Monday, November 25, 2013

Engaging Heaven: Further Notes on "The Upward Path"

In our latest Worlds Without End post "The Upward Path," Allen and I compared the Widtsoe/Roberts view of "joy" with several aspects of worker engagement: flow, progress, and mastery. While all three of these are related, it is worth pointing out that they are not synonymous.  As Daniel Pink notes, "Flow is essential to mastery. But flow doesn’t guarantee mastery—because the two concepts operate on different horizons of time. One happens in a moment; the other unfolds over months, years, sometimes decades. You and I each might reach flow tomorrow morning—but neither one of us will achieve mastery overnight."[1] 

Furthermore, the use of the word “engagement” in our post could easily mislead a reader to conflate it with any of the three points above. However, engagement is defined as 

an active, positive work-related state that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption. Vigor refers to high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, whereas dedication refers to being strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, and challenge. Absorption is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in work, such that time passes quickly. Work engagement is different from job satisfaction in that it combines high work pleasure (dedication) with high activation (vigor, absorption); job satisfaction is typically a more passive form of employee well-being. Work engagement is different from work-related flow in that it refers to a longer performance episode; flow typically refers to a peak experience that may last only 1 hour or even less. Finally, work engagement is different from motivation, in that it also refers to cognition (absorption) and affect (vigor)—in addition to motivation (dedication). Not surprisingly then, work engagement is a better predictor of job performance than are many earlier constructs.[2]

As alluded to above, engagement leads to better performance for several reasons. A major reason is that "engaged employees often experience positive emotions, including gratitude, joy, and enthusiasm. These positive emotions seem to broaden people’s thought–action repertoire, implying that they constantly work on their personal resources (Fredrickson, 2001)."[3] A systematic review of the literature found that positive psychology interventions in organizations led to increased employee well-being and performance.[4] Positive emotions “generate “upward spirals” toward optimal functioning and enhanced emotional well-being…by broadening individuals’ habitual modes of thinking and action and building lasting resources that promote future experiences of positive emotions."[5] In organizational studies, positive emotions have been linked to predicted improvements in supervisor evaluations, pay, social support for both supervisors and coworkers, and productivity. Furthermore, positive emotions have been linked with increased accuracy in decision-making tasks and interpersonal effectiveness in leaderless group discussions.[6] Positive emotions are contagious and "propagate within organizations…because positive emotions stem from—and create—meaningful interpersonal encounters. That is, the behavioral outcomes of one person’s positive emotion (e.g., compassionate offers of help), become interpreted—or imbued with meaning—by others (e.g., when offers of help are recognized and appreciated as altruistic gifts). Accordingly, the broaden-and-build theory predicts that positive emotions in organizational settings not only produce individuals who function at higher levels, but may also produce organizations that function at high levels."[7] In short, "efforts to cultivate positive emotions may help organizations avoid stagnation and achieve harmony, energy, and perhaps even prosperity."[8] 

Engaged workers also "experience better health. This means that they can focus and dedicate all their skills and energy resources to their work." They also "create their own job and personal resources. Finally, engaged workers transfer their engagement to others in their immediate environment (Bakker & Xanthopoulou, 2009). Since in most organizations performance is the result of collaborative effort, the engagement of one person may transfer to others and indirectly improve team performance."[9]

Engagement--along the positive psychology underlying it--is important not only for modern corporations, but organizations like the Church and communities like Zion. By engaging the earthly, we engage the heavenly. Through this lens we can begin to develop a realistic view of human flourishing, progression, and eventual divinization.




1. Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009), 118. 

2. Arnold B. Bakker, “An Evidence-Based Model of Work Engagement,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 20:4 (2011): 265.

3. Ibid.: 267.

4. Arnold B. Bakker, M. Christina Meyers, Marianne van Woerkom, "The Added Value of the Positive: A Literature Review of Positive Psychology Interventions in Organizations," European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 22:5 (2013): 618-632.

5. Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positive Emotions and Upward Spirals in Organizations,” Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline, eds. Kim S. Cameron, Jane E. Dutton, Robert E. Quinn (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2003), 169. 

6. Ibid., 171.

7. Ibid., 174. 

8. Ibid., 175.  

9. Bakker, 2011: 171.

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