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Research Article

The impact of engaging leadership on employee engagement and team effectiveness: A longitudinal, multi-level study on the mediating role of personal- and team resources

Roles Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Methodology, Writing – original draft

* E-mail: [email protected]

Affiliation Department of Education Studies, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

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Roles Conceptualization, Investigation, Project administration, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing

Affiliations Research Unit Occupational & Organizational Psychology and Professional Learning, KU Leuven, Belgium, Department of Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

  • Greta Mazzetti, 
  • Wilmar B. Schaufeli


  • Published: June 29, 2022
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Fig 1

Most research on the effect of leadership behavior on employees’ well-being and organizational outcomes is based on leadership frameworks that are not rooted in sound psychological theories of motivation and are limited to either an individual or organizational levels of analysis. The current paper investigates whether individual and team resources explain the impact of engaging leadership on work engagement and team effectiveness, respectively. Data were collected at two time points on N = 1,048 employees nested within 90 work teams. The Multilevel Structural Equation Modeling results revealed that personal resources (i.e., optimism, resiliency, self-efficacy, and flexibility) partially mediated the impact of T1 individual perceptions of engaging leadership on T2 work engagement. Furthermore, joint perceptions of engaging leadership among team members at T1 resulted in greater team effectiveness at T2. This association was fully mediated by team resources (i.e., performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making). Moreover, team resources had a significant cross-level effect on individual levels of engagement. In practical terms, training and supporting leaders who inspire, strengthen, and connect their subordinates could significantly improve employees’ motivation and involvement and enable teams to pursue their common goals successfully.

Citation: Mazzetti G, Schaufeli WB (2022) The impact of engaging leadership on employee engagement and team effectiveness: A longitudinal, multi-level study on the mediating role of personal- and team resources. PLoS ONE 17(6): e0269433.

Editor: Ender Senel, Mugla Sitki Kocman University: Mugla Sitki Kocman Universitesi, TURKEY

Received: December 29, 2021; Accepted: May 23, 2022; Published: June 29, 2022

Copyright: © 2022 Mazzetti, Schaufeli. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Data Availability: The data that support the findings of this study are available on Open Science Framework (OSF) website at the following link: . DOI: .

Funding: The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Multiple studies suggest that work engagement, which is defined as a positive, work-related state of mind characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption [ 1 ], is related to extremely positive outcomes, particularly in terms of employees’ well-being and job performance (for a narrative overview see [ 2 ]; for a meta-analysis see [ 3 ]).

Therefore, when work engagement is arguably beneficial for employees and organizations alike, the million-dollar question (quite literally, by the way) is: how can work engagement be increased? Schaufeli [ 4 ] has argued that operational leadership is critical for enhancing follower’s work engagement. Based on the logic of the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model [ 5 ], he reasoned that team leaders may (or may not) monitor, manage, and allocate job demands and resources to increase their follower’s levels of work engagement. In doing so, team leaders boost the motivational process that is postulated in the JD-R model. This process assumes that job resources and challenging job demands are inherently motivating and will lead to a positive, affective-motivational state of fulfillment in employees known as work engagement.

The current study focuses on a specific leadership style, dubbed engaging leadership and rooted in Self-Determination Theory (SDT) [ 6 ]. Engaging leaders inspire, strengthen, and connect their followers, thereby satisfying their basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, respectively. In line with the motivational process of the JD-R model, cross-sectional evidence suggests that engaging leaders increase job resources [ 7 ] and personal resources [ 8 ], which, in their turn, are positively associated with work engagement. So far, the evidence for this mediation is exclusively based on cross-sectional studies. Hence, the first objective of our paper is to confirm the mediation effect of resources using a longitudinal design.

Scholars have emphasized that “the study of leadership is inherently multilevel in nature” (p. 4) [ 9 ]. This statement implies that, in addition to the individual level, the team level of analysis should also be included when investigating the impact of engaging leadership.

The current study makes two notable contributions to the literature. First, it investigates the impact, over time, of a novel, specific leadership style (i.e., engaging leadership) on team- and individual outcomes (i.e., team effectiveness and work engagement). Second, it investigates the mediating role of team resources and personal resources in an attempt to explain the impact of leadership on these outcomes. The research model, which is described in greater detail below, is displayed in Fig 1 .


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Leadership and work engagement

Leadership is defined as the way in which particular individuals–leaders–purposefully influence other individuals–their followers–to obtain defined outcomes [ 10 ].

A systematic narrative review identified twenty articles on leadership and work engagement [ 11 ] and showed that work engagement is positively associated with various person-centered leadership styles. The most pervasively used framework was transformational leadership, whereas authentic, ethical, and charismatic leadership was used much less. The authors conclude that "most of the reviewed studies were consistent in arguing that leadership is significantly correlated with and is affecting employee’s work engagement directly or via mediation” (p. 18) [ 11 ]. Moreover, they also conclude that research findings and inferences on leadership and engagement remain narrowly focused and inconclusive due to the lack of longitudinal designs addressing this issue. A recent meta-analysis [ 12 ] identified 69 studies and found substantial positive relationships of work engagement with ethical (k = 9; ρ = .58), transformational (k = 36; ρ = .46) and servant leadership (k = 3; ρ = .43), and somewhat less strong associations with authentic (k = 17; ρ = .38) and empowering leadership (k = 4; ρ = .35). Besides, job resources (e.g., job autonomy, social support), organizational resources (e.g., organizational identification, trust), and personal resources (self-efficacy, creativity) mediated the effect of leadership on work engagement. Although transformational leadership is arguably the most popular leadership concept of the last decades [ 13 ], the validity of its conceptual definition has been heavily criticized, even to the extent that some authors suggest getting “back to the drawing board” [ 14 ]. It should be noted that three main criticisms are voiced: (1) the theoretical definition of the transformational leadership dimensions is meager (i.e., how are the four dimensions selected and how do they combine?); (2) no causal model is specified (i.e., how is each dimension related to mediating processes and outcomes?); (3) the most frequently used measurement tools are invalid (i.e., they fail to reproduce the dimensional structure and do not show empirical distinctiveness from other leadership concepts). Hence, it could be argued that the transformational leadership framework is not very well suited for exploring the impact of leadership on work engagement.

Schaufeli [ 7 ] introduced the concept of engaging leadership , which is firmly rooted in Self-Determination Theory. According to Deci and Ryan [ 6 ], three innate psychological needs are essential ‘nutrients’ for individuals to function optimally, also at the workplace: the needs for autonomy (i.e., feeling in control), competence (i.e., feeling effective), and relatedness (i.e., feeling loved and cared for). Moreover, SDT posits that employees are likely to be engaged (i.e., internalize their tasks and show high degrees of energy, concentration, and persistence) to the degree that their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are satisfied [ 15 ]. This is in line with Bormann and Rowold [ 16 ]. Based on a systematic review on construct proliferation in leadership research, these authors recommended that leadership concepts should use SDT because this motivational theory allows a more parsimonious description of the mechanisms underlying leadership behaviors. These authors posited that the core of "narrow" leadership constructs "bases on a single pillar" (p. 163), and therefore predict narrow outcomes. In contrast to broad leadership constructs, the concept of engaging leadership is narrow because it focuses on leadership behaviors to explicitly promote work engagement.

Schaufeli [ 7 ] reasoned that leaders, who are instrumental in satisfying their followers’ basic needs, are likely to increase their engagement levels. More specifically, engaging leaders are supposed to: (1) inspire (e.g., by enthusing their followers for their vision and plans, and by making them feel that they contribute to something important); (2) strengthen (e.g., by granting their followers freedom and responsibility, and by delegating tasks); and (3) connect (e.g., by encouraging collaboration and by promoting a high team spirit among their followers). Hence, by inspiring, strengthening, and connecting their followers, leaders stimulate the fulfillment of their follower’s basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, respectively, which, in turn, will foster work engagement.

The underlying mechanisms of the relationship between engaging leadership and work engagement are a major focus of research, as the construct of engaging leadership was built upon the identification of the leadership behaviors that are capable of stimulating positive outcomes by satisfying needs. The literature on engaging leadership provides empirical evidence for its indirect impact on followers’ engagement by fulfilling followers’ basic needs. This finding is consistent across occupational sectors and cultural contexts [ 17 – 19 ]. Further, the observation of a partial mediation effect for need satisfaction suggests the presence of a direct relationship between engaging leadership and engagement [ 20 , 21 ]. In their behaviors, engaging leaders are likely to improve their job characteristics to the point of stimulating greater engagement among their employees. This assumption has been corroborated by a recent longitudinal study that delved deeper into the association between engaging leadership and needs satisfaction [ 22 ]. That study found that the relationship between engaging leadership and basic needs satisfaction is mediated by enhanced levels of job resources (among them were improved feedback and skill use and better person-job fit). The fulfilment of those needs, in turn, resulted in higher levels of work engagement. Therefore, perceived job resources seem to play a crucial role in the causal relationship between engaging leadership and basic needs satisfaction. This evidence found support in a later two-wave full panel design with a 1-year time lag, where engaging leadership promoted employees’ perception of autonomy and social support from colleagues [ 23 ]. In addition, a recent study by Van Tuin and colleagues [ 24 ] revealed that engaging leadership is associated with increased perceptions of intrinsic organizational values (e.g., providing a contribution to organizational and personal development) and satisfaction of the need for autonomy which, in turn, may boost employees’ level of engagement.

A recent study investigated the ways in which engaging leadership could boost the effects of human resource (HR) practices for promoting employees’ psychological, physical, and social well-being over time [ 25 ]. Teams led by an engaging leader reported higher levels of happiness at work and trust in leadership, combined with lower levels of burnout than their colleagues who were led by poorly engaging leaders. Happiness and trust played a key role in improving team member performance. These findings indicate that engaged leaders provide a thoughtful implementation of HR practices focused on promoting employee well-being, being constantly driven by their employees’ flourishing.

Another line of studies may reveal the causality between engaging leadership and work-related outcomes. A multilevel longitudinal study provided cross-level and team-level effects of engaging leadership [ 26 ]. Engaging leadership at T1 explained team learning, innovation, and individual performance through increased teamwork engagement at T2. Interventions targeting engaging leadership created positive work outcomes for leaders (e.g., autonomy satisfaction and intrinsic motivation) and decreased employee absenteeism [ 27 ]. However, cross-lagged longitudinal analyses indicate that employees’ current level of work engagement predicts their leaders’ level of engaging leadership rather than the other way around [ 23 ]. These findings imply that the relationship between engaging leadership and work engagement cannot be narrowed to a simple unidirectional causal relationship but rather exhibits a dynamic nature, where engaging leadership and work engagement mutually influence each other. The dynamic nature of engaging leadership has also been investigated through a diary study. The results suggest that employees enacted job crafting strategies more frequently on days when leaders were more successful in satisfying their need for connectivity [ 28 ]. Hence, leaders who satisfy the need for connectedness among their followers will not only encourage higher levels of engagement among their followers but also an increased ability to proactively adapt tasks to their interests and preferences.

Since transformational leadership is currently the most frequently studied leadership style, a summary of the similarities and differences in the proposed new conceptualization of leadership proposed (i.e., engaging leadership) must be provided.

A key difference between transformational and engaging leadership originates from their foundation. Whereas transformational leadership is primarily a change-oriented style, engaging leadership encourages employees’ well-being through the promotion of supportive relationships and is defined as a relationship-oriented leadership style [ 29 ].

Further similarities entail the combination of behaviors meant to foster employees’ well-being and growth. Transformational leaders act as role models admired and emulated by followers (idealized influence), encourage a reconsideration of prevailing assumptions and work practices to promote stronger innovation (intellectual stimulation), identify and build on the unique characteristics and strengths of each follower (individualized consideration), and provides a stimulating view of the future and meaning of their work (inspirational motivation) [ 30 ]. A considerable resemblance involves the dimensions of inspirational motivation and inspiring, which are, respectively, included in transformational and engaging leadership. They both entail recognizing the leader as a guiding light to a specific mission and vision, where individual inputs are credited as essential ingredients in achieving the shared goal. Thus, they both fulfill the individual need for meaningfulness. In a similar vein, transformational and engaged leaders are both committed to promote followers’ growth in terms of innovation and creativity. In other words, the intellectual stimulation offered by transformational leadership and the strengthening component of engaging leadership are both aimed at meeting the need for competence among followers.

Alternatively, it is also possible to detect decisive differences between the dimensions underlying these leadership styles. Transformational leadership entails the provision of personal mentorship (i.e., individualized consideration), while engaging leadership is primarily focused on enhancing the interdependence and cohesion among team members (i.e., team consideration). Furthermore, engaging leadership disregards the notion of idealized influence covered by transformational leadership: an engaging leader is not merely identified as a model whose behavior is admired and mirrored, but rather proactively meets followers’ need for autonomy through the allocation of tasks and responsibilities.

Empirical results lent further support to the distinctiveness between transformational and engaging leadership. The analysis of the factor structure of both constructs revealed that measures of engaging and transformational leadership load on separate dimensions instead of being explained by a single latent factor [ 31 ]. More recently, additional research findings pointed out that engaging and transformational leadership independently account for comparable portions of variance in work engagement [ 32 ]. However, this does not alter the fact that a certain overlap exists between both leadership concepts; thus, it is not surprising that a consistent, positive relationship is found between transformational leadership and work engagement [ 11 ].

In sum: a positive link appears to exist between person-centered leadership styles and work engagement. Moreover, this relationship seems to be mediated by (job and personal) resources. However, virtually all studies used cross-sectional designs, and the causal direction remains unclear. We followed the call to go back to the drawing board by choosing an alternative, deductive approach by introducing the theory-grounded concept of engaging leadership and investigate its impact on individual and team outcomes (see Fig 1 ).

Engaging leadership, personal resources, and employee engagement (individual level)

Serrano and Reichard [ 33 ], who posit that leaders may pursue four pathways to increase their follower’s work engagement: (1) design meaningful and motivating work; (2) support and coach their employees; (3 ) facilitate rewarding and supportive coworker relations, and (4) enhancing personal resources. In the present study, we focus on the fourth pathway. Accordingly, a cross-sectional study using structural equation modeling [ 8 ] showed that psychological capital (i.e., self-efficacy, optimism, resiliency, and flexibility) fully mediated the relationship between perceived engaging leadership and follower’s work engagement. Consistent with findings on job resources, this study indicated that personal resources also mediate the relationship between engaging leadership and work engagement. In a nutshel, when employees feel autonomous, competent, and connected to their colleagues, their own personal resources benefit, and this fuels their level of engagement.

In the current study, we use the same conceptualization of psychological capital (PsyCap) as Schaufeli [ 7 , 8 ], which slightly differs from the original concept. Originally, PsyCap was defined as a higher-order construct that is based on the shared commonalities of four first-order personal resources: “(1) having confidence (self-efficacy) to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks; (2) making a positive attribution (optimism) about succeeding now and in the future; (3) persevering toward goals and, when necessary, redirecting paths to goals (hope) to succeed; and (4) when beset by problems and adversity, sustaining and bouncing back and even beyond (resiliency) to attain success” (p. 10) [ 34 ]. Instead of hope, flexibility is included; that is, the capability of employees to adapt to new, different, and changing requirements at work. Previous research showed a high correlation ( r > .70) between hope and optimism, thus increasing the risk of multicollinearity [ 35 ]. This strong relationship points at conceptual overlap: hope is defined as the perception that goals can be set and achieved, whereas optimism is the belief that one will experience good outcomes. Hence, trust in achieving goals (hope) implies optimism. Additionally, hope includes "when necessary, redirecting paths to goals", which refers to flexibility. Finally, in organizational practice, the flexibility of employees is considered an essential resource because organizations are continuously changing, which requires permanent adaption and hence employee flexibility. In short, there are psychometric, conceptual, and pragmatic arguments for replacing hope by flexibility.

According to Luthans and colleagues [ 36 ], PsyCap is a state-like resource representing an employee’s motivational propensity and perseverance towards goals. PsyCap is malleable and open to development, thus it can be enhanced through positive leadership [ 37 ]. Indeed, it was found that transformational leadership enhances PsyCap, which, in turn, increases in-role performance and organizational citizenship behavior [ 38 ]. In a similar vein, PsyCap mediates the relationships between authentic leadership and employee’s creative behavior [ 39 ].

We argue that engaging leadership may promote PsyCap as well. After all, by inspiring followers with a clear, powerful and compelling vision, engaging leaders: (1) create the belief in their ability to perform tasks that tie in with that vision successfully, thereby fostering follower’s self-efficacy ; (2) generate a positive appraisal of the future, thereby fostering follower’s optimism ; (3) trigger the ability to bounce back from adversity because a favorable future is within reach, thereby fostering follower’s resiliency ; (4) set goals and induce the belief that these can be achieved, if necessary by redirecting paths to those goals, thereby fostering follower’s flexibility [ 38 ].

Furthermore, engaging leaders strengthen their followers and unleash their potential by setting challenging goals. This helps to build followers’ confidence in task-specific skills, thereby increasing their self-efficacy levels, mainly via mastery experiences that occur after challenging goals have been achieved [ 40 ]. Setting high-performance expectations also elevates follower’s sense of self-worth, thereby leading to a positive appraisal of their current and future circumstances (i.e., optimism ). Moreover, a strengthening leader acts as a powerful contextual resource that augments followers’ self-confidence and, hence, increases their ability to bounce back from adversity (i.e., resiliency ) and adapt to changing requirements at work (i.e., flexibility ).

Finally, by connecting their followers, engaging leaders promote good interpersonal relationships and build a supportive team climate characterized by collaboration and psychological safety. Connecting leaders also foster commitment to team goals by inducing a sense of purpose, which energizes team members to contribute toward the same, shared goal. This means that in tightly knit, supportive and collaborative teams, followers: (1) experience positive emotions when team goals are met, which, in turn, fosters their level of self-efficacy [ 40 ]; (2) feel valued and acknowledged by others, which increases their self-worth and promotes a positive and optimistic outlook; (3) can draw upon their colleagues for help and support, which enables to face problems and adversities with resiliency ; (4) can use the abilities, skills, and knowledge of their teammates to adapt to changing job and team requirements (i.e., flexibility ).

In sum, when perceived as such by followers, engaging leadership acts as a sturdy contextual condition that enhances their PsyCap. We continue to argue that, in its turn, high levels of PsyCap are predictive for work engagement; or in other words, PsyCap mediates the relationship between engaging leadership and work engagement.

How to explain the relationship between PsyCap and work engagement? Sweetman and Luthans [ 41 ] presented a conceptual model, which relates PsyCap to work engagement through positive emotions. They argue that all four elements of PsyCap may have a direct and state-like relationship with each of the three dimensions of work engagement (vigor, dedication, and absorption). Furthermore, an upward spiral of PsyCap and work engagement may be a source of positive emotion and subsequently broaden an employee’s growth mindset, leading to higher energy and engagement [ 42 , 43 ]. In short, PsyCap prompts and maintains a motivational process that leads to higher work engagement and may ultimately result in positive outcomes, such as job satisfaction and organizational commitment [ 44 ].

Psychological capital is a valuable resource to individuals [ 45 ] that fosters work engagement, as demonstrated in past research [ 46 ]. Hence, following the reasoning above, we formulate the following hypothesis:

  • Hypothesis 1: Psychological capital (self-efficacy , optimism , resiliency , and flexibility) mediates the relationship between T1 employee’s perceptions of engaging leadership and T2 work engagement .

