that wellbeing should take
priority over engagement comes with some
dangerous side-effects. Many researchers and
practitioners suffer from the half-truth that the
importance of wellbeing is evidence-based. When
studied in isolation, there is a consistently small but positive relationship between wellbeing and a broad
range of desired employee outcomes.
When studied alongside a range of other
management practices and outcomes, however,
wellbeing loses its lustre. In our own research and
practice, involving hundreds of thousands of
employees, wellbeing-related practices such as
work-life balance are the least useful for predicting
critical outcomes such as turnover levels and
The data’s in and it coincides with managers’
gut instincts. A focus on wellbeing may produce a
less-stressed workplace, but a focus on engagement
will deliver tangible business results. I know where
I’m putting my money.
– Dr Peter Langford, Department of Business,
Roger Collins responds …
In my presentation I traced the history of our
understanding of the psychological contract from
the military concepts of esprit de corp and morale,
through job satisfaction and engagement in order to
draw attention to our unfolding understanding of
this issue. In particular I acknowledged that
engagement was a useful surrogate concept that
had good predictive validity.
However, like many of our concepts, there comes
a time when they have marginal utility albeit that, as
my colleague Andrew Bell from Hewitt Associates
points out, many Australian managers have yet to
acknowledge and apply the power of engagement.
One concern that I have with engagement is
that it can become a very employer-oriented idea,
without due recognition of the needs of
organisational members. And if we are to build
sustainable organisations we need to develop
reciprocal benefits for our organisations and their
Positive organisational psychology has produced
concepts that add considerably to the power of
engagement. The very research that Peter Langford
advocates has produced findings on flow,
resilience, strengths, positive inquiry and wellbeing
that offer insights and applications that can take us
forward to significantly greater benefits for both
organisations and members.
Wellbeing is a special case in point because of
the generalisabilty of this concept across levels of
analysis (national populations, organisations, teams,
individuals and social units) and because of the well-
documented physical, psychological and cognitive
consequences of wellbeing. Notably, the work at the
University of Michigan, the Institute for Work
Psychology at Sheffield University and Cambridge
University are testimony to these breakthroughs.
In sum, we need to recognise that research
produces new insights that enable us to advance
our contributions. Older concepts continue to add
value in many situations, but let’s not resist the
unstoppable advance of knowledge and its
application, particularly if it brings reciprocal
benefits to all involved.
– Roger Collins, Professor Emeritus at the
University of NSW and Human Resources
magazine editorial board member