Here is a finding from the recent study into engagement we undertook in partnership with Deakin University.  We measured engagement and its causes in just over 2600 employees of different sectors.  We are using our findings to develop an Australian normed measure of engagement across different sectors, as well as a normative 360 degree feedback tool.  In addition to this we found a number of interesting things about how engagement is distributed across industry sectors, levels of seniority, age, and other demographics.

The measure of engagement we used for this research is the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (Shaufeli et al, 2002), which has become an international standard for measuring engagement.  The contemporary view of engagement is that engaged employees are:

  • Vigorous – they bring plenty of energy to their work
  • Dedicated – they are committed and believe their work is important
  • Absorbed – they are happily engrossed in their work – time passes quickly

In 2008 Bakker and Demerouti published an article which had the effect of largely uniting the research world’s understanding of what engagement is.  They managed to get the majority of the researchers in the area to accept the three characteristics above as a definition of the concept.  This was a good thing, because prior to this the term “engagement” was used to describe an incredibly wide range of things, and many engagement models were actually the property of various consulting firms.

Engagement as defined by these three dimensions is a worthwhile thing to have in a workforce.  We know that when it goes up, productivity goes up.  When it goes down productivity goes down.  We know that it correlates with customer satisfaction, staff turnover, profitability, and a whole range of other positives. Low engagement is an indicator of a whole range of negatives.  In fact, engagement by this definition is one of the best predictors of organisational outcomes we have found so far.

Imagine if every employee came in through your door every morning bringing vigour, dedication and absorption with them.  If so, I think a lot of our problems would be gone.

So, let’s look at the graph above.  What you see here is the results of us measuring the levels of engagement of the 2600 people and then splitting them by age group.  You will see that the most engaged group, by a proverbial country mile, is the over 50’s.  The least engaged, by a similar margin, is the under 30’s.  You probably know that measurement psychologists like me love this kind of thing, but indulge me for a moment – what is going on here?  Below are some theories – pick the ones you like best:

  1. The under 30’s are disengaged from their work because they belong to a generation which is somehow different.
  2. The under 30’s are disengaged from their work because they have better things to do.
  3. The under 30’s are just basically less happy than older people.
  4. The under 30’s are disengaged from their work because they have not yet found what kind of work they like.
  5. The over 50’s are more engaged with their work because they appreciate having a job – they know other people of similar age who don’t have jobs and can’t get them.
  6. Same as 4, but with the additional benefit that they have settled into careers in which they find meaning and purpose.

The ones I find most convincing are 4,5,6.  As to 3, there is some evidence that younger people, on balance, are less happy than older people, but the picture is not clear.  If you are interested in this kind of thing, click here.

Point 2 is an attempt at humour, but I am not giving up my day job.

Point 1 is an interesting one.  You may from time to time hear people talking about generation X, generation Y, generation Z, and how different they are.  I doubt this very much.  There is increasing evidence that the differences are actually the difference between young people and older people and you would have found similar differences in the past.  When old databases have been found – say 50 years ago – where people were asked similar questions to the generation XYZ questions asked these days they found similar results.  Could the whole idea that our current generations are somehow unique just be a myth?

I have a mental image of King Ramesses the 2nd sitting on his throne in ancient Egypt complaining to his Vizier, “These young people! They don’t listen, they don’t want to work hard, and they want my job!”

Andrew Marty
Managing Director
SACS Consulting


Bakker, A.B. & Demerouti, E. (2008). Towards a model of work engagement. Career Development International, 13, 209-223

Schaufeli, W.B., Salanova, M., González-Romá, V., & Bakker, A. B. (2002). The measurement of Engagement and burnout: A confirmative analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3, 71-92

Andrew Marty