Engagement and Drive at Work

Psychology 101: The 101 Ideas, Concepts and Theories that Have Shaped Our World - Adrian Furnham 2021

Engagement and Drive at Work

In general, a drive has direction as well as intensity: it is selective as well as motivating. (R. Woodworth, Dynamics of Behaviour)

Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must first be overcome. (Samuel Johnson, Rasselas)

What is the difference between job satisfaction, job involvement, organizational commitment and job engagement?

Job Satisfaction was seen as important as it was assumed that satisfied workers were more productive. Therefore, one of the management’s key tasks was to make people happy. Unfortunately, three pieces of research led to the discrediting of this idea. First, happiness was found to be very clearly related to personality, particularly emotional adjustment. Less adjusted (more neurotic) people are more dissatisfied with every job they have, however supportive their bosses, good their pay, pleasant their working conditions. They are carriers of gloom, dissatisfaction and general antipathy.

Second, there is as much evidence that productivity caused satisfaction as the reverse. This suggests that if you help people to be more productive, they become more happy rather than the other way around. The direction of causality is wrong.

Third, job satisfaction is an idea and a feeling and has little to do with motivation. It does not have motivational force: it is only very loosely related to any form of productivity. Moreover, some studies suggested that it was heritable: thus, some people were satisfied in nearly all jobs, others were satisfied in none.

The researchers then talked about being job involved. People who were involved seemed very focused on their particular task and little interested and concerned with others or the general productivity of the organization. In that sense it could even be said to be an index of egocentricity.

For this reason the words changed to organizational (not just personal) commitment. This is a concept of the head, not the heart and does not necessarily explain what the person is committed to. Workers may be so committed they want to see no change or development in the organization. Commitment can also mean entrapment.


How do we describe the individuals who are clearly physically, cognitively and emotionally active at work: the employees who give and get; who are motivated and derive meaning from their job? Engaged…the opposite of which is the worker who is alienated or who ’decouples’ the self from the work role.

• Engagement is marked by:

• High levels of energy and persistence at work.

• Positive affect and involvement in work.

• Enthusiasm and pride in the work.

• A sense of empowerment at work.

• Finding the work meaningful — it provides a sense of purpose.

There are many measures of engagement but one of the best is clear and short and has three factors.

A Vigour and Energy: At work, I feel bursting with energy. At my job, I feel strong and driven. When I get up in the morning, I look forward to going to work. I can continue working for very long periods of time. At my job, I am very tough mentally. At my work, I can push on, even when things do not go well.

B Dedication: I find the work that I do full of meaning and purpose. I am enthusiastic about my job. My job inspires me. I am proud of the work that I do. My job is challenging.

C Absorption: Time flies when I am working. When I am working, I forget everything else around me. I am happy when I am working hard. I feel deeply involved in my work. I become completely absorbed in my work. When not at work, I often think about my job.

Engageability is linked to the personality traits of adjustment (low neuroticism) and conscientiousness (prudence). It is also linked to agreeableness and altruism. Some people are thus easy to engage by head and heart and others not. This applies to bosses and workers alike. Engagement comes partly from employee—manager relationships.

Gallup researchers have established four facts: a) managerial behaviour directly affects employee engagement; b) when engagement is high, positive business results follow; c) when engagement is low, negative business results follow; d) the link between managerial behaviour and business results is mediated by staff engagement.


In 2010 Daniel Pink wrote a book entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Pink proposes that businesses should adopt a revised approach to motivation which fits more closely with modern jobs and businesses, one based on self-determination theory.

The three components of the theory with appropriate recommendations are:

1 Autonomy & Empowerment — provide employees with autonomy over some (or all) of the four main aspects of work: When they do it (time), How they do it (technique), Whom they do it with (team), What they do (task).

2 Mastery & Competence — allow employees to become better at something that matters to them: Provide tasks which are neither overly difficult nor overly simple; create an environment where mastery is possible.

3 Purpose — Communicate the purpose; place equal emphasis on purpose maximization as you do on profit maximization; use purpose-oriented words — talk about the organization as a united team by using words such as ’us’.

There is a vast literature of self-determination theory which, as noted by Pink, suggests there are three basic psychological needs that must be satisfied to foster wellbeing and health. These needs are universal, yet some may be more salient than others at certain times and will be expressed differently based on time, culture or experience.


Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum Publishing.

Pink, D. (2010). Drive. New York: Riverhead Books.

Schaufeli, W.B. (2017). General engagement: Its conceptualization and measurement. Journal of Wellbeing Assessment, 1, 9—24.