Engaging leadership, team resources, and work team effectiveness (team level)

So far, we focused on individual-level mediation, but an equivalent mediation process is expected at the aggregated team level as well. We assume that leaders display a comparable leadership style toward the entire team, resulting in a similar relationship with each of the team members. This model of leader-follower interactions is known as the average leadership style (ALS) [ 47 ]. This means that homogeneous leader-follower interactions exist within teams, but relationships of leaders with followers may differ between teams. The relationships between leadership and team effectiveness might be based on an analogous, team-based ALS-approach as well [ 48 ]. Following this lead, we posit that team members share their perceptions of engaging leadership, while this shared perception differs across teams. Moreover, we assume that these shared perceptions are positively related to team effectiveness.

An essential role for leaders is to build team resources, which motivate team members and enable them to perform. Indeed, the influence of leader behaviors on team mediators and outcomes has been extensively documented [ 49 , 50 ].

Most studies use the heuristic input-process-output (IPO) framework [ 51 ] to explain the relationship between leadership (input) and team effectiveness (output), whereby the intermediate processes describe how team inputs are transformed into outputs. It is widely acknowledged that two types of team processes play a significant role: “taskwork” (i.e., functions that team members must perform to achieve the team’s task) and “teamwork” (i.e., the interaction between team members, necessary to achieve the team’s task). Taskwork is encouraged by task-oriented leadership behaviors that focus on task accomplishment. In contrast, teamwork is encouraged by person-oriented leadership behaviors that focus on developing team members and promoting interactions between them [ 49 ]. The current paper focuses on teamwork and person-oriented (i.e., engaging) leadership.

Collectively, team resources such as performance feedback, trust in management, communication between team members, and participation in decision-making constitute a supportive team climate that is conducive for employee growth and development, and hence fosters team effectiveness, as well as individual work engagement. This also meshes with Serrano and Reichard [ 33 ], who argue that for employees to flourish, leaders should design meaningful and motivating work (e.g., through feedback and participation in decision making) and facilitate rewarding and supportive coworker relations (e.g., through communication and trust in management).

To date, engaging leadership has not been studied at the team level and concerning team resources and team effectiveness. How should the association between engaging leadership and team resources be conceived? By strengthening, engaging leaders provide their team members with performance feedback; by inspiring, they grant their team members participate in decision making; and by connecting, they foster communication between team members and install trust. Please note that team resources refer to shared, individual perceptions of team members, which are indicated by within-team consensus. Therefore, taken as a whole, the team-level resources that are included in the present study constitute a supportive team climate that is characterized by receiving feedback, trust in management, communication amongst team members, and participating in decision-making. We have seen above that engaging leaders foster team resources, but how are these resources, in their turn, related to team effectiveness?

The multi-goal, multi-level model of feedback effects of DeShon and colleagues [ 52 ] posits that individual and team regulatory processes govern the allocation of effort invested in achieving individual and team goals, resulting in individual and team effectiveness. We posit that the shared experience of receiving the team leader’s feedback prompts team members to invest efforts in achieving team tasks, presumably through team regulatory processes, as postulated in the multi-goal, multi-level model.

Trust has been defined as: “the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other party will perform a particular action to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party” (p. 712) [ 53 ]. Using a multilevel mediation model, Braun and colleagues [ 54 ] showed that trust mediates the relationship between transformational leadership and performance at the team level. They reasoned that transformational leaders take into account a team member’s needs, goals, and interests, making them more willing to be vulnerable to their supervisor. This would apply even more for engaging leaders, which is defined in terms of satisfying basic follower’s needs. It is plausible that a team’s shared trust in its leader enhances the trust of team members in each other. That means that team members interact and communicate trustfully and rely on each other’s abilities, which, in turn, is conducive for team effectiveness [ 55 ].

Communication is a crucial element of effective teamwork [ 56 ]. Team members must exchange information to ascertain other members’ competence and intentions, and they must engage in communication to develop a strategy and plan their work. Several studies have shown that effectively gathering and exchanging information is essential for team effectiveness [ 57 , 58 ]. Furthermore, participation in decision-making is defined as joint decision-making [ 59 ] and involves sharing influence between team leaders and team members. By participating in decision-making, team members create work situations that are more favorable to their effectiveness. Team members utilize participating in decision-making for achieving what they desire for themselves and their team. Generally speaking, shared mental models are defined as organized knowledge structures that allow employees to interact successfully with their environment, and therefore lead to superior team performance [ 60 ]. That is, team members with a shared mental model about decision-making are ‘in sync’ and will easily coordinate their actions, whereas the absence of a shared mental model will result in process loss and ineffective team processes.

Taken together and based on the previous reasoning, we formulate the second hypothesis as follows:

  • Hypothesis 2: Team resources (performance feedback , trust in management , team communication , and participation in decision-making) mediate the relationship between T1 team member’s shared perceptions of engaging leadership and T2 team effectiveness .

Engaging leadership, team resources, and work engagement (cross-level)

Engaging leaders build team resources (see above). Or put differently, the team member’s shared perceptions of engaging leadership are positively related to team resources. Besides, we also assume that these team resources positively impact work engagement at the individual level. A plethora of research has shown that various job resources are positively related to work engagement, including feedback, trust, communication, and participation in decision- making (for a narrative overview see [ 61 ]; for a meta-analysis see [ 62 , 63 ]). Most research that found this positive relationship between job resources and work engagement used the Job-Demands Resources model [ 5 ] that assumes that job resources are inherently motivating because they enhance personal growth and development and are instrumental in achieving work goals. Typically, these resources are assessed as perceived by the individual employee. Yet, as we have seen above, perceptions of resources might also be shared amongst team members. It is plausible that these shared resources, which collectively constitute a supportive, collaborative team climate, positively impact employee’s individual work engagement. Teams that receive feedback, have trust in management, whose members amply interact and communicate, and participate in decision-making are likely to produce work engagement. This reasoning agrees with Schaufeli [ 64 ], who showed that organizational growth climate is positively associated with work engagement, also after controlling for personality. When employee growth is deemed relevant by the organization this is likely to translate, via engaging leaders, into a supportive team environment, which provides feedback, trust, communication, and participative decision-making. Hence, we formulate:

  • Hypothesis 3: Team resources (performance feedback , trust in management , team communication , and participation in decision-making) mediate the relationship between team shared perceptions of engaging leadership at T1 and individual team member’s work engagement at T2 .

Sample and procedure

In collaboration with the HR department, data were collected among all employees of a business unit of a large Dutch public service agency. This agency is responsible for the administration of unemployment benefits and work incapacitation claims, as well as for the rehabilitation and return to work of unemployed and incapacitated employees. A one-year time-lagged design was applied to minimize the likelihood of common method variance effects and to explore causal relationships among the study variables [ 65 ]. The questionnaire included a cover letter reporting the aims and contents of the study. The letter also stated that participation in the study was completely voluntary, and that one can withdraw from the study at any time without having to give explanations and without this involving any disadvantage or prejudice. Participants’ consent was concluded by conduct, through ticking the consent checkbox as a prerequisite to access the questionnaire. This research was conducted in 2015, thus before the publication of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and complied with the latest version of the Declaration of Helsinki. Thus, ethics approval was not compulsory, as per applicable institutional and national Dutch guidelines. Additionally, the current study did not involve any treatment, medical diagnostics, or procedures generating psychological or social discomfort among participants.

In the first survey at Time 1 ( N = 2,304; response rate 63%), employees were asked about their socio-demographic background, engaging leadership, team resources (i.e., performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making), team effectiveness, personal resources (i.e., resiliency, optimism, and flexibility), and work engagement. At Time 2 ( N = 2,183; response rate 51%), participants filled out the same survey, which included an additional self-efficacy scale. At both measurement points, participants received an email from the HR department containing a link that allowed them to fill out the online survey. This introductory email provided background information about the study’s general aim and guaranteed that participants’ responses would be treated confidentiality. A sample of N = 1,048 employees filled out the questionnaire twice, with an interval of one year between T1 and T2.

The estimation of multilevel models with at least 50 teams of at least 5 members per group is strongly recommended to avoid underestimating standard errors and variances for random effects [ 66 , 67 ]. Therefore, participants being part of teams with less than 5 employees were excluded from the analyses. Accordingly, the data of 1,048 participants, who completed both questionnaires, could be linked and constitute the current study sample. Employees were nested within 90 work teams, with an average of 13.7 ( SD = 5.72) employees per team. Slightly more women (51.8%) as men were included (48.2%), the average age of the sample was 49.70 years ( SD = 7.46), and the mean organization tenure was 12.02 years ( SD = 9.56).

All measures described below were rated using five-point scales that either ranged from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5), or from never (1) to always (5). The internal consistencies (Cronbach’s α) of the measures are displayed on the diagonal of Table 2 .

Engaging Leadership was measured using a scale developed by Schaufeli [ 64 ] including nine items. This questionnaire contains three subscales of three items each: Inspiring, Strengthening, and Connecting. Sample items are: “My supervisor is able to enthuse others for his/her plans” (inspiring); “My supervisor delegates tasks and responsibilities” (strengthening); and “My supervisor encourages team members to cooperate” (connecting).

Individual-level measures.

Optimism was measured with three items from the Optimism scale of the PsyCap Questionnaire developed by Luthans and colleagues [ 36 ], which is aimed at assessing employees’ expectations about future success at work because of a positive view of their job. A sample item is: “I always look on the bright side of things regarding my job”.

Resiliency was assessed using three items from the Resiliency scale of the PsyCap Questionnaire [ 36 ]. These items refer to employees’ beliefs about their ability to recover from uncertainty and failure and to react successfully to setbacks that can occur at work. A sample item is: "I usually take stressful things at work in stride”.

Self-efficacy referred to the perceived capability to efficiently plan and implement courses of action required to attain a specific work goal and was measured using three items from Mazzetti, Schaufeli, and Guglielmi [ 68 ]. A sample item is: "At work, I reach my goal even when unexpected situations arise".

Flexibility refers to the individual ability to adapt to changes in the workplace and to modify one’s schedules and plans to meet job requirements. It was assessed by using three items: "If the job requires, I am willing to change my schedule”; “I do not have problems changing the way I work” and “I adapt easily to changes at work”.

Work engagement was assessed using a three-item scale developed by Schaufeli and colleagues [ 69 ]. This ultra-short version of the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale has similar psychometric properties as the nine-item version. A sample item is: "At my work, I feel bursting with energy”.

Team-level measures.

Performance feedback was assessed by the three-item scale from the Questionnaire on the Experience and Evaluation of Work (QEEW) [ 70 ]. A sample item is: “Do you get enough information about the result of your work?”.

Trust in Management of team members was assessed using two items from Schaufeli [ 7 ]: “I trust the way my organization is managed”, and “I have confidence in my immediate supervisor”. Following the recommendations from Eisinga and colleagues [ 71 ] we computed the Spearman-Brown coefficient, since it represents the most appropriate reliability coefficient for a two-item scale ( r s = .43, p < .001).

Communication , meaning the perception of an efficient and prompt circulation of information at the team level was measured using the three-item Communication scale taken from the QEEW [ 70 ]. A sample item is: "I am sufficiently informed about the developments within my team”.

Participation in decision-making was measured by a single item (i.e., “Can you participate in decision making about work-related issues?”) from the QEEW [ 70 ].

Team effectiveness . The team-level criterion variable was assessed with a three-item scale [ 8 ]. A sample item is: “Do you cooperate effectively with others in your team?”.

In order to check for systematic dropout, the social-demographic background, as well as the scores on the study variables were compared of those employees in the panel who filled out the questionnaire twice at T1 and T2 ( N = 1,142) and those who dropped out and filled out the questionnaire only once at T1 ( N = 1,161). It appeared that compared to the group who dropped out, the panel group was slightly younger (t (2301) = -2.21; p < .05) and had less organizational tenure (t (2301) = -4.05; p < .001). No gender differences were observed between both groups (χ 2 = .88; n . s .). A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) that included all study variables revealed a significant between-groups effect: F (12,2291) = 3.54, p < .001. Subsequent univariate tests showed that compared to the dropouts, the panel group scored higher on inspiring (F (1,2302) = 14.90, p < .001), strengthening (F (1,2302) = 9.39, p < .01), and connecting leadership (F (1,2302) = 14.90, p < .05), as well as on optimism (F (1,2302) = 5.59, p < .05), flexibility (F (1,2302) = 12.56, p < .001), work engagement (F (1,2302) = 9.16, p < .05), performance feedback (F (1,2302) = 11.68, p < .01), and participation in decision making (F (1,2302) = 8.83, p < .05). No significant differences were found for resiliency, trust in management, communication, and team effectiveness.

It seems that, taken together, the panel group is slightly younger and less tenured, and scores more favorable than the dropouts on most study variables. However, the differences between both groups are relatively small and vary between 0 and .13 on a 5-point scale. Therefore, it is not likely that systematic dropout has influenced the results of the current study.

Control variables.

At the individual level, we controlled for the potential confounding effects of gender, age, and tenure by including these variables as covariates in our analyses. More specifically, the impact of age was controlled for because previous research suggested that older employees report higher levels of personal resources [ 72 ] and work engagement [ 73 ]. Gender was also included as a control variable because previous research suggested that compared to women, men score lower on work engagement [ 74 ] and higher on personal resources, such as optimism and self-efficacy [ 75 ]. Finally, previous investigations also revealed that job tenure may affect employees’ level and stability of work engagement, with tenured employees reporting higher and more stable levels of work engagement compared to newcomers [ 76 ]. Besides, Barbier and colleagues [ 77 ] suggested that job tenure might affect employees’ personal resources (i.e., self-esteem and optimism). Considering this empirical evidence, job tenure was also included as a covariate in our model.

Data aggregation.

Our research model includes the three dimensions of engaging leadership (i.e., inspiring, strengthening, and connecting) three team resources (i.e., performance feedback, trust in management, communication and participation in decision-making), and one outcome (i.e., team effectiveness) at the team level of analysis. To check the reliability and validity of aggregated scores at the team level, four indices were computed [ 78 ]: (1) ICC [1] , which indicates the proportion of variance in ratings due to team membership; (2) ICC [2] , representing the reliability of between-groups differences; (3) r wg(j) , that measures the level of agreement within work teams; (4) deff , that measures the effect of independence violations on the estimation of standard errors through the formula 1+(average cluster size-1)*ICC [ 79 ]. Generally speaking, values greater than .05 for ICC [1] [ 80 ] and .40 for ICC [2] [ 81 ] an r wg(j) higher than .70, and a deff- index exceeding 2 are considered a prerequisite for aggregating data [ 78 ]. Moreover, one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed to explore whether participants’ scores on the Level 2 constructs differed significantly among work teams. The results of the aggregation tests are displayed in Table 1 . Taken together, these results justify the aggregation of the team-level variables.


Strategy of analysis

To test our hypotheses, a multilevel structural equation modeling (MSEM) was tested using the Mplus 7 statistical modeling software [ 82 ]. The application of this procedure allows the inclusion of latent variables that take measurement errors into account and permits the simultaneous estimation of mediation effects at the individual and team levels; therefore, it is superior to stepwise approaches [ 83 ]. As suggested by Zhang and colleagues [ 84 ], predictors at the individual level (i.e., engaging leadership dimensions and personal resources) were team-mean centered using a centering within context – CWC approach [ 85 ]. This procedure was aimed at preventing the confounding effect of mediation within and between work teams. In other words, predictors at the individual level for subject i were centered around the mean of the cluster j to which case i belongs (i.e., predictor ij —M predictor j ). Accordingly, the latent engaging leadership factor at within-level was indicated by the CWC means of the three dimensions of engaging leadership (i.e., inspiring cwc , strengthening cwc , and connecting cwc ) at T1. In a similar vein, personal resources were included as a latent variable indicated by the observed levels of optimism cwc , reisliency cwc , self-efficacy cwc , and flexibility cwc at T2. Finally, T2 work engagement was included as an observed variable equal to the mean score of the corresponding scale. As previously stated, gender, age, and organizational tenure were included as covariates at the individual level of the MSEM model.

At the team level, the latent measure of engaging leadership at T1 was assessed through the observed scores on the three dimensions of inspiring, strengthening, and connecting leadership. T2 team resources were modeled as a single latent factor indicated by the observed scores on performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making. The observed mean score on T2 team effectiveness was modeled as the team level criterion variable.

At the individual level, the mediation was tested by considering path a , from T1 individual perceptions of engaging leadership (X) to T2 personal resources (M) and path b , from T2 personal resources to T2 work engagement (Y), controlling for X → Y. At the team level, the same procedure was applied considering path c , linking team perceptions of T1 engaging leadership (X) and T2 team resources (M) and path d , from T2 team resources to T2 team effectiveness (Y).

The individual and team-level perceptions of engaging leadership were assessed at T1. In contrast, the mediating variables (i.e., psychological capital and team resources), and the outcomes (i.e., work engagement and team effectiveness) were measured at T2.

Preliminary analysis

Before testing our hypotheses, a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was performed using the maximum likelihood method of estimation using the software package AMOS 21.0 [ 86 ]. This preliminary analysis was aimed at assessing redundancy between the constructs under investigation. For the team level, engaging leadership was included as a latent factor indicated by the observed team levels of inspiring, strengthening, and connecting leadership dimensions. The measured performance feedback levels indicated the latent team resources factor, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making. Team effectiveness, assessed as a criterion variable at the team level, was indicated by a single corresponding item. At the individual level, the group-mean centered scores on inspiring, strengthening, and connecting dimensions were considered indicators of the latent engaging leadership factor. Besides, optimism, resiliency, self-efficacy, and flexibility were included as indicators for the single personal resources latent factor; the observed average score on work engagement was used for assessing the corresponding latent variable. The model fit was assessed by considering the comparative fit index (CFI) and Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI) ≥ .95, Root-Mean-Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) ≤ .06, and Standardized Root-Mean-Square Residual (SRMR) ≤ .08 [ 87 , 88 ]. According to these criteria, the hypothesized measurement model showed a good fit to the data, with χ 2 (91) = 465.09, CFI = .96, TLI = .95, RMSEA = .06, and SRMR = .03. Moreover, all indicators showed significant factor loadings on their respective latent factors ( p < .001) with λ values ranging from .51 to .95, thus exceeding the commonly accepted criterion of .50 [ 89 ]. Hence, these results support the assumption that the study variables were non-redundant and adequately distinct from each other.

Model testing

The means, standard deviations, correlations, and internal consistencies for all study variables are displayed in Table 2 . As expected, the constructs under investigation showed significant relationships in the hypothesized direction.


The hypothesized MSEM showed a good fit to data: χ 2 (60) = 155.38, CFI = .97, TLI = .96, RMSEA = .04, SRMR = 0.03 (within teams) and .08 (between teams). As displayed in Fig 2 , at the individual level the three indicators of engaging leadership loaded significantly on their intended latent factor, with λ = .83 ( p = .000, 95% CI = [.79, .87]) for inspiring, λ = .77 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.73, .81]) for strengthening, and λ = .81 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.78, .85]) for connecting. Similarly, the standardized factor loadings for the indicators of personal resources were all significant as well: λ = .74 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.68, .79]) for optimism, λ = .68 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.63, .72]) for resiliency λ = .68 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.62, .74]) for self-efficacy, and λ = .64 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.59, .69]) for flexibility.


