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Lazebnik, T.; , . Honest Mistakes for Work Engagement. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24033 (accessed on 14 June 2024).
Lazebnik T,  . Honest Mistakes for Work Engagement. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24033. Accessed June 14, 2024.
Lazebnik, Teddy, . "Honest Mistakes for Work Engagement" Encyclopedia, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24033 (accessed June 14, 2024).
Lazebnik, T., & , . (2022, June 14). Honest Mistakes for Work Engagement. In Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/24033
Lazebnik, Teddy and . "Honest Mistakes for Work Engagement." Encyclopedia. Web. 14 June, 2022.
Honest Mistakes for Work Engagement
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Multiple studies highlight the link between engagement at work and performance, influencing organizations to put more effort into improving employee engagement levels. High levels of engagement at work (e.g., Work Engagement or WE) in the public sector directly impact the health, education, and economic services obtained by the population. Researchers' idea is to break the concept of WE down into eight individually measurable parameters: strategic clarity, honest mistakes, work appreciation, a caring environment, trust, clear expectations, psychological safety, and autonomy. Honest mistakes refers to how mistakes are perceived within an organization and is an Important predictor for work engagement.

honest mistakes public sector management work engagement future of work remote work mistakes

1. Introduction

High levels of engagement at work (e.g., Work Engagement or WE) in the public sector directly impact the health, education, and economic services obtained by the population [1][2]. A large body of work has studied the connection between WE and productivity, showing a possible correlation between the two in a wide range of cultures, professions, and over time [3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13]. For instance, a two-year investigation by the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK) showed that low WE in employees is linked to subsequent patient mortality, even when prior patient mortality is controlled for [14]. Additionally, WE is found to be positively correlated with nations’ economic activity and productivity based on data of 43,850 employees from 35 European countries [15]. Similar dynamics occur in the private sector as well. Organizations with high levels of WE have significantly lower levels of workplace stress [16] and workplace accidents [17]. Engaged employees in private sector organizations have a higher perception of individual impact in addition to feeling more creative, innovative [18], and being physically healthier [19].
Nonetheless, some organizations are not putting sufficient emphasis on increasing employee WE [20][21]. The public sector, in particular, governments and their offices, are performing notably worse at engaging their employees than their private-sector counterparts [22]. This research examines the relative importance of money and eight psychological parameters (strategic clarity, honest mistakes, work appreciation, caring environment, trust, clear expectations, psychological safety, autonomy) previously shown to influence WE levels.
While most studies about WE have focused on one specific mechanism and its influence on WE, this research examines the relative importance of money and additional eight psychological parameters (strategic clarity, honest mistakes, work appreciation, caring environment, trust, clear expectations, psychological safety, autonomy) previously shown to influence WE levels. In addition to showing the importance of having these parameters balanced in a work environment to achieve higher levels of WE, researchers introduces a new formalization of the Honest Mistakes concept, which is the perceived ability to make mistakes and learn/grow from them without facing significant repercussions.

