What Exactly Is Employee Engagement?

Topic(s): job performance, job satisfaction
Publication: Personnel Psychology (2011)
Article: Work engagement: A quantitative review and test of its relations with task and contextual performance
Authors: M.S. Christian, A.S. Garza, J.E. Slaughter
Reviewed by: Neil Morelli

Try this: pick your favorite search engine and type in the phrase “employee engagement.” A quick glance at the results would tell you that you’ve searched a phrase that has been on many minds in the business and HR worlds. Despite employee engagement becoming a popular buzz word with organizations, some important questions still remain: What is it? Is it substantively different from other work attitudes? Does it help us predict employee performance above and beyond other, more well-established psychological concepts?


Researchers (Christian, Garza, & Slaughter, 2011) recently took on the task of answering these questions using meta-analytic methods, which involves the statistical combination of many past studies. They began by first defining engagement as having three unique aspects: (a) a focus on the work tasks rather than on the aspects of the job, (b) a comprehensive rather than an isolated investment of an individual’s personal resources into the work, and (c) an investment of resources that represents “a relatively enduring state of mind.” Overall, the authors argued that engagement, opposed to other job attitudes, represents how connected an individual feels to the tasks necessary for successful completion of his or her job on a day-to-day basis.

With this definition established, an analysis of over 200 engagement-related studies revealed that engagement is a unique concept, even though it is also related to other job attitudes like job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement. Engagement was also clearly related to both task and contextual performance. Perhaps most interestingly, engagement has the ability to predict job performance, above and beyond the predictive capabilities of the other job attitudes.


These findings are promising for organizations who assume that engaged employees are happy and productive employees, as engagement was shown to be a useful indicator of task-specific motivation. Thus, organizations would be well-served in addressing the factors that are contributing to an employee’s desire – or lack thereof – to go all out for their job. However, the question still remains, are organizations and researchers speaking the same language when it comes to engagement?


Christina, M.S., Garza, A.S., & Slaughter, J.E. (2011). Work engagement: A quantitative review and test of its relations with task and contextual performance. Personnel Psychology, 64, 89-136.

Image credit: istockphoto/Ridofranz