The direct relationship between T1 engaging leadership and T2 work engagement was significant β = .16 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.10, .22]). Moreover, results indicated that engaging leadership at T1 had a positive impact on personal resources at T2: γ = .27 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.18, .37]). T2 personal resources, in turn, were positively associated with T2 work engagement: β = .55 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.49, .62]). The estimated indirect effect of T1 engaging leadership on T2 work engagement via personal resources (i.e., a*b) was statistically significant: B (SE) = .19 (.04), p < .001, 95% CI [.11, .27]. Hence, personal resources (i.e., optimism, resiliency, self-efficacy, and flexibility) at T2 partially mediated the impact of T1 engaging leadership on employees’ engagement within work teams at T2. These findings provide partial support for Hypothesis 1 . Among the covariates included at the individual level, only gender and age showed a significant association with work engagement, with γ = -.10 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [-.15, -.05]) and γ = .10 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.04, .16]), respectively.

At the team level, all factor loadings for the three indicators of engaging leadership on their corresponding latent variable were significant: λ = .95 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.93, .99]) for inspiring, λ = .86 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.80, .91]) for strengthening, and λ = .94 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.90, .97]) for connecting. Additionally, the observed measure of each team resource loaded significantly on its intended latent variable: λ = .69 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.56, .82]) for performance feedback, λ = .86 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.78, .94]) for trust in management, λ = .89 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.81, .97]) for communication, and λ = .71 ( p = .000, 95% CI = [.60, .82]) for participation in decision-making. Moreover, engaging leadership at T1 had a nonsignificant direct impact on team effectiveness at T2, with β = -.06 ( p = .641, 95% CI = [-.30, .19]). In contrast, team perception of engaging leadership at T1 had a positive impact on team resources at T2: γ = .59 ( p < .001, 95% CI = [.42, .75]). Team resources at T2 were, in turn, positively related to T2 team effectiveness, β = .38 ( p = .003, 95% CI = [.13, .62]). These results suggest full mediation and were supported by the estimation of the indirect effect of T1 engaging leadership on T2 team effectiveness via team resources at T2 (i.e., c*d): B (SE) = .18 (.07), p = .013, 95% CI [.04, .32]. Thus, Hypothesis 2 was fully supported.

Hence, in the current study team resources at T2 (i.e., performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making) fully mediated the effect of T1 engaging leadership on T2 team effectiveness across different work teams. Moreover, T2 team resources (i.e., performance feedback, trust in management, team communication, and participation in decision-making) showed a significant cross-level effect on T2 individual team member’s level of engagement: β = .57 (p < .001, 195% CI = [.27, .87]). This result provided evidence for Hypothesis 3 .

The current study aimed to explore the role of individual and collective perceptions of engaging leadership in predicting team effectivity and work engagement. To this purpose, we developed a two-level research model using a two time-point design.

Main results

At the individual level, the obtained results suggest that psychological capital (i.e., the combination of self-efficacy, optimism, resiliency, and flexibility) partly mediated the longitudinal relationship between employees’ perceptions of engaging leadership and their levels of work engagement. In other words, team leaders perceived as inspiring, strengthening, and connecting could enhance their followers’ engagement directly and indirectly through an increase in psychological capital. Thus, engaging leaders could make their followers feel more optimistic, resilient, self-efficacious, and flexible. At the team level, a shared perception of engaging leadership was associated with a greater pool of team resources (i.e., performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making), which contribute to define an open and supportive team climate that is conducive for employee growth and development. In their turn, these collective resources were positively related to the perceived effectiveness of work teams.

Hence, team resources at the team level fully mediated the relationship between engaging leadership and team effectiveness. That means that teams in which the leader is considered to be inspiring, strengthening, and connecting can draw upon more team resources, and could feel, in turn, more effective. Simultaneously, a significant cross-level mediation effect was found for team resources, meaning that they mediate the relationship between engaging leadership at team level and individual level work engagement. In other words, teams with engaging leaders are not only more effective at the team level, but they also report higher levels of work engagement among their members. These leaders create a team climate that fosters employee growth and development by providing performance feedback, installing trust, and stimulating communication and participation in decision-making.

Three different contributions.

Thus, three major conclusions can be drawn for the current study, which signifies its contribution to the literature. First, engaging leadership can be considered an individual-level construct (i.e., the perception of particular leadership behaviors by individual followers) and a collective, team-level construct (i.e., the shared perception of specific leadership behaviors among team members). As far as the latter is concerned, our results support the notion of an average leadership style (ALS) [ 47 ]; namely, that homogeneous leader-follower interactions exist within teams, but relationships of leaders with followers differ between teams.

Secondly, Individual-level engaging leadership predicts individual work engagement through increasing follower’s PsyCap. Previous research suggested a positive relationship between person-focused leadership styles and follower’s work engagement, albeit that virtually all studies were cross-sectional in nature (for an overview see [ 11 , 33 ]). Our study added longitudinal evidence for that relationship and hinted at an underlying psychological process by suggesting that psychological capital might play a mediating role. As such, the current study corroborates and extends a previous cross-sectional study that obtained similar results [ 8 ]. However, it should be noted that the present study used a slightly different operationalization of PsyCap as is usually employed [ 36 ]. In addition to the three core elements of optimism, resiliency, and self-efficacy, flexibility instead of hope was used as a constituting fourth element of PsyCap. The reason was that hope and optimism overlap both theoretically as well as empirically [ 35 ] and that flexibility–defined as the ability to readapt, divert from unsuccessful paths, and tackle unpredictable conditions that hinder employees’ goal attainment [ 8 ]–was deemed particularly relevant for public service agencies that are plagued by red tape. Our results indicate that engaging leaders strengthen followers’ sense of proficiency when developing a task-specific skill to reach challenging objectives (i.e., self-efficacy). They also encourage a favorable appraisal of the prevailing conditions and future goal achievement (i.e., optimism).

Furthermore, they enhance subordinates’ abilities to recover from failures and move beyond setbacks effectively (i.e., resiliency) through supporting an increased aptitude for adaption to unfamiliar work circumstances (i.e., flexibility). These results corroborate the assumption that leaders who inspire, strengthen, and connect their followers provide a stimulating work environment that enhances employees’ personal resources. In their turn, elevated levels of PsyCap mobilize employees’ energy and intrinsic motivation to perform, expressed by a high level of work engagement. This result concurs with previous evidence that PsyCap can be framed as a critical component of the motivational process of the JD-R model, namely as a mediator of the relationship between contextual resources (i.e., engaging leadership) and work engagement [ 46 ]. However, this mediation was only partial because a direct effect of engaging leadership on follower’s work engagement was also observed in the current study. This evidence is not surprising since previous research showed that other mediating factors (which were not included in the present study) played a role in explaining the relationship between leadership and work engagement. Among them, innovative work behaviors, meaningful work, role clarity, positive emotions, identification with the organization, and psychological ownership [ 11 ]. Thus, increasing their follower’s PsyCap is not the whole story as far as the impact of engaging leadership is concerned. It is likely that engaging leaders also impact these alternative mediating factors. If this is the case, this might explain why the additional variance in follower’s work engagement is explained by engaging leadership, as indicated by the direct effect.

Thirdly, team-level engaging leadership predicts work engagement of individual team members and team effectiveness through increasing team resources. An earlier cross-sectional study found that engaging leadership, as perceived by their followers, showed an indirect, positive effect on their work engagement level through an increase in job resources [ 7 ]. However, in that study, engaging leadership and job resources, including performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making, were assessed at the individual and not at the aggregated team level. This means that the current study corroborates previous findings at the aggregated team level, using a longitudinal design. It is important to note that employees’ level of work engagement not only depends on individual-level processes (through the increase in PsyCap) but also on collective processes (trough the rise in team resources). Finally, our findings concur with research on team climate, showing that leaders who endorse supportive relations between team members and create an open, empowering team climate enable employees to succeed [ 33 ]. Simultaneously, a team climate like that is also likely to foster personal growth and development, which, in turn, translates into greater work engagement [ 63 ].

Practical implications

Our study shows that engaging leadership matters, and therefore organizations are well-advised to stimulate their managers to lead by the principles of engaging leadership. To that end, organizations may implement leadership development programs [ 90 ], leadership coaching [ 91 ], or leadership workshops [ 92 ]. Previous research has shown that leadership behaviors are malleable and subject to change using professional training [ 93 – 95 ]. Furthermore, leaders may want to establish and promote an open and trusting team climate in which employees feel free to express their needs and preferences [ 96 , 97 ].

Accordingly, our study shows that this climate is conducive not only for work engagement but also for team effectiveness. Finally, our results also suggest that psychological capital is positively associated with work engagement, so that it would make sense to increase this personal resource, mainly because PsyCap is state-like and open to development through instructional programs [ 45 ]. For instance, a short PsyCap Intervention (PCI) has been developed by Luthans and colleagues, which is also available as a web-based version for employees [ 98 ]. PCI focuses on: (a) acquiring and modifying self–efficacy beliefs; (b) developing realistic, constructive, and accurate beliefs; (c) designing goals, pathway generation, and strategies for overcoming obstacles; and (d) identifying risk factors, and positively influencing processes.

Strengths, limitations, and directions for future research

A significant strength of the current study is its design that combines a multilevel investigation of engaging leadership with mediating processes at the individual and team levels. This is in line with the claim that leadership research suffers from a lack of theoretical and empirical differentiation between levels of analysis [ 99 ]. However, leadership is an inherently multilevel construct in nature [ 9 ]. Although the current findings shed light on the role of the emergent construct of engaging leadership, both regarding individuals and teams, an exciting venue for future research involves exploring its predictive validity in comparison with traditional leadership models. This concurrent validation would adhere to the recommendations accompanying the introduction of new leadership constructs in the face of the risk of construct proliferation [ 16 ].

A further strength of the current study is its large sample size, including 1,048 employees nested within 90 work teams. Moreover, data were collected at two time points with a one-year time lag that was considered long enough for the effects of engaging leadership to occur. In contrast with widespread cross-sectional studies that sometimes draw unjustified conclusions on the corollaries of leadership [ 100 ], the current research relied on a longitudinal design to better understand the consequences of engaging leadership at the individual and team level of analysis. According to our results, engaging leadership indeed shows a positive effect across time on outcomes at the individual (i.e., work engagement) and team level (i.e., team effectiveness).

Along with its strengths, the current study also has some limitations that should be acknowledged. The main weakness of the current study lies in the homogeneity of the sample, which consisted of employees working in a Dutch public service agency. This specific work setting prevents us from generalizing the findings of our research with other occupational groups. However, focusing on an organization where most activities are conducted in teams permits independent but simultaneous assessment of the impact of (engaging) leadership on the perceived pool of resources among teams and workers, as suggested by current trends in leadership literature [ 101 , 102 ].

Furthermore, the collection of data at different time points overcomes the inherent weakness of a cross-sectional design, yet a design including at least three data waves would have provided superior support for the hypothesized mediated relationships. Based on within-group diary studies [ 103 , 104 ], it can, on the one hand, be argued that leadership might impact the team and personal resources within a much shorter time frame. On the other hand, work engagement represents a persistent psychological state that is not susceptible to sudden changes in the short term [ 1 ]. Thus, the chosen one-year time lag can be considered reasonable for a between-group study to detect the impact of engaging leadership accurately. This impact needs some time to unfold. An additional limitation of this study entails measuring individual and team resources with only a few items. Nevertheless, all scales had an internal consistency value that met the threshold of .65 [ 105 ] with an average Cronbach’s alpha value equal to .81.

Concluding remark

Despite the novelty of the construct, the emerging research on engaging leadership suggests the potential value of a theoretically sound leadership model that could foster followers’ engagement. While earlier findings showed that engaging leadership is positively associated with the employee’s level of engagement [ 7 , 8 ], the current study suggested that engaging leadership could predict work engagement and team effectiveness. More specifically, being exposed to a leader who inspires, strengthens and connects team members may foster a shared perception of greater availability of team resources (i.e., performance feedback, trust in management, communication, and participation in decision-making), as well as greater psychological capital (i.e., self-efficacy, optimism, resilience, and flexibility). Hence, engaging leadership could play a significant role in the processes leading to work engagement at both the team and the individual levels.

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How Companies Can Improve Employee Engagement Right Now

  • Daniel Stein,
  • Nick Hobson,
  • Jon M. Jachimowicz,
  • Ashley Whillans

employee engagement research papers 2020

Start by connecting what people do to what they care about.

A year and a half into the pandemic, employees’ mental “surge capacity” is likely diminished. Managers must take proactive steps to increase employee engagement, or risk losing their workforce. Engaged employees perform better, experience less burnout, and stay in organizations longer. The authors created this Employee Engagement Checklist: a distilled, research-based resource that practitioners can execute on during this critical period of renewed uncertainty. Use this checklist to boost employee engagement by helping them connect what they do to what they care about, making the work itself less stressful and more enjoyable, and rewarding them with additional time off, in addition to financial incentives.

As the world stumbles toward a Covid-19 recovery, experts warn of a surge of voluntary employee departures, dubbed the “Great Resignation.” For instance, one study estimates that 55% of people in the workforce in August 2021 intend to look for a new job in the next 12 months. To counteract the incoming wave of employee turnover, organizations — more than ever — need to focus on cultivating employee engagement .

employee engagement research papers 2020

  • DS Daniel Stein is a fifth-year doctoral student in the Management of Organizations (MORS) Group at UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business. He conducts research on groups and teams, focusing on commitment to one’s group. He studies commitment across multiple levels, ranging from teams to organizations.
  • NH Nick Hobson is chief scientist and director of labs for  Emotive Technologies , a behavioral technology think tank that brings together leading academic researchers, technologists, and business strategists in order to create and share knowledge. A PhD-trained behavioral scientist and adjunct lecturer at the University of Toronto, Nick’s research and client practice specializes in employee experience (EX) and the influence of behavioral science as a tool for business success.
  • Jon M. Jachimowicz is an assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business School. He received his PhD in management from Columbia Business School. He studies how people pursue their passion for work, how they perceive passion in others, and how leaders and organizations seek to manage for passion.
  • Ashley Whillans is an assistant professor in the negotiations, organizations, and markets unit at the Harvard Business School School and teaches the “Negotiations” and “Motivation and Incentives” courses to MBA students and executives. Her research focuses on the role of noncash rewards on engagement and the links between time, money, and happiness. She is the author of Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time & Live a Happier Life (Harvard Business Review, 2020).

Partner Center

  • DOI: 10.31258/ijae.14.1.10-30
  • Corpus ID: 15189416


  • Subgupta Kular , M. Gatenby , +2 authors K. Truss
  • Published in Indonesian Journal of… 1 October 2008
  • Business, Psychology
  • Indonesian Journal of Agricultural Economics

336 Citations

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Employee engagement practices during COVID‐19 lockdown

Nisha chanana.

1 Swami Devi Dyal Institute of Management Studies, Swami Devi Dyal Group of Professional Institutions, Panchkula, Haryana India

2 PCJ School of Management, Maharaja Agrasen University, Solan, Himachal Pradesh India

In the present business situation during the COVID‐19 pandemic, employee engagement has become one of the utmost prominent primacies for human resource managers and practitioners in organizations due to lockdown. The paper is to determine the engagement of employees by various companies during coronavirus pandemic. Organizations nowadays are constantly developing innovative and effective means to engage the employees during this tough time. This paper is a conceptual paper that is based on various research papers, articles, blogs, online newspapers, and reports of World Health Organization. During this pandemic situation, organizations are evolving many engagement activities like online family engagement practices, virtual learning and development, online team building activities, webinars with industry experts, online conduct weekly alignment sessions, team meet‐ups over video conference for lunch, short online game sessions, virtual challenges and competitions, online courses, appreciation sessions, communication exercises, live sessions for new‐skill training, online counseling sessions, recognition and acknowledgment session, webinars dealing with anxiety and stress, providing online guidance for exercise and meditation, social interactions in a virtual office, classrooms training modules digitally, e‐learning modules, and many more creative learning sessions. Work‐from‐home regime engagement activities are very fruitful for employees as well as for organizations. Those organizations doing these kinds of engagement activities for their employees are learning new skills and developing themselves. Employees are feeling committed to the organization and stay motivated during this tough time of COVID‐19 pandemic.


1.1. employee engagement.

Today, the business setup is changing in relation to the global pandemic of COVID‐19. Human resource managers are persistently evolving innovative, creative, and effective ways to engage the employees in a healthier way during this difficult time. Employee engagement is a workplace attitude that is ensuing all adherents of an organization to give of their excellence every day, committed toward their organization's goals and values. Organizations always remember that employees who are well engaged in an organization will lead to productivity in the place of work, and this generates a higher customer satisfaction and, absolutely, developments in sales and profit in the company.

The major challenge in theoretical literature is when we discuss the term “engagement” because there is a lack of a general definition of employee engagement. (Kahn,  1990 ) described in his study that engagement indicates physiological and physical existence of executing an organizational role. Psychological conditions of meaningfulness, safety, and availability are the three constructs that help engagement to develop in an organization. Further study suggests that in engagement, individuals employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, and emotionally in their role performances. The cognitive facet is associated with beliefs of leaders, employees, and working environments. The emotional facet means employees positive or negative attitude toward the organization and the leaders. Physical facet means the physical force devoted in order to accomplish an organizational role. Kahn's model is tested by May, Gilson, and Harter ( 2004 ) and the result showed that meaningfulness, safety, and availability of psychological condition are positively associated with engagement. Schaufeli, Martinez, Pinto, Salanova, and Bakker ( 2002 ) develop the term job engagement and explained job engagement as a positive and a work‐related state of mind, and it is considered by strength, dedication, and absorption. This study explained employee engagement as the individual's involvement, satisfaction, and enthusiasm for work (Harter, Schmidt, & Hayes,  2002 ). This study suggests that engagement is closest to job involvement, well‐being, and emotions (May et al.,  2004 ). Employee engagement comprises two important facets, that is, job engagement and organization engagement (Saks,  2006 ). An engaged employee always does care about their effort, work, and performance, and employees want to feel that their work, efforts, and performance could make a difference. Employee engagement is usually understood as an inner state of mind, that is, physically, emotionally, and mentally, that binds together the commitment, satisfaction, and work effort in an employee.

Engaged employees support the organization to attain its mission, execute its strategy, and generate significant business results. Employee engagement can be enhanced by different HR practices comprising job design, recruitment, selection, compensation, training, and performance management (Vance,  2006 ). Organizations that support employee engagement, intelligently manage talent, and communicate with employees honestly, accurately, and at the right time will ride the current market turbulence and be successful in the future (Robison,  2009 ). Organizations and employees are both dependent on each other to fulfill their goals and objectives. Employee engagement should not be a one‐time implementation, but it should be integrated into the culture of the company. Career development prospects, encouragement, communication, recognition, the flexibility of employee's hours, fair pay structure, transparent and open work environment, and participation in decision‐making are the factors contributing to employee engagement at the workplace (Patro,  2013 ). To improve the purpose of effective employee engagement, six C's parameters are essential, that is, clarity, confidence, convey, connect, credibility, and career. An engaged employee is attentive about their work and about the performance of the company, and they always desire to feel that their determinations and hard work could make a difference. Engaged employees lead to productivity in the workplace, and this generates higher customer satisfaction and positive rises in sales and also profit in the organizations. Confidence and communication among both employees and organizations are also essential. This unification between the enterprise and the employee is a necessity as both are able to best in performance (Sarangi & Nayak,  2016 ). Employee engagement is built on belief, reliability, commitment, and communication between an organization and its adherents. Organizations can increase engagement by enhancing employee decision‐making, commitment, and transparency from senior leadership. Employee engagement is the level of enthusiasm and commitment an employee feels toward his/her job (Chandani, Mehta, Mall, & Khokhar, 2016 ). Employee engagement is an approach that proliferates the chances of business achievement, subsidizing to organizational and individual performance, productivity, and well‐being of employees.

