Employee engagement: Wild goose chase or golden egg?

Topic: Job Performance, Job Attitudes
Publication: Personnel Psychology (SPRING 2011)
Article: Work engagement: A quantitative review and test of its relations with task and contextual performance
Authors: Christian, M.S. Garza, A.S., Slaughter, J.E.
Reviewer: 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 of the 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 constructs?

Christian, Garza, and Slaughter recently took on the task of answering these questions using meta-analytic methods. 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, Christian et al. 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 operational definition established, Christian et al.’s analysis of over 200
engagement-related studies revealed that while positively related to the other job
attitudes like job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement,
engagement was still a unique construct. Engagement was also clearly related to both task and contextual performance. Perhaps most interestingly, engagement was shown to have incremental criterion-related validity for the performance outcomes 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.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management