Linking Strengths to Employee Engagement

Linking Strengths to Employee Engagement – What the Theory Says

This post first appeared on LinkedIn.

Intuitively we all know that working to our strengths is good for us; in life and at work. In life we naturally gravitate towards activities that engage our strongest traits. At work, the picture is not often as clear cut. Sometimes we end up in roles that seem to be playing to our strengths more. Sometimes the opposite happens and performance and enthusiasm fall off a cliff.

At work, the language of strengths is not a universal concept. You’re much more likely to be engaged in a conversation about your weaknesses and what you can do to improve upon them.

But the tide is turning and the evidence behind strengths and their individual and organizational benefits continues to build. People like Marcus Buckingham (First Break All the Rules) and colleagues over at Gallup have been banging the strengths drum for what seems like decades.

But new, interesting information is coming to light. Information that blows up the impact of strengths on to whole new dimensions. Van Woerkom, Oerlemans and Bakker have been exploring the impact that working to strengths could have on employee engagement.

The Concepts

Strengths-Use Support:

“refers to employeesbeliefs concerning the extent to which the organization actively supports them to apply their strengths at work”

Examples of organizational behaviours and practices that would constitute strengths-use support could be….

  • Allowing individuals the autonomy to choose how they execute tasks
  • A degree of freedom for selecting tasks
  • Allocating roles with consideration given to strengths
  • Team selection based on strengths – putting people with complementary strengths together to achieve tasks / outcomes

Example questions that were used to track this measure were:

  • This organization allows me to do my job in a manner that best suits my strong points?
  • This organization gives me the opportunity to do what I am good at?


The extent to which the employee gets to use their strengths each day / week to execute their daily work.

Example questions that were used to track this measure were:

  • This week, I used my talents at work?
  • This week I have benefited in my work from my strengths?
  • This week I have conducted tasks that suit my strengths well?
  • This week I have applied my personal qualities in my job?

Work Engagement:

” an active, positive work-related state that is characterized by vigour, dedication, and absorption”

Example questions that were used to track this measure were:

  • This week, I felt bursting with energy at my work (vigour)?
  • This week, I was enthusiastic about my job (dedication)?
  • This week, I was immersed in my job (absorption)?

Self Efficacy: 

This concept deals with efficiency and the ability to set goals, plan work appropriately and find solutions to challenges.

Example questions that were used to track this measure were:

  • This week, I could find solutions for the problems occurring in my work?
  • This week, I could handle whatever came my way in my job?

Proactive Behaviour:

Proactive behaviour includes taking the initiative and getting on the front foot of problems. We all have problems and challenges to solve at work. Proactive behaviour gets us up and into these challenges without waiting for others.

“Proactive workers perform better because they create favourable conditions while preventing negative events from occurring, they plan better, and are more active in acquiring useful information.”

Example questions that were used to track this measure were:

  • This week, I actively attacked problems?
  • This week, I did more than I was asked to do?
  • This week I took initiative immediately even when others didn’t?

The Experiment

65 civil engineers from the Netherlands were asked to respond to questions on the above measures each Friday for 5 weeks. The questions related to the working week which was then finishing.

The idea was to test the theory that strengths-use support encourages strengths-use, which in turn leads to higher employee engagement (through self efficacy) and proactive behaviour.

“we argue that strength use is related to higher levels of work engagement, and that self-efficacy is an important mediating mechanism in this relationship. Furthermore, we expect that the positive emotions that engaged employees experience will act as energetic resource that broaden their thoughtaction repertoire and make them actively engage with their environment in the form of proactive behaviour.”

These relationships are depicted below (taken from the paper):

Strengths to Employee Engagement Links

The Results

Not surprisingly, the results were incredibly positive.

  • General strengths use support was significantly and positively related to weekly strengths use, work engagement, and weekly proactive behaviour.
  • At the individual level weekly strength use, self-efficacy, work engagement, and proactive behaviour were all significantly and positively correlated.


Intuitively, when we think about strengths, we think about people performing to their best. Indeed there have been a number of studies that show that performance (both individual and organizational) correlates to working towards strengths.

This study takes us into new territory and opens our eyes to the greater possibilities that a strengths-based culture could bring. Now we are starting to see impacts on employee engagement and other positive and self-reinforcing behaviours.

What is perhaps most exciting is the relatively untapped terrain of strengths cultures within organizations. Dual opportunities exist, not just for organizations to get better at helping people identify and work towards their strengths, but also for employees to become better equipped in the language and nature of strengths and how they could ‘craft’ their work to enable a greater strengths focus.

Could we even go as far as predicting a future where the worlds of strengths and analytics combine to present a rich picture of day to day activity and it’s relation to strengths and other concepts such as employee engagement?




Marianne van Woerkom, Wido Oerlemans & Arnold B. Bakker (2016), Strengths use and work engagement: a weekly diary study, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25:3, 384-397, DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2015.1089862

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