One of the words that is bandied around a lot here in England (where I am currently based) is the word ‘engagement’. Organisations want staff to be engaged but often don’t ask what this means for business. Presumably what people really want to have are more loyal employees leading to greater productivity.

The problem with engagement is that the relationship between engagement and output is not as well defined as people may think. In this regard, it is often important to remember that there are three major forms of engagement and these are well covered in psychological literature. In particular, a paper by Macey and Scheider (2008) notes three types of engagement: (a) psychological state engagement; (b) behavioural engagement; and (c) trait engagement.

The essence of this argument is that like all areas of I/O psychology, engagement requires systems thinking. Engagement itself is just a psychological construct, and like any other psychological construct will only produce outcomes when systems thinking is applied. Psychological constructs are rarely simple and do involve psychological and behavioural components which interplay in the work environment in different ways.

Engagement is more than likely to be a positive thing for employees to have. However, engagement that is not reinforced within a well thought out system will not lead to any greater outcomes for business than non-engagement.