In what's quickly becoming a top handbook for guiding leaders to improve the human condition in the workplace, author and researcher Anne Brafford is blazing a trail.

Brafford, a former high-powered attorney who left law to study with world-class experts in positive organizational psychology, recently authored Positive Professionals, a fascinating, science-backed tour de force on workplace engagement.

She found that researchers have re-defined the understanding of workforce engagement as a condition where employees experience the positive mental states of vigor, dedication, and absorption. Here's a summary of each:

Vigor

When workers feel invigorated, they feel energetic, strong, and mentally resilient. They're excited to go to work and are able to work for long stretches. And they persevere when faced with tough challenges and obstacles. 

Dedication

Referencing research by distinguished organizational psychology professors Wilmar Schaufeli (Utrecht University in the Netherlands) and Arnold B. Bakker (Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands), Brafford boils down dedication as feeling proud of your work; it's inspiring and challenging work that is filled with meaning and purpose.

Absorption

Here, your employees are focused and happily engrossed in their work and in a state of "flow." This is where our minds enjoy challenging work "that stretches our skills but doesn't overmatch them," says Brafford. She adds, "The result is a near trance-like state in which we feel strong and awesome." Athletes call it being "in the zone." Flow is special for productivity and engagement because workers are completely immersed in what they're doing. Brafford says that 85 percent of the population has experienced flow 

So how do you set the right conditions so that people experience a high level of these three mental/emotional states and achieve optimal performance? 

The conditions needed for success.

Brafford references familiar Gallup research, where they identified high-performing employees and effective managers to get to the bottom of what leadership behaviors and work conditions led to success. The data revealed that when work conditions fit the items below, companies will enjoy the benefit of enthusiastic, loyal, and committed employees showing up to work every day.

  • Job satisfaction
  • Clear work expectations
  • A purpose or mission that makes work feel important
  • Adequate resources to perform the work
  • Opportunities to use strengths and to learn, grow, and develop
  • Supervisors who care, provide recognition, and discuss progress
  • Co-workers who value quality
  • Meaningful opportunities to give input.
  • A close friendship with someone

These conditions influence worker behavior to experience the positive mental states of vigor, dedication, and flow. This what every company on the planet should be after because it has tremendous business impact. Brafford says these conditions have been linked to success factors related to performance, productivity, retention, customer service satisfaction, and profitability.

17 questions managers need to ask.

To truly find out where your employees stand in relation to these three psychological factors (vigor, dedication, absorption), Brafford references one of the most commonly used engagement surveys studied in academia: The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES), developed by the afforementioned Schaufeli and Bakker  

Getting practical, below is a sample from the questionnaire to guide leaders in fostering the conditions for high employee engagement. Using these questions, if your employees were asked what their feelings are toward you as their leader or their work environment, how would they rate each scenario? Take it for a spin.

Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES)

0 = Never

1 = Almost never / A few times a year or less

2 = Rarely / Once a month or less

3 = Sometimes / A few times a month

4 = Often / Once a week

5 = Very often / A few times a week

6 = Always / Every day

Questionnaire

  1. At my work, I feel bursting with energy. (VI1)
  2. I find the work that I do full of meaning and purpose. (DE1)
  3. Time flies when I am working. (AB1)
  4. At my job, I feel strong and vigorous. (VI2)
  5. I am enthusiastic about my job. (DE2)
  6. When I am working, I forget everything else around me. (AB2)
  7. My job inspires me. (DE3)
  8. When I get up in the morning, I feel like going to work. (VI3)
  9. I feel happy when I am working intensely. (AB3)
  10. I am proud of the work that I do. (DE4)
  11. I am immersed in my work. (AB4)
  12. I can continue working for very long periods at a time. (VI4)
  13. To me, my job is challenging. (DE5)
  14. I get carried away when I am working. (AB5)
  15. At my job, I am very resilient, mentally. (VI5)
  16. It is difficult to detach myself from my job. (AB6)
  17. At my work, I always persevere, even when things do not go well. (VI6)

Source: Schaufeli and Bakker (2003).
Note: VI = Vigor scale; DE = Dedication scale; AB = Absorption scale