1.2. COVID‐19 lockdown

The severe respiratory disease recently appeared in Wuhan (Hubei province), China. Epidemiological examinations have suggested that the epidemic was related to a seafood market in Wuhan, China (Fan et al.,  2020 ). COVID‐19 is a pandemic that has already reached 5,934,936 confirmed cases globally, with at least 367,166 deaths as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) as of May 31, 2020. In the European region, the total number of confirmed cases is 2,142,547 and 180,085 deaths reported. In regions of the Americas, confirmed cases are 2,743,793 and 157,702 deaths confirmed. In Eastern Mediterranean region, total number of confirmed cases is 505,001 and 12,353 deaths reported. In the Western Pacific region, it is 181,665 confirmed cases and 7,028 deaths reported. In South‐East Asia region, confirmed cases are 260,579, and deaths are reported as 7,431. African region reported 100,610 confirmed cases and 2,554 deaths. World Health Organization risk assessment report states that COVID‐19 is very high risk at the global level (World Health Organization,  2020a ). Those people who are living with NCDs (noncommunicable diseases) are more susceptible to becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID‐19 (World Health Organization,  2020b ).

World Health Organization also provides some recommendations and advice for the public. According to WHO, maximum persons infected with the COVID‐19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and convalesce without requiring any special treatment. Those people who are old and individuals who have medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease are more likely to develop severe illness. According to WHO guidelines, individuals should protect themselves and others from COVID‐19 infection by washing their hands or using an alcohol‐based rub frequently. According to the report of WHO (World Health Organization,  2020c ), the COVID‐19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes. According to the research, there is no effective vaccine or approved drug treatment against COVID‐19 developed. In this situation, most of the countries go for lockdown, so that spread of COVID‐19 will break soon. Several countries have also closed borders to avoid international travelers from spreading the virus (Ghosh, Brindisi, Shahabi, Mackenzie, & Andrew,  2020 ). According to Business Insider (Kaplan, Frias, & Mefall‐Johnsen,  2020 ), most of the countries are executing measures to slow the spread of the COVID‐19, from national quarantines to school closures.

Most of the countries are applying some form of restriction to the public like lockdown, social distancing, and wearing a face mask when you step out of your home. As per the need of the hour, most of the organizations started working online and initiated a work‐from‐home (WFH) regime. Due to lockdown, most of the organizations provide the facility to their employees to work from home. But work from home is difficult for employees as they do not feel the organizational climate at home, as lack of concentration due to frequent invasion of family members; work–life conflict arise due to this. Even they do not have proper equipment and tools (computer, mouse, printers, scanners, headphones, webcam, internet connection, and dedicated workspace—a quiet place to work). Most of the employees feel stressed due to rising cases of COVID‐19 in the world. They are not sure about their job security and also about their salary. Due to these problems, employees could not concentrate/focus on their work, so there is a need for employee engagement. The prime responsibility of the organization is to take care of their employees' well‐being and engage them properly. Those employees who are engaged well are giving 100% result. Leaders should provide some motivational talk lectures, boost their morale, and provide security and open environment so employees can raise their voice if they are having some issues. Leaders can use multimedia for communication. There should be transparent policy, so employees do not feel stress about their job and engage in their job well mannered.

1.3. Review of literature

Robison ( 2009 ) suggested on how to manage in turbulent times and keep employees focused and engaged in times of change. Some tips are given by the author like tell employees what organization expects from them, make sure employees have the right materials and equipment, give employees the opportunity to do what they do best, do not forget to give recognition, let your employees know you care about them, and always keep encouraging their development. Employee engagement can be used as a mediator to develop the attitudes, intention, and behavior of employees to an improved work performance (Andrew & Sofian,  2012 ; Saks,  2006 ). Andrew and Saudah ( 2012 ) concluded that employee engagement can be utilized as a mediator to enhance the behavior, intention, and attitudes of employees toward a better work performance. Basquille ( 2013 ) recommended that managers should be supported by the executive to provide development assistance, career support, and recognition. These factors enhance employee engagement effectively. Patro ( 2013 ) revealed that companies have to provide their employees the freedom to make their work interesting and forming an environment for having an engaged work life. Further study suggests that employee engagement should be a continuous process of learning, improvement, and action. Therefore, organizations today should actively look forward to fulfilling employee's expectations and generate an impact on the performance of the employee, which directly marks the organization's performance.

Bedarkar and Pandita ( 2014 ) projected an integrated model of employee engagement. The study result has shown that leadership, communication, and work–life balance are the key drivers of employee engagement. Groups, presence perceived, ease of use, and reputation of Facebook functions are the four factors that significantly contribute towards employee engagement (Abd Latib, Bolong, & Ghazali,  2014 ). Jalal ( 2016 ) study outcomes directed that employee engagement has a significant positive effect on organizational commitment and also found employee engagement as an important determinant of organizational commitment. The finding of the study suggests that the more employees are engaged in the workplace, high will be their commitment toward the organization or institution. Lee et al. ( 2016 ) study outcomes suggest that it is a challenge for HR professionals to keep present employees engaged with their jobs. Results revealed that workers are moderately engaged, meaning some may be detached from their current roles or fearful of losing their jobs. Job satisfaction is a significant driver of work engagement. Garg, Dar, and Mishra ( 2017 ) result revealed that there is a positive relationship between job satisfaction and work engagement. Further analysis showed that employee job satisfaction leads to employee engagement. Employee engagement link to financial performance comprising revenue growth, profit margins, shareholder return, and operating income is almost three times greater than organizations with disengaged personnel. It also elaborates that higher employee engagement level results in lower absenteeism and job stress and better well‐being and health. Further research shows that employee engagement has an effect on a company's bottom line and is sturdily linked to business performance (Saks,  2017 ). Engagement of employees results in business profits like cost and time savings if an organization provides a strong corporate culture in which personnel feel important and supported by the organization. Management trusts in employees, slightly flatter hierarchies, and leaders acting as role models increase the level of employee engagement (Sievert & Scholz,  2017 ). Internal communication satisfaction and employee engagement both are intercorrelated concept and the antecedent. Further study suggests asignificant role of internal communication satisfaction in high employee engagement (Verčič & Vokić,  2017 ). Engaged employees have emotional association with their work as well as their organization. Engaged employees always trust in the leaders of the organization. Hence, engaged employees are more dedicated and committed toward their work as well as organization.

Engaged personnel are always optimistic, keep good interpersonal rapport with each other, and also show high level of performance in the organization (Jena, Pradhan, & Panigrahy,  2018 ). Tiwari and Lenka ( 2019 ) revealed that functional, economic, and psychological benefits upsurge employees' level of engagement. Results indicate that internal corporate communication, perceived communication satisfaction, knowledge sharing, continuous learning, and intrapreneurship were positively associated with employee engagement. This paper found that if organizations invested in their human resources and building complete human resource management (HRM) system in their organization, it produces an engaged personnel, and, in return, organizations improve their performance (Tensay & Singh,  2020 ). Employees those dispositional happiness experience at higher level always practice higher levels of employee engagement (Barreiro & Treglown,  2020 ). Employee engagement is critical for an organization to retain their valued employees. It is very essential for an organization to do effective utilization of human resources in an organization. Without employee engagement, an organization cannot survive for a lengthy period.

1.4. Rationale of the study

The maximum of the nations is in lockdown due to the COVID‐19 pandemic. In this difficult situation, work‐from‐home regime is implemented by most of the organizations. But work‐from‐home regime is challenging for employees as well as for organizations during this difficult situation. Due to this problem, companies need to engage their employees in refined ways with the help of various employee engagement practices. This paper is to determine the various creative and innovative ways of employee engagement, so that employees can easily do work from home and stay committed, satisfied, and motivated during this pandemic situation.

1.5. Objective of the study

To determine the employee engagement practices during COVID‐19 lockdown.

1.6. Research methodology

This paper is a conceptual paper based on secondary data. Conceptual articles get organized manifold varying streams of content to provide some new understanding (Chermack & Passmore,  2005 ). The data collected derived from secondary research carried out by various researchers and groups. In the course of investigation, most data present in research papers, articles, blogs, and online newspapers provided insights into the concepts and practices of employee engagement related to COVID‐19 and tough times. COVID‐19 data are collected from the reports of World Health Organization. A methodical and wide literature review was conducted related to employee engagement literatures. The integrative literature review is a unique form of research that creates new understanding and knowledge about the topic reviewed (Torraco,  2005 ). Literature reviews purpose is to précis the present form of literature linked to certain phenomenon (Chermack & Passmore,  2005 ). Employee engagement is very essential for all the organizations during this COVID‐19 pandemic situation. In a lockdown, employee engagement practices keep them motivated, committed, satisfied, and contented in this tough time.

1.7. Employee engagement is important during tough times

According to the American Management Association, engagement levels can be improved, even throughout the tough periods, if companies take care and make the right decisions at the right time. According to the study, higher engagement levels are linked to improved productivity and a healthier bottom line. In good times or bad, worker engagement should be a top priority of organizations (Vickers,  2019 ). According to The Guardian , employee engagement helps to increase strong positive attitudes among people toward their work and their organization in difficult times. Organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and organizational citizenship are the factors that play a major role to make up employee engagement. According to the newspaper, when employee engagement is high, organizations do better. To enhance employee engagement in difficult times, organizations should make more efforts toward the employees so that employees feel that their organization is genuinely interested in them (Robertson,  2012 ). According to Groove Management Blog (Formato,  2014 ), leadership needs to be more visible in tough times than at any other time. If organizations want their employees be engaged, then leaders should take responsibility and motivate them to achieve your future promise. Effective communication plan influences the employees to engage in their work and accomplish their objectives in difficult times. According to the blog, employee engagement is so critical in difficult times and only leadership can do wonders through employee engagement via an effective communication plan. Personnel wants to get their message through multiple channels, and the best practice is to release the information via multimedia. Deal, Stawiski, and Gentry ( 2010 ) revealed that during the tough time, additional benefit packages and fair and comparable pay structures should be given to their employees to keep them engaged and motivated. Organizations also provide employees all the tools and resources so that they can accomplish their job effectively. To keep engagement high among employees, managers should provide effective feedback and direction to their subordinates from time to time. Masson ( 2009 ) suggested that leaders should effectively communicate to employees toward their career growth, so that employees trust that development processes are fair and equitable. Supervisors should be transparent and to help employees identify their developmental needs and also enhance their skills during tough times. DVV media HR group limited (2018) article states some actionable tips for employee engagement during tough times. The most important is strengthening employee engagement. Others tips are: leaders have the responsibility for being role models during tough times, integrate employee feedback into your company culture, communicate clearly and consistently, support your managers, and keep motivation high with rewards and recognition.

Jones and Kober ( 2019 ) explained some strategies related to how to achieve superior employee engagement in difficult times and higher business results. These strategies are:

  • Stay centered on your core values—it encourages employee engagement in difficult times.
  • Explicitly support your employee—so they remain motivated during tough times.
  • Solicit employee feedback—ask employees to freely share information, both frustrations and ideas for developments in a productive way.
  • Communicate upfront with employees—leaders should communicate openly and honestly, so employees perform more effectively.
  • Commit to your employee's employment—so employees should be committed to your organization.

Matkin ( 2016 ) mentioned that vision should be clear and concise and should be properly communicated to the employees, so they can get direction during tough times. In an organization, there should be open‐door policies; this kind of platform gives employees a voice. Organizations should be fully transparent with their employees; this kind of transparency builds trust among the employees toward the organization during difficult times. Article published in Nature (Fan et al.,  2020 ) stated five tips to help support employees working from home. These are:

  • Create a healthy workspace—encourage workers to create a healthy workspace at home. Encourage employees to work ergonomically from home as best they can and review their work‐at‐home setup.
  • Maintain a routine—encourage employees to stick to a routine and to maintain boundaries between their “work” time and “home” time.
  • Do not forget to be social—communication with colleagues is a great stress reliever. An organization should set up a session for fun activities that would normally take place in the office.
  • Encourage well‐being practices—organizations should care about their employee's well‐being; it can help reduce absenteeism, boost engagement, and performance.
  • Invest in technology—communication tools such as instant messaging and video and voice calling platforms can help to keep teams connected. It is important to invest in a recognition platform that allows employees to send and receive recognition.

1.8. Employee engagement practices during the COVID ‐19 lockdown

As organizations develop various engagement practices to implement full‐time remote work policies due to COVID‐19, here are some practices to keep your employees engaged in their jobs work‐from‐home regime.

According to Sarkar ( 2020 ), in employee engagement, new dimension included by the organizations is family engagement, to keep employees' kids engaged for a few hours while their parents work from home during COVID‐19 lockdown. Organizations that are doing these practices are Genpact, Accenture, Deloitte, AMD, and Hinduja Global Solutions. Talukar ( 2020 ) article suggested five tips for practicing employee engagement during the COVID‐19 pandemic. These are: build a much stronger communication regime with your remote teams, do not forget to cheer them up with instant appreciation, loosen up and ensure flexibility, create a virtual community with all your employees, and host online team building activities. Goswami ( 2020 ) article is about engaging downtime employees during the lockdown period. Manufacturing companies, like CEAT, SAR, and Aditya Birla are elevating the downtime of employees. Through learning and development, companies keep the workforce engaged during the lockdown. Some companies provide TED Talks, webinars with industry experts, books, e‐learning, and self‐developed contents to their employees. Some companies also motivate their employees during the pandemic time and try to assuage their fears to ensure they stay positive. CEAT hired fitness trainers to keep the downtime employees and their families motivated through podcasts and live calls. Dutta ( 2020 ) article explains about the digital learning programs to upgrade the skills of employees during the lockdown. By developing learning opportunities, providing various resources for incessant professional growth, and keeping employees engaged during this tough period, organizations can empower digital personnel ready for the future. Singh ( 2020a ) mentioned that organizations must focus on employee engagement during COVID‐19 outbreak. According to the article, when employees have significant work and organizations continuously provide growth opportunities to them, then they feel motivated and committed toward their organization. Engaging remote employees generate a culture of openness in which employees can get new ideas. Engagement programs raise employees' inquisitiveness and help in bringing out the inventive and creative side of the workforce. So, it becomes necessary for companies to take effective employee engagement measures during tough times.

Goyal, Trivedi, Nandwani, Changulani, and Lokhandwala ( 2020 ) suggested and explained various ways to increase employee engagement during the lockdown. These are: conduct weekly alignment session, team meet‐ups, entire team gathers over video conference for lunch, short online game session, virtual challenges and competitions, 5 min of informal talk, shared content such as TED Talks, books, online courses, brainstorming focus, aha, apology and appreciation session, communication exercise, ditch a task, map of alignment, and emphasize results over timelines. Singh ( 2020b ) discussed the various issues of employees they are facing during this tough time. This article suggested that businesses must understand the stress levels of personnel during this difficult time; there should be an open environment and proper communication channels where personnel can come forward to discuss the issues they are dealing with. Most of the businesses are organizing contests, challenges, and hackathons for their workforces. Companies are regularly examining the well‐being of employees and offering solutions that support a healthy work–life balance. During this time, companies focus on the learning and development of their employees. Most of the organizations are introducing webinars and live sessions for new‐skill training to online counseling sessions helping employees to stay safe and healthy at home. Anand ( 2020 ) revealed that lockdown has caused huge disruption in the world as billions of people are self‐isolating in homes. This article suggested four tips for better employee engagement during the lockdown. Build solid communication channels like messaging platforms, video conferencing, and email. Appreciation, recognition, and acknowledgment of employees are necessary during this tough time. Employees will need to take time off to make meals, play with their kids, and perform household chores, so keep things flexible. Businesses should plan meetings in the virtual world with their employees.

Nair ( 2020 ) explored that many employee engagement programs are run by Capgemini during this difficult time. Capgemini introduces structured employee engagement programs like constant communication with employees through video messages from the company's leadership, creating and maintaining social networks in virtual communities, creating a sense of belonging, arranged counseling service for employees, conducting webinars dealing with anxiety and stress, sharing best practices of maintaining health and hygiene and also provide guidance for exercise and Meditation. Bhardwaj ( 2020 ) discussed the steps taken by Cars24 to ensure maximum employee engagement and raise a sense of belongingness with the company. Various activities are conducted by the Cars24 including challenges like sharing a picture with your pet, a selfie with the family, fun awards, and “Know Your Leaders” where the employees were quizzed about their general knowledge of the leaders, mental fitness and meditations online classes, a hidden talent show, virtual karaoke challenge, a virtual campfire challenge, fostering team spirit, video calls, and various online group challenges to boost employee morale and engagement.

Brunswick group (Metts,  2020 ) mentioned that companies need to develop employee engagement and communication plans to keep morale high and help their people stay connected with each other. Communications to employees should be regular and frequent, allow weekly all‐employee video conferences or conference calls, remind colleagues to take extra precautions on potential data breaches and other cyber‐security issues, and encourage employees to share work–from‐home experience and tips—what do they find challenging and how to stay focused and productive. Fallon ( 2020 ) elaborates the team engagement during coronavirus pandemic. Article explains some ways to keep employees engaged like keep people updated through transparent communication, prepare powerful presentations, and get everyone on video. Leaders lead by example with a good remote work setup, avoid micromanaging, maintain friendly social interactions in the virtual office, and get employee feedback on how they are feeling. Hasan ( 2020 ) explained the various ways companies are serving employees in response to COVID‐19. Amway is on‐going with the increments, promotions, and recognition as per previous plans. The company has planned virtual engagement programs like external webinars to learn new skills and also announced employee's medical‐claim plans that will cover treatment costs for COVID‐19. Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages has launched a virtual employee engagement program that seeks to involve employee's colleagues and their family members online for their physical and mental wellness. McDonald's India has adopted many of its classrooms training modules digitally and introduced e‐learning modules, quizzes, master classes by managers, and many more creative learning sessions, which employees can access on their phone while in quarantine at home. ITC Hotels has rolled a number of e‐learning courses targeted at specific roles and levels through primary channels of E‐learning to provide an opportunity for self‐learning which can be accentuated through anytime app‐based hosting. Clix Capital is also hosting live e‐sessions on its learning platform.

Various companies are doing employee engagement practices in a very innovative and creative manner to keep their employees satisfied and committed toward the organization. It is very essential to do employee engagement practices during this difficult time of the pandemic.


Engaging employees has become very essential in today's pandemic situation due to COVID‐19. Thinking of seizing the top position devoid of the support of your employees would surely be a dream in this current situation of lockdown. Organizations know very well that engaged employees are the key to success in this tough time. That is why businesses must look forward to keeping their employees satisfied and motivated through the engagement of employees during pandemic circumstances. Under the current situation, establishing employee engagement measures with the help of technology is essential for the growth of the organizations. Many companies nowadays are developing numerous employee engagement practices like virtual team meet‐ups, virtual learning and development, conducting weekly alignment online session, webinars with industry experts, and also webinars for anxiety and stress, online team building activities, online family engagement practices, brainstorming, apology, and appreciation online session, shared content such as TED Talks, online books, online courses, live sessions for new‐skill training, online communication exercise, online sharing best practices of maintaining health and hygiene, digital classrooms training modules, e‐learning modules, online guidance for exercise and meditation, online recognition and acknowledgment of employees, online employee feedback, short online game session, virtual challenges and competitions, 5 minutes of informal talk, entire team gathers over video conference for lunch, online counseling sessions, and social interactions in the virtual office. These kinds of engagement practices boost the morale of the employees and employees feel motivated and committed towards the organization in this pandemic situation due to coronavirus.