2. Predictors for Work Engagement and Honest Mistakes

Commonly, work engagement (WE) is defined as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption” [23]. WE is most often measured by the Utrecht WE index [24][25][26] alongside other scales [27][28][29][30][31]. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adopted the Utrecht index to measure levels of WE in the public sector [32]. The adapted WE index has high validity and reliability. Nonetheless, this index does not help break down the social and psychological parameters that influence the WE in practice and simply provides an overview. Looking beyond the index, toward a more nuanced view of WE, would allow for the development of stronger interventions. Namely, the main contribution of this research is the breakdown of the WE into individually measurable parameters, providing a better understanding of the sociological and work environmental mechanisms that are taking part in defining the level of WE of employees.
The literature on WE and motivation has distinguished multiple mechanisms that have been shown to influence it empirically. Based on this literature of mechanisms and dependencies, researchers define eight parameters that show strong connections to WE across several cultures, sectors, and times: namely, strategic clarity, honest mistakes, work appreciation, a caring environment, trust, clear expectations, psychological safety, and autonomy. Researchers also include monetary compensation in researchers' analyses to be consistent with recent research. A schematic view of these parameters is provided in Figure 1, and a summary of these properties is provided in Table 1. Further descriptions of these parameters are found in the following paragraphs.
Figure 1. A schematic view of the psychological parameters that influence work engagement.
Table 1. A summary of the parameters used in the Work Engagement (WE) modeling.
Name Description
Strategic clarity Feeling of purpose in one’s work, alignment to company vision.
Honest mistakes Perceived ability to make mistakes and learn/grow from them without facing significant repercussions.
Work appreciation Continuous perception of organizational appreciation for one’s individual contribution.
Caring environment Willingness of coworkers to reciprocate care and consideration in social exchanges.
Trust Trust in how one’s organization and/or its leaders will behave in the future and transparency of policies and processes.
Clear expectations Well-defined objectives and goals combined with well-given feedback.
Psychological safety The absence of psychological and social risk or harm within a team, safety and support in taking risks.
Autonomy Ability to exercise one’s independent judgment at work, control over decisions within one’s job.
Money Absolute value of monetary compensation given to the employee as a result of the work, salary or in-kind compensation.
Strategic clarity is related to meaning at work, i.e., purpose. The literature suggests that having a sense of purpose comes from two levels, finding intrinsic value in daily activities and believing the broader work to be worth doing, which is clearly the case for mission-oriented positions [33]. An extensive body of research has debated how much doing broadly meaningful work influences employee outcomes, but many believe meaningful work has significant positive impacts [34][35][36]. In addition, emphasizing meaning in daily activities has also been shown to increase motivation and productivity [37]. Researchers primarily focus on the former of these components with the strategic clarity parameter, as this is more applicable at the organizational level.
Honest mistakes refers to how mistakes are perceived within an organization. The perception of mistakes at work, at the employee and team level, has been shown to be associated with work outcomes. Although it would seem intuitive for mistakes to impact outcomes such as productivity, Edmondson et al. found evidence supporting a relationship in the opposite direction when self-reported [38]. More productive teams were found to make more mistakes than unproductive teams, which qualitative data indicated stemmed from a greater willingness to report mistakes rather than actually making more mistakes. However, a study on residents in the Netherlands found that those with burnout reported more mistakes than engaged ones [39]. The nuance with these results is attributed to how mistakes are perceived. According to past research, the challenge to learn from mistakes comes from the need to overcome a great psychological discomfort caused by the threat to one’s self-esteem. This discomfort needs to be overcome to allow an investigative process to occur about the situation that leads to learning from it [38][40][41]. To do that, a positive culture around errors needs to be fostered. Recent studies suggest that a learning climate and mistake acceptance allow for true learning [42] and that there is a relationship between leaders’ forgiveness and organizational performance [43]. Learning behavior also mediates team psychological safety and team performance [44][45]. Research suggests there is a fine line to walk with negative feedback, needing to create a slight sense of shame to motivate change but framed as a learning opportunity to support employees’ recovery [46]. If organizations are not successful at limiting shame through the perception of mistakes, employee well-being is harmed in the short term and WE is harmed in the long term.
Caring environment is one that cares for its employees. Flourishing positive emotions of employees impacts levels of trust [47], influences how information is processed [48], builds enduring personal resources [49], and mediates the expression of values in behaviors [50][51]. Showing concern and respect for subordinates has a strong direct relationship with the degree to which employees are satisfied with their leaders [7] and their engagement at work [52].
Psychological safety is when there is a “shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” [52][53]. Employees who feel high levels of psychological safety are more likely to be highly motivated. More impressively, a longitudinal study at Google found psychological safety to be the strongest predictor of highly successful teams [54]. One explanation for the importance of psychological safety within teams, in addition to its influence on WE, is its significant mediation of teams’ creative output [55]. The growing research on psychological safety suggests seemly endless benefits toward employee outcomes, leading more researchers to focus on the drivers of psychological safety [56]. A popular variable influencing psychological safety is perceived organizational support, where high levels of support from leaders and managers result in high levels of psychological safety [57].
Work appreciation is about how employees feel valued at work. When leaders and teammates believe employees are capable and important and pass this information through daily behaviors and attitudes, employees will internalize such information and form positive self-evaluations, impacting their motivation [58][59].
Clear expectations is about the importance of employees knowing what is expected of them. Due to uncertainty aversion—a psychological factor that describes the tendency to prefer the known to the unknown—clarifying expectations is important to achieving high levels of WE. Setting clear goals and giving effective feedback positively impacts WE as well [7][60][61][62]. In addition, by informing and enabling personal improvement, evaluating one’s deficiencies and focusing on positive change impacts WE [63].
Trust is a leading indicator of how employees believe an organization and/or its leaders will behave in the future [64]. Trust is correlated with engagement [65] and performance [51][66]. Management Transparency enables managers to set a personal example for their employees and establish an organizational culture of openness, trust, and sharing that encourages employees to take initiative and risk [67].
The ability to execute is when the employee knows the effort put into work is not going to be wasted. Successful managers understand that the real value of strategy can only be recognized through execution. As a recent survey of portfolio managers put it: “The ability to execute strategy was more important than the quality of the strategy itself”. It doesn’t matter how good the plan is if you cannot make it happen [68].
Autonomy refers to the degree of freedom and independence the employee has to exercise his/her judgment at work [69]. Perceived autonomy initiates regulatory processes that are qualitatively different from those that are initiated when the functional significance of the events or context is controlled [70]. The degrees of freedom and independence that were given to the employee to exercise his/her judgment at work were found to enhance intrinsic motivation [71] and increased the ability to satisfy high needs such as a sense of meaning at work and a sense of self-realization, improving performance in the long term [72].

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