Perspectives, Issues, Research and Practice
Edited by Simon L. Albrecht
Chapter 21: More Engagement is Not Necessarily Better: The Benefits of Fluctuating Levels of Engagement
Jennifer M. George Introduction An implicit assumption in much of the work on employee engagement is the notion that “the more engagement the better” when it comes to work outcomes (George, 2009). This work tends to assume that high levels of sustained engagement are desirable for employees and their organizations and that engagement is synonymous with positive affective involvement in one’s work. For example, in reviewing various definitions of engagement, Macey and Schneider (2008a, p. 4) indicate: “Common to these definitions is the notion that employee engagement is a desirable condition, has an organizational purpose, and connotes involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort, and energy”. However, this work ignores a very sizeable literature which addresses the functionality and adaptability of nonconscious processes in everyday life. Active, conscious engagement is functional for certain kinds of work-related activities and tasks. Too much sustained conscious engagement can sometimes be dysfunctional. This work also ignores the benefits of negative affective states and the role of engagement that involves negative rather than positive affect. Furthermore, this work ignores the potential costs of high and sustained levels of engagement for employees. Perhaps more fundamentally, work on employee engagement presupposes that conscious psychological engagement on the job leads to work behaviors. That is, if employees are positively and enthusiastically engaged in their work, they will perform better and engage in organizationally functional extra-role behaviors. In this chapter, I discuss these issues by posing a series of questions for researchers to consider in the employee engagement domain. I...
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