Why Engaged Workers Make Better Employees

If you're like most people, what you really need out of a job is a salary high enough to cover your expenses. But what you really want out of a job goes far beyond that, and involves things like social support, feedback and opportunities for autonomy, variety and growth. It's all about "engagement" which is the new buzzword among HR types, and savvy employers know that once their workers are engaged, there's no stopping them.

"Engaged workers -- those who approach their work with energy, dedication, and focus -- are more open to new information, more productive, and more willing to go the extra mile," according to a new article by Arnold B. Bakker, a Dutch psychologist at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. The article will run in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.

There was a substantial surprise on the list of things it takes to keep an employee happily engaged in the job: challenge, or, you could even call it 'difficulty.' "Interestingly, engagement -- and high-quality performance -- is greatest when the demands of the job are highest. This principle applies even to what we think of as low-level jobs, such as those at a fast-food restaurant," writes Bakker.

And you thought you'd be happier once you mastered your job and the pressure is off. Guess again.

Of course, your engagement in a job isn't entirely dependent on what your employer puts on the table. A lot of it has to do with your attitude, according to the research. "Employees' own personal resources -- such as self-esteem and optimism -- also contribute to work engagement," says Bakker. "Not only do workers with abundant personal resources approach their jobs with more enthusiasm and joy; they also tend to be in better health, allowing them to focus and work hard."

The attitudes of happy, optimistic, energetic employees can actually have an effect the company's bottom line. Not only are health care costs lower, but productivity is higher among the positive employees themselves, as well as those they work with.

You would think it would be a no-brainer for a job seeker to go into an interview with a happy, confident, energetic attitude. But these days, it's hard to keep the spirits and confidence up when opportunities are so rare. Still, it wouldn't hurt to try the old, "fake it 'til you make it" routine. After all, won't you be happy and energetic once you land that job?

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