2.1. Further implications

All the organizations should adopt innovative and creative employee engagement practices during this tough time of pandemic COVID‐19 to keep employees motivated, stimulated, committed, satisfied, and blissful in this tough time. Work‐from‐home regime is nowadays very essential; it would be successful only with the help of online practices. Organizations should be implementing an online practice approach to stay in the competition during this difficult time. Virtual relations should be crucial for companies to enhance the engagement of employees. Engaged employees always achieve objectives very smoothly. Management also look into how to engage employees in order to be able to encourage a positive organization culture. Organizations also need to be able to recognize the various facets that motivate and derive employee engagement in organizations.


Dr. Nisha Chanana is an Assistant Professor (Head of the Department) of Swami Devi Dyal Institute of Management Studies, Swami Devi Dyal Group of Professional Institutions, affiliated to Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, Haryana. She received her Ph.D. from the University School of Management, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra in 2015. Her current research interests include Organizational Behaviour, Recent HR practices, Organizational Change and Development, Training and Development, and Strategic HRM.

Dr. Sangeeta is an Assistant Professor of Management at Maharaja Agrasen University, Baddi‐ Himachal Pradesh. She received her Ph.D. from the University School of Management, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra in 2016. Her current research interests include Stock market volatility, Banking, General Economics and HR practices.

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Employee engagement management in the covid-19 pandemic: a systematic literature review.

employee engagement research papers 2020

1. Introduction

2.1. study selection process and methods, 2.2. study risk of bias assessment, 2.3. methods of analysis, 3. results and analysis, 3.1. study selection, 3.2. study characteristics, 3.3. results of studies, 3.3.1. the practices common in research for driving employee engagement during covid-19 pandemic, the red cluster-providing mental health care, blue cluster-increasing resilience, green cluster-boosting line employee morale, 3.3.2. the practices not common in research driving employee engagement during the covid-19 pandemic, providing support, directing employees, innovative work practices and competence building, empathy for the employees’ situations, 3.3.3. the areas need more attention in the research landscape on methods driving the employee engagement, 4. discussion, research implications, 5. conclusions, author contributions, institutional review board statement, informed consent statement, data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

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Click here to enlarge figure

Sources (Journals)36
Documents (articles)60
Average years from publication0.194
Average citations per document3.984
Average citations per year per doc2.806
Author’s Keywords (DE)213
Countries 27
Number of keywords21342151053
Work Engagement34
Mental Health5
Work from Home4
RedCOVID-19, Mental Health, Work Engagement
GreenResilience, Work from Home
ClusterThemePractices of Employee Engagement KeywordSource
Employee assistance virtual communication platforms[ ]
Employee compensation[ ]
2Resource provision for avoiding family interference to workFamily work conflict in working from home[ ]
7Facilitating mindfulness Mindfulness [ , ]
10Reducing technostress Social media fatigue[ ]
Mental workload[ ]
Telecommuting [ ]
12Increase Self-confidence Mortality salience and COVID-19 anxiety [ ]
social media misinformation[ ]
29Support Perceived social support[ , ]
Perceived organizational support [ ]
Supervisor support, coworker support with work engagement[ ]
Perceived team support,[ ]
Task resources [ ]
14Directing employeesEffective Communication Informational, relational internal communication [ ]
Communication Quality[ ]
16Leadership, teamwork, and flexibility Transformational leadership[ ]
Leaders support [ ]
Leadership behavior [ ]
Team effectiveness
Technological flexibility
21Securing a job concerning the generational characteristicsGenerational characteristics, job insecurity[ ]
5Innovative work practices and competence buildingInnovative work practices and Competence Building Innovative work behavior[ ]
Work-related basic needs (higher competence need satisfaction)[ ]
8Creating organizational health climate Job crafting[ ]
Leader health mindset[ ]
Perceived organizational health climate
11Work from home Working from home [ ]
23Job reattachment with safety concerns Job reattachment, leader safety commitment[ ]
24Learning organization Learning organization[ ]
25Concern about people who have high recovery capacitiesRecovery level[ ]
6Empathy for the employees’ situationsEmotional Intelligence Emotional intelligence[ , ]
19Concern for Health and Safety Leader safety commitment [ ]
Perceived psychological safety [ ]
The statements, opinions and data contained in all publications are solely those of the individual author(s) and contributor(s) and not of MDPI and/or the editor(s). MDPI and/or the editor(s) disclaim responsibility for any injury to people or property resulting from any ideas, methods, instructions or products referred to in the content.

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Andrlić, B.; Priyashantha, K.G.; De Alwis, A.C. Employee Engagement Management in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability 2023 , 15 , 987.

Andrlić B, Priyashantha KG, De Alwis AC. Employee Engagement Management in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability . 2023; 15(2):987.

Andrlić, Berislav, Kankanamge Gayan Priyashantha, and Adambarage Chamaru De Alwis. 2023. "Employee Engagement Management in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Literature Review" Sustainability 15, no. 2: 987.

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Employee Engagement as Human Motivation: Implications for Theory, Methods, and Practice

  • Regular Article
  • Published: 28 December 2022
  • Volume 57 , pages 1223–1255, ( 2023 )

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employee engagement research papers 2020

  • J. David Pincus   ORCID: 1 , 2  

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The central theoretical construct in human resource management today is employee engagement. Despite its centrality, clear theoretical and operational definitions are few and far between, with most treatments failing to separate causes from effects, psychological variables from organizational variables, and internal from external mechanisms. This paper argues for a more sophisticated approach to the engagement concept, grounding it in the vast psychological literature on human motivation. Herein lies the contribution of our paper; we argue that the apparent diversity of operational definitions employed by academics and practitioners can be understood as tentative attempts to draw ever nearer to key motivational concepts, but never quite get there. We review the leading definitions of employee engagement in the literature and find that they are reducible to a core set of human motives, each backed by full literatures of their own, which populate a comprehensive model of twelve human motivations. We propose that there is substantial value in adopting a comprehensive motivational taxonomy over current approaches, which have the effect of “snowballing” ever more constructs adopted from a variety of fields and theoretical traditions. We consider the impact of rooting engagement concepts in existing motivational constructs for each of the following: (a) theory, especially the development of engagement systems; (b) methods, including the value of applying a comprehensive, structural approach; and (c) practice, where we emphasize the practical advantages of clear operational definitions.

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Despite the centrality of the employee engagement concept, clear theoretical and operational definitions are few and far between, with most treatments failing to separate causes from effects, psychological variables from organizational variables, and internal from external mechanisms. This paper argues for a more sophisticated approach to the engagement concept, grounding it in the vast psychological literature on human motivation.

The Current State of Theory

In social science research, it is always good practice to try to distinguish causes and effects in theoretical models, resulting in testable propositions. Much of the theoretical work of both academics and practitioners Footnote 1 in the domain of employee engagement has unfortunately neglected this fundamental step, instead adopting a list generation approach, enumerating all the exogenous and endogenous variables that could, should, or might be expected to co-occur with engagement. This approach has returned long lists of items with little regard for separating causes from effects, psychological variables from organizational variables, states from traits, and the cognitive from the emotional from the behavioral. In a literature review, Kular et al., ( 2008 ) concluded that despite the “great deal of interest in engagement, there is also a good deal of confusion. At present, there is no consistency in definition, with engagement having been operationalized and measured in many disparate ways.” Nearly a decade later in a subsequent literature review, Dewing & McCormack ( 2015 ) observe that “it is a challenge to find much substance or a clear definition for the concept of engagement… Further, it is unclear how the construct relates to other existing similar concepts…” (p. 2). As suggested by these, and indeed virtually all authors on this subject, the term employee engagement has remained stubbornly muddled, conflated, and confused, a victim of entangled, conflated pseudo-definitions that overlap heavily with related but distinct concepts such as job engagement, work engagement, organizational engagement, intellectual-social-affective engagement, and collective organizational engagement (Albrecht, 2010 ). In this way, the academic and practitioner literatures have been subjected to a kind of “snowballing effect” as authors apply different theoretical models bringing with them a host of new constructs, while also applying ever more synonyms for existing constructs (for examples, see list of keywords used in literature review below).

The need for conceptual clarity is particularly acute for the concept of engagement. By one account, few business concepts have resonated as strongly as has employee engagement (Schneider et al., 2009 ). This strong and growing interest is confirmed by Google Trends (accessed August 28, 2020), which shows a steady upward trend in Google searches involving the phrase “employee engagement” beginning in April 2004 (their earliest data) at an index of 0, increasing to an index of 100 in July 2020 (indicating the strongest search volume to date). It is important to note that, despite the obvious relevance of the engagement concept to employee emotional wellness, this upward trend in interest pre-dates the current COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, studies have found significant linkages between employee engagement and physical and mental health (Harter et al., 2003 ; Porath et al., 2012 ; Sonnentag, 2003 ; Spreitzer et al., 2005 ). In light of this trend, providing a clear definition of employee engagement isn’t just a good idea for developing theory and measurement, it may be important for improving public health.

Although no universally accepted definition of employee engagement exists, Shuck ( 2011 ) has extensively reviewed the literature and identified four dominant research streams: Kahn’s ( 1990 ) need-satisfying approach, Maslach et al.’s ( 2001 ) burnout-antithesis approach, Harter et al.’s ( 2002 ) satisfaction-engagement approach, and Saks’ ( 2006 ) multidimensional approach. These four streams are derived from entirely different research traditions: organizational behavior (Kahn), social psychology (Maslach), commercial polling (Harter), and human resource management (Saks) and, accordingly, can be thought of as four descriptions made by the proverbial men around the elephant, each absolutely correct in his description, but none able to adequately describe the holistic essence of the phenomenon. In the spirit of crowdsourcing, we will keep track of every postulated component and subcomponent described by each tradition before attempting to apply an overarching model to encompass them all.

Epistemological Foundations

We now make a very short digression into epistemology, noting only that the dominant models of employee engagement all seem to tacitly assume the operation of the Stimulus → Organism → Response (S-O-R) model, which has been the dominant assumption in psychology since the close of the behaviorist era. In this formulation, external, environmental stimuli are perceived and acted upon in the brain of the individual organism, which mediates and causes observable behavior; accordingly, this is known as the mediation model and provides a scaffolding to separate causes from effects at two stages: external causes of internal effects and internal causes of behavioral effects. This presupposes asymmetrical relations between causes and effects (i.e., effects don’t cause causes) and should provide clear guidance for determining the role of different variables in the chain of causation by asking questions such as “Is X an external, environmental stimulus, a psychological response, or a behavioral outcome?” and “Does X cause Y or vice-versa?” But, as we will show, this has often not been the case in the employee engagement literature. Footnote 2

Do Engagement Concepts Refer to Stimulus, Organism, or Response?

Key constructs related to employee engagement have a nasty habit of showing up in different S-O-R roles at different times. For example, autonomy is part of the definition of engagement proposed by Maslach et al. ( 2001 ), but it is also an antecedent condition in the Hackman & Oldham ( 1980 ) system employed by Kahn ( 1990 ). Autonomy also shows up as an antecedent in discussion of role breadth (Morgeson et al., 2005 ), and again as an outcome in extra-role behavior or role-expansion (Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2004 ). It is unclear whether a behavioral intention like taking charge is a cause of engagement, a marker of engagement, or a consequence of engagement.

The same pattern is observed with regard to the construct of psychological presence . One the one hand, Kahn ( 1990 ) defines engagement itself as a harnessing of the self within the work role. On the other hand, the construct of organizational commitment , defined in a seminal paper as an outcome variable (Saks, 2006 ), is defined by the projection of the self into the organization (e.g., “Working at my organization has a great deal of personal meaning to me”; “I feel personally attached to my work organization”). We are left to wonder if projecting one’s self into one’s work is a cause of engagement, an indicator of engagement, or an outcome of engagement.

Again we see this pattern with regard to the key constructs of perceived organizational support (POS) and perceived supervisor support (PSS), which are identified as antecedent conditions (Saks, 2006 ). POS and PSS have been shown to be statistically related to measures of psychological safety , as well as to job characteristics of openness, being encouraged to try new things, and enjoying a supportive relationship with supervisor and colleagues (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004 ), resulting in the outcome of having “high quality relationships.” But this begs the question of what types of variables these really are: Is perceived safety not a response to antecedent conditions? Are POS and PSS themselves not psychological feeling states evoked by conditions? As such, we would argue that these constructs play multiple roles and defy being hard-coded into any one phase of the S-O-R process; it might be more accurate to think about them as multiple feedback loops. The example of perceived caring by the employer , a form of POS, is no trivial matter: As reported by Saks ( 2006 ), “demonstrating caring and support” is far and away the biggest predictor of both job and organizational engagement. But it’s not clear if perceived caring is part of the psychological response that defines engagement itself, or if it should be considered an antecedent condition, or even an outcome.

Unfortunately, this sort of conceptual “slipperiness” (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ) affects nearly every construct in the employee engagement literature: Is task variety purely an antecedent condition (an attribute of an environmental stimulus), or does task variety necessitate absorption (a definition of engagement; mediator variable) on the part of the employee in order to successfully perform the role, and by so doing, does it necessarily induce role expansion (a behavioral outcome variable)? Footnote 3 In this light, it is easy to see how the slipperiness of constructs permits them to migrate back and forth in status from stimulus to psychological mediator to behavioral outcome.

Despite valiant past attempts to categorize these constructs as one of the three elements in the S-O-R model, it is our contention that a more fruitful approach might be found in allowing for multiple causal relations and feedback loops beyond the rigid S-O-R assumption. As we will argue below, the vast majority of engagement constructs can be considered to act as psychological mediators, specifically, motivations , which direct the organism to seek out certain kinds of stimuli (S), generate emotional experiences (O), and prepare the body for response (R).

Motivations are inherently dynamic , that is, they pertain to striving for change over time from current conditions to an improved future state. Because of this dynamism, we suggest that a better model than S-O-R may be found in Maruyama’s ( 1963 ) Second Cybernetics model of deviation-amplifying mutual causal processes. In contrast to standard thermostat-like cybernetic systems that characterize most homeostatic systems, using negative feedback loops to keep conditions within certain bounds, deviation-amplifying processes push conditions toward increasing rates of change (e.g., a crack in the sidewalk fills with water; it freezes causing the crack to expand, which then holds more water, causing further expansion, and so on). Motives become actualized within the context of particular workplaces; the resulting direction of change is a function of mutually causal interactions between initial predispositions, e.g., the worker grew up in a success-oriented family vs. in an egalitarian commune, and work conditions that amplify certain types of needs, e.g., a sales department that closely tracks and rewards individual achievement vs. a non-profit with a culture of communalism. These interactions and their feedback loops naturally spawn increasing rates of change, which can either deepen a worker’s commitment to their organization or drive them out. Our contention is that deviation-amplification is an important underlying force that impels microgenesis from starting conditions to strivings for change, and from foundational forms of motivation (e.g., the need for safety or autonomy) to higher, decentralized forms of motivation (e.g., the need for esteem or higher purpose).

Do Engagement Concepts Refer to Affect, Cognition, or Behavior?

A very similar and related problem plagues attempts to separate constructs as primarily cognitive, emotional, or behavioral. The dominant definitions of employee engagement have gone to great pains to explicitly state that this construct is a cognitive, emotional, and behavioral complex. Commitment to the organization, for example, is defined as having both intellectual and emotional components (Baumruk, 2004 ; Richman, 2006 ; Shaw, 2005 ). Psychological presence is defined as being present cognitively, emotionally, and physically (Kahn, 1990 ). The authors of the popular Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) have defined engagement as a “persistent and pervasive affective-cognitive state” (p. 74; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ). These approaches pays lip service to this distinction but essentially finesse the problem. By fudging and blurring any real distinctions between the affective, cognitive, and conative, researchers are left without critical guidance for developing valid and reliable measures. Macey & Schneider ( 2008 ) express concern particularly about the inability of current measures to address the emotional component, which they see as essential to the distinctive definition of employee engagement.

Certain components of engagement have been identified as primarily cognitive, e.g., attention , which is defined as both cognitive availability and time spent thinking about role (Rothbard, 2001 ). In UWES terms, absorption , being intensely engrossed in one’s role (Rothbard, 2001 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ) seems like a primarily cognitive construct, whereas vigor (full of energy) seems more behavioral. The final component of UWES, dedication , seems primarily grounded in cognition with shades of affect (e.g., “I find the work that I do full of meaning and purpose”; “My job inspires me”; “My job is challenging”).

Just like the difficulties in establishing their S-O-R designations, these concepts defy easy classification as thoughts, feelings, or actions. Mirroring the consensus definition of the attitude construct in social psychology as having components of affect, cognition, and behavior (Petty & Cacioppo, 1996 ), we contend that the vast majority of these constructs imply thoughts, actions, and feelings, with a particular emphasis on the latter (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ). As demonstrated below, the concept of motivation , like attitude , can encompass this triad.

Literature Review

In accordance with Templier and Paré ( 2018 ), a literature review of the theory development type was conducted consistent with the six-step process outlined by these authors: (1) problem formulation, (2) literature search, (3) screening for inclusion, (4) quality assessment, (5) data extraction, and (6) data analysis and interpretation, as follows:

(1) The primary goal of this review is to identify theoretical systems that purport to define the components of employee engagement. (2) The literature search was performed using multiple, iterative search strategies beginning with consultation of the Web of Science and Google Scholar search engines, using combination of keywords drawn from definitions of engagement such as “engagement,” “motivation,” “striving,” “involvement,” “persistence,” “commitment,” “absorption,” “dedication,” “vigor,” “performance,” “citizenship,” “identification,” in conjunction with the object of these descriptors: “employee,” “worker,” “work,” “task,” “job,” “team,” “group,” “organization,” etc. As relevant papers were identified, the list of search terms was updated to include additional terms. Further, backward and forward searches on relevant papers permitted the discovery of additional materials. (3) The searches described above resulted in millions of publications of multiple types, which were further screened for inclusion. Screening criteria focused on the presence of a comprehensive model of engagement, whether viewed through the lens of management, psychology, human resources, or assessment. Additionally, results were screened for the availability of a complete set of assessment items that corresponded to each comprehensive model. These screens reduced the set to roughly 40 publications. (4) At this point, the full set of publications were reviewed for quality and relevance, resulting in additional forward and backward searching, which revealed a final set of conceptual models that conformed to the above requirements. (5) The specific elements of each model were extracted into a table for direct comparison (Tables  3 – 5 ).

(6) The analysis and implications are presented below.

