Engagement Spill-Over

Are engaged workers also happy workers?

Gallup launched a survey that asked working people whether they were engaged at work. It turned out that only one third of them responded “yes” across the United States, and only 14% of them gave an affirmatory answer in the world. So what are the remaining two thirds of working people’s lives like? They may be neither concentrated at work nor enjoying their lives outside of the work place.

Engagement at work is shown to be closely related to various aspects of employees’ lives, including their performance and health. For example, Bakker and Leiter (2010) demonstrated that work engagement led to higher performance, stronger organizational commitment, and lower turnover intentions. The research from organizational psychology makes sense: if one is concentrated or engaged in his or her own tasks, he or she is more likely to perform better. There are also other less obvious benefits of work engagement: engaged employees are happier after they leave the work place and go home. Bakker and Demerouti (2013) recently studied how work engagement could influence employees’ personal lives. They proposed that there was a spill-over effect of engagement: the emotions or other consequences triggered by work engagement can be brought home to one’s personal life after work. It is interesting to see how this phenomenon can happen.

Two psychologists who are known to study work engagement, Bakker and Demerouti (2008), defined engagement as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption” (p. 74). These three characteristics epitomize the state of work engagement: people with vigor are energetic and stimulated, willing to devote themselves to work, and resilient when facing difficulties; dedication is the commitment to goals pursued in the work place; absorption is the experience of intense concentration at work. So what does a typical engaged employee look like? He or she may appear enthusiastic and passionate while doing work (vigor), committed to what is being done (dedication), and pay perfect attention to the tasks at hand without any distraction (absorption).

Sometimes I experience the type of scenario described above. For example, occasionally I’ll have an insightful and enthusiastic discussion with my classmates in which I become highly concentrated on my thoughts and on the exchange of opinions with others. After one of those days I’ll often notice that I seem to be walking faster and with more energy on the way home. Also, I’ll be so excited to see the city landscape around me such as the skyscrapers, roads, and cars, even though I see that same landscape every day. And I’ll be increasingly willing to talk to new people I meet on the street. I had not realized how much my spiritual state could change after a day of feeling fully engaged in my work.

This is a perfect example of the spill-over effect of work engagement: the positive state of mind is elicited by work engagement but does not vanish quickly, and it brings positive experiences to the personal life.

What benefits can employees have from the spill-over effect of work engagement? Rodriguez-Munoz, Sanz-Vergel, Demerouti, and Bakker (2013) found that daily work engagement is associated with daily happiness levels for employees outside of work, and even with the happiness levels of their spouses! Further, people who are often engaged at work will have a stronger sense of well-being in the long run, because the positive states triggered by work engagement accumulate over time and raise the overall level of well-being. In other words, engaged workers are also happy workers both temporarily and in the long run.
This phenomenon is worth noting for talent management researchers and practitioners. The research on the spill-over effect of work engagement points to the extensive value of employee work engagement; it not only enhances performance levels, but also provides lasting benefits such as higher levels of well-being. Work engagement helps employees to be better in multiple aspects of their lives and thus raises overall wellness and productivity at work.


Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2008). Towards a model of work engagement. Career Development International, 13(3), 209-223.

Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2013). The spillover-crossover model. In J. G. Grzywacz, E. Demerouti, J. G. Grzywacz, E. Demerouti (Eds.) , New Frontiers in Work and Family Research (pp. 55-70). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.

Bakker, A. B., & Leiter, M. P. (Eds.). (2010). Work Engagement: A Handbook of Essential Theory and Research. Psychology Press.

Rodríguez-Muñoz, A., Sanz-Vergel, A. I., Demerouti, E., & Bakker, A. B. (2014). Engaged at work and happy at home: A spillover–Crossover model. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(2), 271-283.