How temporary is work engagement?

Work engagement is highly dynamic and fluctuates substantially across different work activities during a working day. This is one of the findings in Andrea Reina-Tamayo dissertation ‘Work Engagement: An Episodic Perspective’. She also examines which factors stimulate or hinder being engaged during a work activity.

Most of us dedicate around 40 hours a week to our work, therefore it is important to be motivated and happy in one’s work, but can you be happy and motivated at work all the time? Work engagement reflects a positive state of mind towards one’s work. This state is characterized by feeling energetic and enthusiastic towards work as well as feeling so immersed in one’s work that time flies.

‘Episodic’ fluctuations in work engagement

Research on work engagement is usually about people’s general and enduring feelings of engagement towards their work. In her dissertation Reina-Tamayo goes one step further and sets out to explore the temporary nature of work engagement or what she calls ‘episodic’ fluctuations in work engagement and examine its most proximal antecedents and consequences.

Model tested with a smartphone app

Reina-Tamayo tested her proposed theoretical model via a smartphone app: “I would, for example, send users three push messages a day at random times for a week with questions relating to the activity they’re doing, where they are, who they’re with and how they feel in terms of energy, enthusiasm and absorption. In this way, I was able to gather data and the users could track their engagement and get insight into their energy levels.”

How to stimulate episodic work engagement?

Additionally, Reina-Tamayo found that employees are most engaged and perform best during a work activity when they experience that their attention is pulled towards the work activity and have access to ‘episodic job resources’. Some examples of episodic job resources can be receiving feedback from your supervisor or colleague about how well you are writing a report. Another resource can be getting a helping hand in an analysis you are doing at a determined moment during a working day.

Hindrances

Employee’s engagement levels decrease when they experience episodic hindrance demands, for example, when starting a work activity that is quite ambiguous with no clear objective. Furthermore, cognitive interfering thoughts can lower your episodic work engagement as well, such as having distracting thoughts during a work activity (e.g., thinking of an argument at home).

Mindfulness helps

During a work activity episodic job resources and mindfulness were found to be factors that can immediately alleviate the detrimental relation between episodic hindrance job demands and the episodic engagement and performance of an employee. Reina-Tamayo hopes that this research will stimulate the understanding of episodic work engagement, so that the wellbeing of employees at work can be improved.

Andrea Marcela Reina-Tamayo defends her dissertation on Thursday 20 February 2020 at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

More information

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