The analysis resulted in the identification of 102 concepts (Table  4 ) and 120 individual assessment items (Table  5 ) referenced in the seminal and review papers on employee engagement. The concepts range widely across multiple dimensions that have been identified in past reviews, namely, antecedent conditions; indicators of engagement itself (cognitions, emotions, behaviors); observable outcomes of engagement; traits; and higher order qualities of engagement (e.g., persistence over time). These 102 concepts also vary broadly in terms of their content, encompassing job characteristics (e.g., variety, challenge, enrichment); individual traits (e.g., conscientiousness, autotelic personality, locus of control); intrapsychic concerns related to the self (e.g., psychological safety, authenticity, opportunities for personal growth); relations with the material world of work (e.g., autonomy, absorption, opportunity to meaningfully contribute); social cognitions, emotions, and motivations (e.g., sense of belonging, demonstrations of caring, opportunities for recognition); and concerns with higher-order, abstract principles (e.g., justice, values, purpose).

Emergent Points of Consensus

Since several literature reviews and meta-analyses of this literature have been conducted recently, we will not repeat the cataloguing of papers by commonalities here. Instead, we will use the points of consensus as a starting point for our main contention, which is that employee engagement is best conceived as human motivation, and that the various constructs proposed all neatly fit into a structured taxonomy of human motivation.

Across the papers reviewed, several points of consensus emerge:

Engagement is primarily considered to be an individual -level, not group-level, construct; as such, group level effects are the aggregated result of individual results (Shuck et al., 2017 ; Shuck, Adelson, & Reio, 2016; Shuck & Wollard, 2010 ).

Engagement is a latent psychological variable and therefore can be estimated but never directly observed, having the effect of re-classifying all so-called behavioral engagement constructs as outcomes (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Macey et al., 2009 )

Engagement acts primarily as a mediator variable between antecedents (e.g., job characteristics, work conditions, etc.) and outcomes (e.g., intention to quit, productivity, performance; Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Christian et al., 2011 ; Shuck, 2011 ; Rich et al., 2010 ; Bakker & Bal, 2010 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Macey et al., 2009 ; Saks, 2006 ; Hakanen et al., 2006 ; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004 ).

Engagement is primarily conceived of as a state rather than a trait (Shuck et al., 2017 ; Christian et al., 2011 ; Saks & Gruman, 2014 ).

Engagement is a multi-dimensional construct (“a complex nomological network”, Macey & Schneider, 2008 ) that includes cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dimensions, but is primarily considered affective (Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Soane et al., 2012 ; Christian et al., 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Macey et al., 2009 ; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ; Kahn, 1990 ).

Engagement is primarily conceived of as an affectively-charged goal-directed state, which is typically referred to as motivation in the psychological literature, and is explicitly labeled as motivation in many seminal works (Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Soane et al., 2012 ; Crawford et al., 2010 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Macey et al., 2009 ; Meyer & Gagné, 2008 ; Bakker & Demerouti, 2007 , 2017 , 2018 ; Bakker et al., 2016 ; Bakker & Sanz-Vergel, 2013 ; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ; Kahn, 1990 ).

Repeated calls have been made to address the problem of non-parsimonious construct proliferation, and for conceptual development to address questions of nomological validity in the hopes of identifying a “super-engagement construct” that can integrate the disparate and growing collection of constructs (Albrecht, 2010 ;  Shuck et al., 2017 ; Cole et al., 2012 ; Shuck, 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ;  Macey et al., 2009 ).

Why Motivation?

It’s no coincidence that the major definitions of the employee engagement construct, despite their widely ranging theoretical origins, happen to fall perfectly in line with the definition of motivation, given by Pincus ( 2004 ) as an individual-level, unobservable state of emotion or desire operating on the will and, as a psychological mediator, causing it to act . We contend that this is because the concept of engagement is identical to the concept of motivation, albeit applied to a particular area of application, i.e., one’s work. The goal of this paper is to suggest that a conceptual model already exists that can accommodate all of these concepts, and that splitting hairs over which aspects of which concepts are antecedents, mediators, or consequences, is much like trying to parse out which are cognitions, emotions, or behavioral inclinations. From a motivational perspective, these concepts each have facets in all of these readout channels, i.e., a single motivational construct, say the need for belonging , can be fostered by certain conditions, can become a salient need, is experienced both affectively and cognitively, and can be behaviorally expressed.

In their seminal review article, Macey & Schneider ( 2008 ) explicitly describe employee engagement as a form of motivation , and report the widespread usage of synonyms for motivation in the literature including an “illusive force that motivates employees” (Wellins & Concelman, 2005 ) and a “high internal motivational state” (Colbert et al., 2004 ). Shuck’s ( 2011 ) integrative literature review offers a very similar definition of employee engagement “as a positive psychological state of motivation with behavioral manifestations.” (p. 2). Macey & Schneider ( 2008 ) make an intriguing statement that explicitly supports our contention:

“Some readers may feel that there are clear hints of ‘motivation’ in what we have just written and wonder to themselves why we are not saying that this (employee engagement) is motivation. The answer is that the construct of motivation is itself a hypothetical construct with considerable ambiguity surrounding it. Were we to introduce it here, it might further confound the issues so we leave the chore of integrating engagement with ‘motivation’ to others.” (p. 4).

Suffice it to say, we accept this challenge. In surveying the literature, the attributes that consistently define the concept of employee engagement equally define motivation. Motivation is the meta-theory the field has been calling for (Table  1 ).

A leading comprehensive theory of motivation is Buck’s ( 1985 ) PRIME Theory, an acronym for Primary Motivational and Emotional Systems. The key premise is that motivation is a state of pent-up potential energy that, when actualized, is “read out” through cognitive, emotional, and behavioral systems. In this model, each of these three readouts have distinct functions: the function of syncretic cognition is to provide the opportunity for conscious self-regulation; emotional expression serves to spontaneously communicate what one is feeling to others, which supports social coordination; and physical responses serve the need for adaptive behavior. The consensus view of engagement follows this same exact pattern of cognition (e.g., enthusiastic thinking), emotion (e.g., felt pleasantness), and behavior (e.g., physical activation).

The dominant perspective on the origin of motivations, echoed by Buck ( 1985 ) and Damasio ( 2012 ), is that they are essentially mechanisms of homeostasis, keeping the organism within set bounds of desirable operation. Motivational and emotional processes are activated within individuals via stereotyped action patterns, which have existed long before evolution designed conscious minds. In Damasio’s view, humans have minds for the purpose of sensing changes in our physiological states both internally and externally, and consciousness exists to provide us flexibility in how to respond to our environments. In this view, higher-order motivations (e.g., to feel free, included, cared for, fair, etc.) are built up (ontogenetically, phylogenetically, and microgenetically) from the neural substrates of unconscious, physiological needs on a continuum that begins with the physiologically-grounded (e.g., feeling safe) and extending up to those that are increasingly influenced and shaped by culture (e.g., feeling respected, successful, ethical, self-actualized, and having a life purpose). As motives become more culturally mediated (i.e., developing socio-historically), they are also increasingly subject to cultural prescription of appropriate avenues for their fulfillment. As suggested by Vygotsky ( 1978 ) and Leont’ev ( 1978 ), the microgenesis of personality and self-concept, as amalgamations of sets of needs and need-traits, is heavily determined by the social environments provided by caregivers, family, school, etc.

Consistent with the operation of all four of Vygotsky’s levels of human development, it is through the experience of deficiencies that development proceeds. Accordingly, we would expect hierarchical progress in motivation to typically occur in response to negative motivation, at least initially; over time, the role of positive aspirations would gain more prominence. As noted by cultural psychologists, negative and positive motivations tend to work together in a complementary fashion (Valsiner, 2014 , 2019 , 2021 ). Boredom, as an example of a negative motivational nudge, initiates stimulation seeking and desire for flow experiences; in this view, a certain degree of boredom is necessary to spark creativity and innovation (Boesch, 1998 ).

Applying a Taxonomy of Human Motivation to Engagement Constructs

Recently, a unified model of human motivation has been introduced to describe the types of emotional needs that impel humans to take action (Pincus, 2022 ). It was necessary to develop this model because, surprisingly, despite a plethora of mini-theories of motivation (e.g., Need for Achievement, Need for Affiliation, Terror Management Theory, Flow Theory, etc.), no comprehensive model of human motivation yet existed in the psychology literature. Maslow’s need hierarchy makes strides toward being more comprehensive, yet his focus on high achieving individuals led him to neglect many key motivations recognized in the literature, such as the need for Nurturance identified by Bowlby and Harlow, McClelland’s Need for Achievement and Need for Power, Erickson’s Identity Formation motive, and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory, among others.

To address this need, we began with the premise that motivation activates and directs behavior toward goals in four fundamental domains of life: the intrapsychic (inner-directed, focused on the self), the instrumental (outer-directed, focused on the material world of work and play), the interpersonal (socially-directed), and the spiritual (directed toward adherence with transcendent and eternal principles). These four domains of motivational focus have been identified by multiple systems of thought (Pincus, 2022 ) including developmental psychology (e.g., James, Maslow, and Kohlberg), sports psychology, social psychology & philosophy of religion, and by the five major world religions. We followed the premise of four fundamental motivational domains with a typology of three possible levels of motivational fulfillment. Following the work of Fromm ( 2013 ) and Rand ( 1993 ), we proposed that these four domains of fulfillment cross three states of existence: a foundational level of forward-looking expectations ( being ), an intermediate level of experiences in the moment ( doing ), and an advanced level of backward-looking outcomes ( having ). Footnote 4 Crossing the four life domains with the three modes of existence results in a periodic table-style matrix that is arguably comprehensive since there are no additional fundamental domains of life or modes of existence. This matrix is presented below as Table  2 , along with the resulting distributions of concepts and assessment items (Table  3 ) analyzed as part of the literature review.

As suggested above, the columns of the model organize the motivational concepts in terms of the location of the desired change (change in feelings about the self; change in feelings about action in the material world, change in feelings about social relationships and social interactions; and change in feelings about relationships with transcendental, ethereal principles) and the rows of this table organize motivational concepts according to the types of change toward which a particular motivational force is striving (change in expectations for the future, change in real time experiences of the present, and change in retrospective evaluation of outcomes from life choices and activities). Each motivational concept in the matrix has both positive (aspiration-linked) and negative (frustration-linked) emotional forms—reflecting the push and pull of emotional energies that move people to take action in life. Footnote 5 Motivational energy is typically fueled by both positive “pull” and negative “push” forces for the same need; for example, a worker who feels disempowered strives to rid himself or herself of this feeling (negative), typically by seeking greater autonomy (positive). In this way, positive and negative motivational forces should be seen as complementary , not as zero-sum tradeoffs.

Another important postulate of this model, like that of Maslow’s need hierarchy, is that progress within any of the life domains requires the successful satisfaction of more basic needs before the next level becomes salient, e.g., before one can be concerned with living up to their full potential, they must already have achieved feelings of safety and authenticity. In our extensive review of the motivational literature, over 100 distinct motivational concepts (i.e., needs or drives) were identified; all fit within one of these twelve categories of motivation, supporting our contention that the matrix is comprehensive.

Although we have displayed the matrix as a flat table for the purposes of publication, we prefer a three-dimensional pyramidal structure to reinforce the notion that humans must start from the basic motivations within each of the four domains before ascending to the salience of higher motivations; consequently, progressively fewer humans attain the higher levels with each domain, shrinking their relative sizes toward the top as visually represented by a pyramid. Another important theoretical concept that is reinforced by a pyramid heuristic is the fact that the Self is proposed to be antipodal to the Social, and the Spiritual is proposed to be antipodal to the Material; we will return to this point later as it has implications for hypothesis generation.

Presuming that most readers are not yet familiar with this model, we will give a brief introduction to the twelve motives of this matrix, and relate certain key concepts from the employee engagement literature to each. In all, 77 of the 102 concepts identified in the literature review found homes in this matrix. The remaining 25 were primarily personality traits (i.e., ambitiousness, autotelic personality, confidence, conscientiousness, determination, exchange ideology, hardiness, initiative, locus of control, optimism, proactivity, self-efficacy, self-esteem/self-worth, trait positive affect). These were excluded on the basis that the consensus view holds that the engagement construct is a state , not a trait. Job characteristics were similarly excluded because they are not psychological states (i.e., feedback from task and others, job and task characteristics, job enrichment, job demands, physical presence, and turnover intention). Finally, meta-characteristics that encompass multiple sub-dimensions were excluded because they are merely category labels whose subcomponents have already been included (i.e., personal resources, job resources, job satisfaction, motivation, and persistent/pervasive affective-cognitive state).

Motives of the Self

Safety and Anxiety. At the most basic level, there is a human need to feel safe and secure. This means feeling safe and assured in the face of challenges. When safety motivation is operating there is a desire to gain the basic sense that one has the confidence, protection, and comfort to successfully grow as a person. The need for “peace of mind” captures the spirit of this motive. At least twelve major theories of motivation include a need for safety as a core motive (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

Fittingly, the very first academic paper that described the phenomenon of employee engagement by Kahn ( 1990 ) lists psychological safety as one of the three pillars of engagement. In their review of the literature, Saks & Gruman ( 2014 ) suggest that Kahn’s need for safety is indeed the most fundamental requirement for engagement, which they describe as “important and necessary for all types of engagement” to develop (p. 175). Additional engagement constructs that speak to this need include the need for physical health (Saks, 2006 ; Sonnentag, 2003 ) and trust (Saks, 2006 ; Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005 ).

Authenticity and Conformity. At the next level, pertaining to experiences with and of the self, comes the human need to feel able to express one’s distinctive individuality in the face of pressures to conformity. This is the desire to gain the sense that one is different in a good way, and to use this difference to successfully take action toward desired results. “Know thyself” captures the spirit of this motive. At least nine major theories of motivation include a need for authenticity as a core motive (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

The essence of Kahn’s ( 1990 ) engagement construct is that true engagement requires the “holistic investment of the entire self” (p. 97), i.e., their full, true, and complete selves, to one’s work role. That the need for authenticity is built atop fulfilled needs for psychological safety seems logical and fitting. Additional engagement constructs that speak to this need include the need for authenticity (Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Rich et al., 2010 ; Christian et al., 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; May et al., 2004 ; Kahn, 1990 ), emotional presence (Kahn, 1990 ), personal identification (Cole et al., 2012 ; Christian et al., 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Bono & Judge, 2003 ; Kahn, 1990 ; O’Reilly & Chatman, 1986 ), projection of the self into work & organization (Christian et al., 2011 ; Saks, 2006 ; Kahn, 1990 ), and role fit, i.e., the degree of match between the authentic self and one’s job and organization (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ).

Fulfilling Potential and Failure to Thrive. At the highest level of attainment in the domain of the Self we find the need for self-actualization, the need to feel as though one is progressing toward fulfilling their personal potential as a human. This is the desire to gain the sense that one has the skill and mastery to successfully become one’s “best self.” The expression, “Be all that you can be,” captures the spirit of this motive. At least eleven major theories of motivation include a striving toward one’s full potential as a core motive (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

This motive has found full expression in the recent literature on thriving at work (Spreitzer et al., 2005 ; van der Walt, 2018 ), which is defined as a “sense of progress, or forward movement, in one’s self-development” (p. 4). Several related constructs in the engagement literature speak to this need for personal growth and mastery including strivings for extra role behavior (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004 ), role expansion (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Morgeson et al., 2005 ), mastery, learning, development and personal growth (Crawford et al., 2010 ), opportunities for growth & development (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Harter et al., 2002 ), as well as desires to innovate (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ). The construct of initiative (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Frese & Fay, 2001 ), when applied within the domain of the Self, may fuel all of these strivings.

Motives of the Material Domain

Autonomy and Disempowerment. At the most basic level of the Material domain, the area of life most directly associated with work, is the need for autonomy, defined as the need to feel authorized, capable and competent in the face of challenge. Autonomy is the desire to gain the basic sense that one has the ability, resources, and authority to successfully take action toward a desired result. The expression, “You can do it,” captures the spirit of this motive. At least seven major theories of motivation include a striving for autonomy, including terms such as self-determination, empowerment, and self-efficacy (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

A variety of engagement-related constructs explicitly focus on the need for autonomy (Soane et al., 2012 ; Meyer & Gagné, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ). Other related psychological concepts include competence (Soane et al., 2012 ; Meyer & Gagné, 2008 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Spreitzer, 1995 ), control (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Spreitzer, 1995 ), empowerment (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ), personal discretion/agency (Kahn, 1990 ), and self-determination (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Meyer & Gagné, 2008 ). We would also classify personal resources in this category, such as positive anticipation of future behavior and mental and physical resilience. There is a set of antecedent conditions that can help make these strivings successful including resource availability (Shuck, 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ; Harter et al., 2002 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ) and sustainable workload (Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ), among other task characteristics.

Immersion and Boredom. At the intermediate, experiential level of the Material domain, we find the need for immersion, the striving to feel fully focused and engaged in the moment. This desire to lose one’s self in activity, in a state of total awareness, absorption, and flow, plays a particularly prominent role in definitions of engagement. The expression, “Being in the zone,” captures the essence of this motive. No less than thirteen major systems of motivation include this motive (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

Of all the motives discussed herein, immersion is the motive most densely populated by engagement constructs, representing roughly one-quarter of the 102 identified in the literature review. Chief among these is absorption (Kahn, 1990 ; Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Rothbard, 2001 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ; Hooker & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003 ), one of the three pillars of the dominant Schaufeli-Bakker UWES paradigm and a hallmark of Kahn’s ( 1990 ) concept of engagement. As pointed out by Saks & Gruman ( 2014 ), “if there is one common component across all definitions of engagement, it is the notion of being absorbed in one’s work and role” (p. 166). Unsurprisingly, then, there are many different terms used to describe this construct and these tend toward either cognitive, emotional, or behavioral descriptors.

The cognitive forms of this state include attention (Rothbard, 2001 ; Kahn, 1990 ), psychological availability (Kahn, 1990 ), cognitive presence (Kahn, 1990 ; Christian et al., 2011 ), experiential quality of doing work (Kahn, 1990 ), focused effort (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ), and job involvement (Christian et al., 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; May et al., 2004 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ). The affective forms of this state draw a variety of labels including passion (Zigarmi et al., 2009 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Wellins & Concelman, 2005 ), enjoyment (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Rothbard & Edwards, 2003 ), happiness (Schaufeli et al., 2002 ), energy or energetic state (Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Bakker & Demerouti, 2008, 2017 , 2018 ; Maslach & Leiter, 2008 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ), enthusiasm (Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Bakker & Demerouti, 2008, 2017 , 2018 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Harter et al., 2003 , 2002 ), and positive affect (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Sonnentag, 2003 ; Kahn, 1990 ). The behavioral descriptors of this state include efficacy (Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Maslach & Leiter, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ), productivity (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008; Harter et al., 2002 ), vigor (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Shirom, 2003 ; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ), and the display of discretionary effort (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Frank et al., 2004 ; Mowday et al., 1982 ). As predicted by Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory (2003), antecedent stimulus conditions that help elicit this state include an optimal level of challenge (Shuck, 2011 ; Brown & Leigh, 1996 ; Hackman & Oldham, 1980 ).

Success and Failure . At the highest level of attainment in the Material domain we find successful accomplishment, the striving to feel a sense of achievement as a result of one’s effort. This motive represents the desire to contribute to and be victorious in attaining desired results and to experience material rewards as a result. The expression, “In it to win it,” captures the spirit of this motive. At least seven major psychological theories of motivation include this motive (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

Within the engagement literature, this motive tends to be relegated to the status of evaluative outcome variable, as job performance (Saks, 2006 ; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004 ) or individual performance (Christian, et al., 2011 ; Alfes et al., 2010 ; Bakker & Xanthopoulou, 2009 ). Nevertheless, several key papers include either the striving to make important contributions (Shuck, 2011 ; Brown & Leigh, 1996 ; Hackman & Oldham, 1980 ) or the striving to have impact (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Spreitzer, 1995 ), both of which are well aligned with this need.

Motives of the Social Domain

Inclusion and Exclusion. At the foundational level of the social sphere is the need for acceptance and inclusion that permits the establishment of social bonds. Inclusion means feeling socially accepted, connected, and integrated, the desire to gain the basic sense that one belongs and can develop social attachments and friendships. The expression, “We are family,” captures this spirit. At least nine major motivational systems include this motive, which has been similarly labeled the need for affiliation, sociability, belonging, or social contact (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

Within the engagement literature, this motive figures prominently, with increased attention from the UK-based research group of Bailey (Truss), Soane, Madden, Alfes, & Fletcher, who have raised its profile substantially by naming it one of the three pillars of their Intellectual-Social-Affective (ISA) engagement concept (Bailey et al., 2015 ; Bailey et al., 2017 ; Soane et al., 2012 ). Although this is a new level of prominence for the construct, it has been a part of the engagement literature for many years, showing up as belonging (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Meyer & Allen, 1997 ; Mowday et al., 1982 ), high quality relationships (Saks, 2006 ), the ability to show warmth to others (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Shirom, 2003 ), and social relatedness (Soane et al., 2012 ; Shuck & Wollard, 2010 ; Meyer & Gagné, 2008 ; Kahn, 1990 ).

Caring and Uncaring. At the intermediate, experiential level of the Social triad comes the experience of feeling cared for by one’s employer, supervisor, or colleagues. Caring means feeling able to give and receive (appropriate) love, nurturance, and support, the desire to feel emotional nourishment, empathy, devotion, and experience mutual gratitude. The expression “Sharing is caring” aptly captures its essence. At least eight major motivational systems include this motive, which has been similarly labeled the need for nurturance, intimacy, succorance, attachment, or parental love (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

Feeling cared for is an especially important construct within the engagement literature due to its predictive power; Saks ( 2006 ) reports that perceived organizational support is far and away the top predictor of engagement with the organization and is tied for first place with job characteristics as the top predictor of job engagement. This construct goes by many names including caring, concern, and support (Saks, 2006 ; Kahn, 1992), community & social support (Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ), manager support (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Harter et al., 2002 ), perceived organizational support (Saks, 2006 ; Rhodes et al., 2001), perceived supervisor support (Saks, 2006 ; Rhodes et al., 2001), social support (Saks, 2006 ; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ), and supportive supervisors & management (Shuck, 2011 ; Brown & Leigh, 1996 ; Hackman & Oldham, 1980 ).

Recognition and Indifference. At the pinnacle of the Social triad is the need for social recognition. Recognition means feeling that one has achieved a social status of being admired, respected, and esteemed, typically as a resident expert in some skill or ability in the context of work. This motive represents the desire to gain social acknowledgement that one has been successful in a socially significant pursuit. The expression, “Hats off to you,” captures the spirit of this motive. At least eight major motivational systems include this motive, which has been similarly labeled the needs for esteem, honor, or egoistic prosocial motivation (Forbes, 2011 ; Pincus, 2022 ).

Surprisingly, the need for recognition barely registers in the engagement literature with only two constructs matching this description. Significantly, however, the few times this concept surfaces, it appears in seminal papers (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ), suggesting that recognition needs should be seriously considered as components of engagement. The first of these is the rewards & recognition construct (Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ), specifically the recognition component; the reward construct would generally be classified with the successful accomplishment motive by motivational theorists. The other construct is that of the need for pride (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Mowday et al., 1982 ), the desire for a kind of social “badge value” or caché associated with prominent, successful organizations.

Motives of the Spiritual Domain

Fairness and Injustice. At the basic level of the Spiritual triad is the need for justice and fairness, the need to feel that one’s organization acts in an honest, unbiased, impartial, even-handed and transparent manner. In practice, this means the employees strive to feel the basic sense that good is rewarded, bad is punished, and that gain goes to those most deserving of it. The spirit of this motive is captured by the expression, “If you want peace, work for justice.” We note parenthetically that the importance of this motive has recently been dramatically underscored by the Black Lives Matter movement and perceived corporate responses to COVID-19. We suggest that to the extent that needs for justice have not been incorporated into engagement constructs, it has been an oversight that should be corrected. This motive appears in many motivational systems, particularly those focusing on moral development in children (e.g., Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, Lerner’s just world hypothesis, Bloom’s roots of good and evil, etc.; Pincus 2022 ).

Here, again, is an example of a need that has received scant notice in the engagement literature, but when it is mentioned, it is in some of the most significant papers in the body of work (Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ; Colquitt et al., 2001 ). Both Saks ( 2006 ) and Maslach et al. ( 2001 ) identify the important role of perceived fairness, and procedural and distributive fairness as antecedent conditions for fostering engagement. Saks ( 2006 ) assesses the power of a host of variables in predicting both job engagement and organization engagement; of these, procedural justice is one of only two significant predictors of organizational engagement.

Ethics and Wrongdoing. At the intermediate, experiential level comes the need to feel that one and one’s organization behaves in an ethical manner, consistent with normative moral values. This is the striving to feel that one’s actions, and those of one’s organization, are in accordance with a set of moral principles, universal values, or at the very least, accepted standard business practices, applied to the business in which you are engaged. This is the desire to feel that one’s and one’s organization act in accordance with principled best practices and the highest ethical standards, something that is universally preached in corporate values statements but too often ignored in practice. The essence of this need is captured by the expression, “Do the right thing.” This motive similarly appears in motivational systems that focus on moral development including those of Kohlberg, Batson, Staub, and even Kant (Pincus, 2022 ).

Ethical motivation receives a great deal of attention in the engagement literature, in the form of the many constructs devoted to reciprocity, obligation, duty, loyalty, and the like. At the individual level, this adherence to principle includes the sense of personal dedication and duty toward the organization. Chief among these may be the concept of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) directed to other individuals or to the organization (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Lee & Allen, 2002 ), organizational commitment behavior (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Saks, 2006 ; Robinson et al., 2004 ; Rhoades et al., 2001 ), emotional and intellectual commitment to the organization (Saks, 2006 ; Baumruk, 2004 ; Richman, 2006 ; Shaw, 2005 ; O’Reilly & Chatman, 1986 ), mutual commitments (Saks, 2006 ; Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005 ), dedication (Shuck, 2011 ; Thomas, 2007 ; Schaufeli et al., 2002 ), loyalty (Saks, 2006 ; Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005 ), and values (Saks, 2006 ; Maslach et al., 2001 ). Because these constructs have nearly all been defined in terms of observable behaviors, as a group they have tended to be categorized as outcomes or consequences of engagement rather than engagement itself, which misses the point of their motivational status. When an employee experiences ethical strivings (as motivation), they may tilt toward demonstrating observable citizenship behaviors (as part of the readout of that motivation), but it is important to recognize the motivation itself as the cause of that behavior.

Higher Purpose and Materialism. At the peak of the Spiritual domain stands the noblest and rarest of the motives, the need to feel as though one is serving a higher purpose or calling through one’s effort. Higher purpose means having a more meaningful reason to live, work, and exist than satisfying material needs. This is the desire to transcend the ordinary limitations of everyday life toward a higher, even spiritual, purpose. An expression that captures its essence is, “Those who have a why to live can bear almost any how .” An impressive collection of motivational theorists explicitly include a form of higher purpose or transcendental motivation in their systems including Staub, Kohlberg, and Maslow (Pincus, 2022 ).

Similar to the ethical motivation, the need for higher purpose is very well established in the engagement literature with extensive references to the construct of the meaningfulness of work, both in one’s work and at one’s work (Kahn, 1990 ; Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; James et al., 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ; Pratt & Ashforth, 2003 ; Meyer & Allen, 1997 ; Brown & Leigh, 1996 ; Spreitzer, 1995 ). Of particular note is research focused explicitly on spiritual needs and their relationship to employee engagement (Giacalone & Jurkiewicz, 2010 ; Houghton et al., 2016 ; Milliman et al., 2018 ; Saks, 2011 ; van der Walt, 2018 ). These spiritual needs have been described as a need for meaning and purpose, awareness of life, connectedness, experience of sacredness, personal reflection and growth, health and inner peace, and compassion (van der Walt, 2018 ). Closely related constructs include organizational purpose (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ), sense of purpose (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ), transformational leadership, which is thought of as a catalyst for meaning and purpose (Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Bakker et al., 2011; Christian et al., 2011 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ), and adaptive behavior, which represents individual strivings in support of the organization’s purpose (Macey & Schneider, 2008 ).

Implications for Theory

The persistent problem of adequately defining employee engagement is well documented (Shuck et al., 2017 ; Saks & Gruman, 2014 ; Macey & Schneider, 2008 ). As perceptively noted by Macey & Schneider ( 2008 ), trying to separate antecedents and consequences from an ill-defined mediating construct is, at best, a “slippery” business (p. 10). By failing to embed the phenomena of engagement within a clear theoretical model, the field has suffered from concept proliferation, as indicated by the more than 100 identified herein. This is a failure of parsimony, but more fundamentally, it is a failure to clearly state the essential character of the phenomenon itself. Across the literature there are precious few citations of the psychological literature on motivation, which is extensive. It is telling that Kahn ( 1990 ), in the paper that first defined this construct, employs Maslow’s ( 1970 ) need hierarchy as one of its primary foundations. Despite the grounding of the original concept in motivation theory, the only consistent acknowledgements to the psychological literature involve passing references to self-concordance theory (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999 ) and self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000 ).

One of the most significant benefits to theory development of our proposition is to embed the vast array of engagement concepts within a structure that is logical and arguably comprehensive, as there are no known additional domains of human life or modes of existence (Fromm, 2013 ; Rand, 1993 ). Knowing these limits directly addresses the call to end concept proliferation (Cole et al., 2012 ), since any new construct proposed will necessarily have a “home” among similar constructs.

Another important benefit is immediately obvious from our analysis of Tables  3 and 4 as one can immediately see the degree of conceptual overlap, and distinctiveness, between different theoretical streams. As noted, fully one quarter of the concepts, and nearly two in five assessment items, identified relate to the motivational construct of immersion , suggesting that this is the most defining characteristic of employee engagement. By the same token, underrepresented concepts can also be clearly identified, e.g., safety , authenticity, recognition , justice , and included in future research.

Another key feature of our model is the requirement that each motivation must be capable of operating as either a striving toward positive aspiration (i.e., promotion) or away from negative frustration (i.e., prevention). Explicitly recognizing the polarity of motives within each cell supports further logical organization of proposed facilitative or inhibitory concepts, and, indeed, suggests that future research assess each of the twelve motives in terms of promotion needs and prevention needs.

However, we believe the greatest contribution to theory development is the establishment of a general theory of employee engagement that is composed of every possible human motivation (Pincus, 2022 ). Our model of human motivation takes the form of a pyramid formed by four sides representing four life domains: the Self, the Material, the Social, and the Spiritual. By placing these domains as opposing pairs, Self and Social, and Material and Spiritual, via a visual metaphor of distance, we are suggesting strong linkages between adjacent domains (e.g., Self – Spiritual – Social), and weak linkages for antipodal domains, for which there exists strong theoretical (Kohlberg and Power, 1981 ; Staub, 2005 ) and empirical support (Mahoney, et al., 2005 ).

A next frontier for research will be to describe the manner in which discrete motivations (both positive and negative) interact with each other to spark developmental progression both at the individual level and at the level of the organization. Our pyramidal model posits that such progress necessarily moves individuals and organizations in the direction of transcendence of categorical boundaries, with the ultimate goal of unifying all twelve motivations, i.e., what gives me security also provides justice for others, what gives me a sense of achievement also brings honor to the organization, what gives me a sense of authenticity also brings me a sense of purpose, etc.

Implications for Methods

In the words of Shuck et al. ( 2017 ), “the lack of engagement measures that are both academically grounded as well as practically useful, …complicates the ability of researchers to answer scholarly inquiry around questions of nomological validity and structural stability matched with practical usability” (p. 15). A symptom of flawed measures, the products of flawed theories, is the failure to garner empirical support for tested hypotheses, and the literature is rife with examples. Shuck ( 2011 ) cites Rich et al.’s ( 2010 ) finding that one operationalization of engagement failed to explain any variance in outcomes beyond that explained by intrinsic motivation, job involvement, and job satisfaction, suggesting that this concept and its operationalization was incomplete and “in need of theory building.” Similarly, Shuck ( 2010 ) found that Kahn’s definition of engagement failed to predict unique variance in outcomes, whereas a set of non-engagement variables were successful in explaining variance.

In the same spirit, Macey & Schneider ( 2008 ) called for a fundamental re-thinking of the approach to measurement. In their view, an adequate measurement technique is needed that can validly and reliably measure the motivational-emotional content of these constructs while minimizing rational filtering of response. In the words of Macey & Schneider ( 2008 ):

“The results from survey data are used to infer that reports of these conditions signify engagement, but the state of engagement itself is not assessed.” (p. 7). And current measures “do not directly tap engagement. Such measures require an inferential leap to engagement rather than assessing engagement itself.” (p. 8).

“Some measures…used to infer engagement are not affective in nature at all and frequently do not connote or even apply to a sense of energy…” (p. 10). “Measures of psychological states that are devoid of direct and explicit indicators of affective and energetic feeling are not measures of state engagement in whole or part.” (p. 12).

“The conclusion from these articles is to focus the measurement on the construct of interest; if engagement is the target, ensure that the measure maps the content of the construct.” (p. 26).

We couldn’t agree more, and our proposed reconceptualization of employee engagement has clear implications for advancing measurement. If employee engagement is indeed a motivational-emotional construct, then attempting to assess it using verbal and numerical assessment items is immediately problematic because such measures require rational, analytical thought on the part of the respondent. Entire research streams have evolved in the decades since Kahn ( 1990 ) specifically to work around the problems of assessing emotional and experiential constructs. These include a variety of so-called “System 1” techniques, named for Daniel Kahneman’s ( 2011 ) distinction between the brain’s fast, intuitive system (System 1) and the slower, rational system (System 2). These measurement systems are designed to bypass rational, cognitive filters, so that researchers can directly access motivational-emotional states, and include neurological imaging and electrical techniques (e.g., fMRI, EEG), physiological techniques (e.g., facial electromyography, facial coding, electro-dermal response, pupillary dilation, eye tracking, heart rate, blood pressure, respiration), and indirect measures of motivational-emotional meaning (e.g., Implicit Association Test, Affective Priming, Image-based Techniques). We urge scholars to move beyond cognitively-biased “paper and pencil” surveys when attempting to measure this motivational-emotional construct.

Implications for Practice

Much of contemporary employee engagement theory has little to offer the current day practitioner due to the lack of coherent theory and, accordingly, the weak ability of measures derived from these theories to explain variance in important outcomes. By grounding the many concepts attendant to this construct within a unified theory of human motivation, the task of understanding and communicating its essence is greatly simplified. This alone should be very helpful to practitioners who must somehow explain what their models measure and why.

Beyond its heuristic value, a unified model of human motivation provides a series of testable hypotheses, which can illuminate the specific relationships between each of the twelve motives (and their promotion and prevention faces) and external conditions that are under the employer’s control, outcomes that are important to the client, and with each other that together give meaning to interventions within a particular cultural context. Knowing which of the twelve complementary motives are most salient within a particular cultural milieu can assist the organization and workers to address work-related issues contextually, situationally, and adaptively. The cultural meaning of negative emotional needs is especially important to understand: The drive to avoid failure would have an entirely different meaning in a learning culture that not only tolerates failure, but actively encourages it, as opposed to a culture where “failure is not an option.” By aligning motivational interventions with the deep currents of cultural context, such interventions can take on meanings that are harmonious and adaptive, not incongruent, or inappropriate. Footnote 6

Finally, in the words of social psychologist Kurt Lewin, “there is nothing so practical as a good theory.” The many challenges to the defensibility of the engagement construct can easily create points of friction for practitioners who have curious clients. Adopting a structured, holistic model with face validity should hold clear advantages for all parties by providing a common language and framework to house their concepts and items.

In summary, this paper responds to repeated, urgent calls for integration of the diverse and proliferating concepts related to employee engagement. The subject of employee engagement is garnering unprecedented popularity (Shuck, 2011 ; Google Trends, 2020). Even in the best case, the current state of affairs means that theoretical disconnects slow progress in the field; in worse cases, it means that vast quantities of money and time are being directed to efforts that are poorly understood, leading to dangerous levels of waste that run the risk of poisoning the HRD field against a potentially valuable, even essential, concept.

As a final example of the utility of our model, we return to one of the many laments over the state of engagement theory and measurement. Shuck ( 2011 ) gives a series of examples of assessment items from different scales derived from multiple theoretical and measurement traditions that are seemingly impossible to reconcile within a single conceptual system:

“…Treated (as if they) were impersonal objects” ( Uncaring ).

“I can be myself at work” ( Authenticity ).

“I am prepared to fully devote myself to performing my job duties” ( Ethics ).

“I am bursting with energy” ( Immersion ).

These are widely disparate items, to be sure. However, as indicated in the parentheses, our model easily accommodates all of these perspectives, mini-theories, and concept within a single model, providing a kind of “unified field theory” of employee engagement. We contend that the secret to unlocking a meta-theory to encompass all of these perspectives, and all of the dimensions they propose, has always been hidden in plain sight within the very first descriptions of employee engagement.

Data Availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article (and its supplementary information files). Original source materials are available from the author by request.

An array of theoretical and measurement systems have been proposed by human resources consulting practitioners for the employee engagement construct (Pincus, 2020 ). Zigarmi et al. ( 2009 ) clearly differentiate between increasingly divergent practitioner and academic approaches to conceptualizing, defining, and operationalizing employee engagement. A burgeoning volume of measures and concepts has been growing rapidly from the “bottom-up” through the efforts of practitioners having the effect of widening the gap over time between academic concepts with psychometrically validated measures and unsystematic pragmatic approaches. Although the practitioner perspective is valuable, and our general conclusions and suggestions extend equally to them, for the purposes of the current paper we limit our focus to peer-reviewed academic systems.

This is quite apart from other basic problems of determining causation in social science in the absence of longitudinal and experimental research designs.

To further complicate matters, direct perception theorists might suggest that antecedents aren’t always “ordinary” stimuli, i.e., neutral objects, but are often special stimuli with inherent affordance values, i.e., stimuli that by their very nature afford certain kinds of interactions, the way a comfortable chair affords “sitability.” In this view, an antecedent like task variety could afford (induce) task and role expansion, for example.

Aristotle proposed the same three-level delineation between states of existence: potentiality (having potential), energy or potentiality-as-such (motion that makes use of that latent potential), and actuality (the finished product). The classic example of this distinction involves the building of a house. The building materials could be used to build a house or they could be used to build some other structure; this is their state of potentiality, what Aristotle called “the buildable.“ The motion of building the house brings the materials toward the goal of actualization as a house but is an intermediate step in the process; this is the state of energy or potentiality-as-such. When the house is finished, the building materials are in a state of actualization.

Since it is logically possible for an employee to be motivated by either the positive aspiration for a motive or to avoid the negative frustration of the same motive, or both, or neither, we make no prediction about the expected relationships between positive and negative manifestations, and propose instead that they tend to operate in a complementary manner.

In a learning organization, failure-avoidant workers might be encouraged to use successive approximation or test-and-learn as more appropriate, culturally-consistent goals.

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Pincus, J.D. Employee Engagement as Human Motivation: Implications for Theory, Methods, and Practice. Integr. psych. behav. 57 , 1223–1255 (2023).

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Information Technology & People

ISSN : 0959-3845

Article publication date: 30 August 2021

Issue publication date: 19 July 2023

Through the lens of Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, this study explores how remote working inhibits employee engagement. The authors offer a fresh perspective on the most salient work- and nonwork-related risk factors that make remote working particularly challenging in the context of Covid-19.


The authors use data from semi-structured interviews with 32 employees working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown. Based on the interpretivist philosophical approach, the authors offer new insights into how employees can optimize work- and nonwork-related experiences when working remotely.

The authors show that the sudden transition from in-person to online modes of working during the pandemic brought about work intensification, online presenteeism, employment insecurity and poor adaptation to new ways of working from home. These stress factors are capable of depleting vital social and personal resources, thereby impacting negatively on employee engagement levels.

Practical implications

Employers, leaders and human resource teams should be more thoughtful about the risks and challenges employees face when working from home. They must ensure employees are properly equipped with the relevant resources and support to perform their jobs more effectively.


While previous research has focused on the benefits of remote working, the current study explores how it might be detrimental for employee engagement during a pandemic. The study provides new evidence on the most salient risks and challenges faced by remote workers, and how the unique Covid-19 context has made them more pronounced.

  • Remote working
  • Employee engagement
  • Working from home
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Adisa, T.A. , Ogbonnaya, C. and Adekoya, O.D. (2023), "Remote working and employee engagement: a qualitative study of British workers during the pandemic", Information Technology & People , Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 1835-1850.

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Effective Rewards and Recognition Strategy: Enhancing Employee Engagement, Customer Retention and Company Performance

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Organizations across the world seek to retain their talent. The loss of an employee has been proven to cause exorbitant costs in the recruitment, selection and training of a replacement — costs amounting to a full year’s compensation or more. Moreover, an organization’s workforce is among its most precious resources. Skilled and competent employees — and thus their retention — are acknowledged as being imperative for business success. Rewards and recognition are important resources that can motivate employees to accomplish organizational goals and play a key role in employee retention. To guarantee not only the retention of, but also optimum performance from, its employees, an organization must offer a range of diverse means of rewarding its employees

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Employee engagement practices during COVID-19 lockdown


  • 1 Swami Devi Dyal Institute of Management Studies, Swami Devi Dyal Group of Professional Institutions Panchkula Haryana India.
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  • PMCID: PMC7536939
  • DOI: 10.1002/pa.2508

In the present business situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, employee engagement has become one of the utmost prominent primacies for human resource managers and practitioners in organizations due to lockdown. The paper is to determine the engagement of employees by various companies during coronavirus pandemic. Organizations nowadays are constantly developing innovative and effective means to engage the employees during this tough time. This paper is a conceptual paper that is based on various research papers, articles, blogs, online newspapers, and reports of World Health Organization. During this pandemic situation, organizations are evolving many engagement activities like online family engagement practices, virtual learning and development, online team building activities, webinars with industry experts, online conduct weekly alignment sessions, team meet-ups over video conference for lunch, short online game sessions, virtual challenges and competitions, online courses, appreciation sessions, communication exercises, live sessions for new-skill training, online counseling sessions, recognition and acknowledgment session, webinars dealing with anxiety and stress, providing online guidance for exercise and meditation, social interactions in a virtual office, classrooms training modules digitally, e-learning modules, and many more creative learning sessions. Work-from-home regime engagement activities are very fruitful for employees as well as for organizations. Those organizations doing these kinds of engagement activities for their employees are learning new skills and developing themselves. Employees are feeling committed to the organization and stay motivated during this tough time of COVID-19 pandemic.

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2020 Employee Engagement & Retention Report

Why up to 64% of employees may leave their jobs in 2020.

by Tiffany Durinski

Updated on January 30, 2020

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Attracting and retaining talent

Our 3rd annual Engagement & Retention Report asked employees from across North America if they plan on looking for new jobs this year. The results were jarring: up to two-thirds of employees say they may leave their jobs in 2020. Employers must take immediate action to retain and engage their workforce. They must work to build a culture where workers feel appreciated and their feedback is valued or risk a mass exodus of talent. The data tells us how.

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In this report, we will describe what the research and practitioner communities have learned about employee engagement over the last three decades.

On the research side, a review of the academic literature reveals a large volume of methodologically sound papers. What we lack is a summary of the most definitive discoveries. The practitioner community has produced a similarly large number of “white papers.” However, the majority of these lack methodological rigor and objectivity, raising concerns about the credibility of their conclusions.

Our aim in this report is to summarize all available research from both the academic and practitioner communities so that organizations can build their engagement efforts on the foundation of the best possible intelligence.

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11 Employee Engagement Statistics You Should Know For 2024

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Defining Employee Engagement

Why employee engagement is beneficial to employers, 1. two-thirds of employees are disengaged at work, 2. hybrid and remote employees are more engaged than their on-site counterparts, 3. ninety-two percent of executives agree that high engagement leads to happier customers, 4. companies with the highest rates of employee engagement are 21% more profitable, 5. fifty-eight percent of employees say complacent leadership is the top reason they feel disengaged, 6. eighty percent of employees say learning and development opportunities would help them feel more engaged on the job, 7. thirty-two percent of respondents say that a lack of employee ownership is the greatest barrier to engagement, 8. fifty percent of employees consider meetings wasted time, impacting engagement, 9. eighty-nine percent of employees working for companies with wellness programs are engaged and happy with their job, 10. only 37% of executives strongly agree that engagement is a significant organizational focus.

  • 11. Sixty-one percent of the workforce does not receive regular recognition at work 

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is critical to organizational health and sustained business success. An engaged employee is one who is connected to their workplace, committed to their job, and invested in the growth of the organization.

Defining Employee Engagement

There are three levels of e mployee engagement :    

  • Engaged employee: An engaged employee enthusiastically puts time, effort, and energy into their work, and this is often evident in their performance. They feel: 
  • Aligned with their company’s purpose  
  • Passionate toward their tasks and projects 
  • Motivated when overcoming obstacles 
  • Connected to their peers 
  • Higher morale and worth at work 
  • Disengaged employee: A disengaged employee meets basic work demands but is unlikely to go above and beyond in their work. They’re often referred to as “ quiet quitters ,” as they may not overtly express their dissatisfaction, yet they are: 
  • Unenthusiastic toward their work 
  • Indifferent to their company’s purpose and success 
  • Unattached to their organization and easily convinced to leave for another offer 
  • Actively disengaged employee: Actively disengaged employees are resentful of their current work environment, causing them to exhibit counterproductive work behaviors, including: 
  • Reduced effort and performance 
  • Negative attitudes towards work 
  • Acts of sabotage 

Why Employee Engagement Is Beneficial To Employers

Employers reap several benefits of an engaged workforce: 

  • Increased employee retention  
  • Increased employee productivity and efficiency 
  • Higher profitability 
  • Better customer service provided by employees 
  • Greater interest and recruiting ability for job candidates 

Overall, employee engagement and job satisfaction result in higher business performance. Both employees and employers benefit from promoting and practicing employee engagement, making it a top priority for any organization. 

However, most workers are not engaged in their jobs, resulting in often overlooked consequences for companies, including: 

  • Decreased productivity 
  • Lower quality of work 
  • Higher employee turnover 
  • Poor customer experience 
  • Decreased employee morale 
  • Increased absenteeism 
  • Negative financial impacts

11 Employee Engagement Statistics For 2024

To understand the importance of engagement and how to improve it, here are 10 employee engagement statistics for 2024:

Despite a slight rise in US worker engagement levels in 2023, only one-third of employees are currently engaged at work. More troubling is the 16% who are actively disengaged, potentially harming their work environment through negative attitudes or actions.

US Employee Engagement Trend

A declining number of employees feel connected to their company’s purpose. This connection inspires excellence over mere task completion. Employers can use this as an opportunity to link individual roles to the overarching organizational goals. Explaining the “why” behind tasks can increase employee motivation, driving them to deliver their best work.

US Employees Connection Between Mission/ Purpose and Their Job

Engagement rates vary based on work arrangement: 

  • 81% of hybrid employees report high engagement 
  • 78% of remote employees report high engagement 
  • 72% of in-office employees report high engagement 

This suggests that flexible work arrangements , such as hybrid or remote work, can boost employee engagement.

Engaged employees bring more energy and commitment to their roles. This directly influences the quality of service and interactions with customers, leading to increased customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.

92% of executives agree that high engagement leads to happier customers

Companies must balance external customer strategies with an internal focus on employee engagement. Creating a work environment where employees feel valued and motivated is key to a positive company reputation and success in the market.

Employee engagement correlates with business profitability. Companies with highly engaged workforces are 21% more profitable and 17% more productive than those with disengaged staff. Engaged employees outperform their peers because they tend to be more innovative, efficient, and have higher customer retention rates.

“Think about it from a business perspective. Engagement equals discretionary effort, which equals higher business outcomes for the same amount of dollars. It is ROI at its finest—and the best possible return on investment for your human capital. And that is incredibly powerful.”

– Heather Whiteman, people analytics professor at the University of California, Berkeley and former head of people strategy, analytics, digital learning, and HR operations at GE Digitalone

Case Study:

Gong, a revenue operations and intelligence company, serves as a prime example of how investing in employee experience and engagement can lead to better company performance. Eighty-seven percent of Gong employees rate the company as a great place to work, compared to the industry average of just 57%. Gong was recognized by Forrester as the Q4 2023 leader for B2B revenue in its market, receiving the highest possible scores in 19 of 25 evaluation criteria. These achievements highlight the link between employee satisfaction and business success.

Fifty-eight percent of American workers say that their company’s leadership is not proactive, and only 9% of workers believe their leadership is committed to culture initiatives. Addressing this requires:  

58% of employees say complacent leadership is the top reason they feel disengaged

  • Aligning actions with values: A company’s actions, including policies and decisions, should align with its stated values. Discrepancies between what a company says and what it does can erode trust and commitment. 
  • Acting on feedback: Implement regular opportunities for employees to provide feedback, such as through surveys and one-on-one manager meetings. More importantly, leadership must act on this feedback and demonstrate changes, showing that employee input is valued and taken seriously. 
  • Leadership involvement: Leaders should be active participants in cultural initiatives, such as company events, workshops, and team-building activities. Visible involvement shows that leadership is not just endorsing these initiatives but is personally invested in them.

80% of employees say learning and development opportunities would help them feel more engaged on the job

Access to professional development opportunities not only supports and empowers employees in their growth but also fosters a sense of fulfillment and motivation, crucial for sustained engagement. Conversely, employees facing ‘ career plateaus ’ may develop the counterproductive behaviors of active disengagement. Creating or reimbursing opportunities for skill development, such as online courses, workshops, and mentorship programs demonstrates a company’s commitment to employees’ growth.

An HBR survey reveals that while 42% of respondents view engagement as a shared responsibility among managers, HR, and employees, one-third acknowledge the need for greater individual agency in professional growth.

32% of respondents say that a lack of employee ownership is the greatest barrier to engagement

Forty-two percent of managers face challenges in conducting effective development conversations with employees. To bridge this gap and foster employee ownership, managers must:

  • Conduct regular two-way communication about employee goals and outcomes 
  • Encourage employees to initiate the goal-setting process and ask for feedback 
  • Provide ongoing support and resources to help employees achieve their goals 

50% of employees consider meetings wasted time, impacting engagement

Meetings are meant to facilitate collaboration and progress, but they’re perceived as a waste of time by half of employees . This can significantly lower engagement and productivity, particularly if meetings are:  

  • Too frequent or long: More than half of employees believe they need fewer or shorter meetings to get their work done. On average, they spend four hours weekly preparing for status updates, and 49% feel they’d be more productive with fewer company-wide gatherings. 
  • Inefficient: Having too many people involved in decision-making can reduce efficiency by nearly one-third. Asking participants if they agree with something in advance and prioritizing actionable steps in meeting time can improve outcomes. 
  • Unproductive: An estimated 50% of meeting time is spent on irrelevant topics. To improve meeting productivity, establish a clear agenda, objectives, and time frame, and invite only those who are directly involved or impacted by the meeting’s topic.

The majority of US employees who work for a company with a wellness program report being happy with their job and would recommend it to a friend. Only 17% of employees would recommend a company that is not committed to improving workforce well-being. 

89% of employees working for companies with wellness programs are engaged and happy with their job

Employers that want to attract top talent should implement a holistic wellness program that supports all dimensions of well-being. Job seekers today are looking for companies that prioritize various aspects of employee health and offer meaningful benefits. A comprehensive wellness program can help employers stand out from the competition and boost engagement among current employees.

Despite its recognized benefits on performance, employee satisfaction, and customer experience, engagement often remains under-emphasized in business strategy and planning. 

employee engagement research papers 2020

Employee engagement is not an isolated HR function but a fundamental business strategy. By fostering a supportive and engaging work environment, organizations can drive significant and measurable outcomes.

11. Sixty-one percent of the workforce does not receive regular recognition at work  

Research shows that when employees are frequently recognized for their efforts, they’re more likely to stay with the company and perform their best because they feel motivated and valued. However, 61% of employees say they do not receive regular recognition at work, and 23% feel underappreciated. 

Recognition goes beyond notable achievements; it can be as simple as thanking an employee for having a positive attitude, acknowledging their work ethic, or identifying ways they have improved.  

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Employer Guide: Addressing Employee Career Plateaus

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Study: 57% Of Employers Monitoring Attendance

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“Per My Last Email”: 83% Of Employees Receive Passive-Aggressive Messages 

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employee engagement research papers 2020

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5 strategies to boost employee engagement in the workplace.

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Higher engagement drives happiness and performance.

Employee Engagement Defined

The importance of employee engagement, how can leaders improve employee engagement, make employee engagement an ongoing effort.

With all the changes in work and life—including hybrid and remote work—employee engagement is a significant concern. And the bad news is that is has hit an historically low level. Apparently, the shifts in the landscape of work aren’t working for people—and this had negative implications for companies as well.

Workforce engagement really matters, because it is linked with effort, innovation, productivity and retention—and in a competitive landscape with a shortage of talent, it can make or break a company, its culture , its performance and its ability to succeed.

But there are ways to boost engagement and create the conditions for people to bring their best, have a positive work experience and contribute to organizational results.

But what is employee engagement , really? Fundamentally, it is commitment, dedication and the energy people put into their work. It is related to the emotional connection people feel—and the effort they invest as a result.

Engagement is evident through the outcomes it produces—like productivity, innovation and retention—but engagement is also evident through the behaviors people demonstrate—individually, as teams and within the organization overall.

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On an individual level, employee engagement looks like people who follow through and follow-up on their work, and who are responsive to colleagues. People who are engaged are responsive, interested and share ideas. You can see engagement when people advocate for ideas, listen to colleagues and deliver results. When people are engaged, they recognize colleagues and participate in celebrating accomplishments.

At a team level, engagement is also apparent in many ways. Often, teams suggest more ideas and innovations. Engaged teams tend to get more done and have more fun doing it. When teams are engaged, they also tend to have more lively dialogues and healthy disagreements, as they incorporate multiple points of view. And engaged teams tend to organize their work so that people’s skills and responsibilities are aligned. They also give each other feedback, support each other and celebrate wins together.

Across the organization, engagement is apparent when people are aligned and seem to speak the same language. People in an engaged organization tend to volunteer for projects and suggest new or better ways of doing things. They handle conflict in a constructive way—listening, working through issues and coming to positive resolution.

Employees also show up—both literally and figuratively—enjoying their work and their time with colleagues. And in a high-engagement culture, people are also likely to grow through multiple roles, developing with the company over time.

Employee engagement delivers tremendous results, and the benefits of an engaged workforce are significant. With greater levels of workforce engagement, organizations see higher productivity, quality of work, profitability and employee retention. Employee engagement is also correlated with better customer service as well as reduced safety incidents. All of this is according to Gallup data .

But how does it work? And how does employee engagement improve efficiency or productivity? Essentially, when people are engaged, they are more committed to doing great work. They invest effort and energy and get things done. This results in greater productivity. In addition, when people are engaged, they tend to dedicate themselves to tasks and seek better ways to do things—resulting in greater efficiency.

Likewise, employee engagement improves work culture. Culture is collective behavior and “the way things get done around here”—and engagement can affect the whole.

  • When people are more engaged and perform better, they tend to affect others, according to research published in the Journal of Labor Economics . Essentially, engagement by one or a few, affects the broader culture in terms of performance.
  • In addition, there is a relationship between engagement, productivity and satisfaction, based on research published in the Association for Psychological Science . When people are more engaged, they tend to be more productive and satisfied. And when they are more productive, they tend to be more satisfied and engaged—and so on. Each of these influences the others—and the culture as a whole.

The bottom line is that engagement puts all kinds of positive elements in motion—by driving the motivation for collective behavior which in turn leads to impressive outcomes for people and the organization.

Engagement is evident individually and for teams.

So what can leaders do to increase employee engagement in the office? And what can leaders do to increase engagement among remote workers?

These are key actions leaders can take to positively affect engagement at individual, team and organizational levels—no matter where people are working.

1. Increase Engagement With Purpose And Clear Expectations

Whether people are working in the office or away from it, leaders can positively affect employee engagement by inspiring people with the bigger picture and setting clear expectations.

When people have a greater sense of purpose, they believe their work has more meaning, according to studies at Northwestern University —and feeling that work matters is an ingredient for engagement.

Similarly when leaders share purpose, vision, commitment and strong morals, research at the University of Sussex found people were happier and more productive—which also positively affects engagement.

Let people know about the big picture the organization is seeking to accomplish and be clear about how their work makes a contribution to it—and how their personal efforts make an impact as well. Set clear expectations for performance and outcomes—so people know what to strive for and how to contribute most effectively.

2. Increase Engagement With Meaningful Work And Growth

Engagement is significantly driven by work that is a match to people’s skills, talents and capabilities—today and tomorrow. You can positively affect engagement when you align what people are doing with what they prefer to do. And learn what they’d like to learn in the future.

Find out what people love and what motivates them—and give them tasks and responsibilities in this vein. Happiness is significantly correlated with performance, so when people can do great work, it affects esteem, joy and engagement.

In addition, ask people what they’d like to learn and in what directions they would like to grow—and provide learning opportunities that support the development they seek. When people have greater mobility within the organization, they are more likely to stay with the organization and engage over time.

No job will be idyllic, requiring only what people love to do, but align people and their responsibilities as much as possible—and give them opportunities to grow. These will pay off in terms of engagement.

3. Increase Engagement With Choice And Control

Another way to inspire engagement is to give people choice and control—as much as possible. When people have higher levels of flexibility, autonomy and control in their decision making, they experienced greater health and satisfaction—regardless of how much stress they faced in their jobs, according to two different studies by Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

People want to be trusted and treated like adults, and when they are, they tend to be more engaged.

If people are working hybrid or remote, provide them with clear guardrails about when they must be in the office and when they can choose to work elsewhere. Of course, choices in where and when they work may not be possible for some jobs, but as much as possible, give people flexibility within appropriate guidelines.

And no matter where people are working, provide as much autonomy as possible in how they organize their work and get it done. Micromanaging works against engagement. Instead, set clear goals, outcomes and deadlines and provide plenty of latitude for people to accomplish results in the way that works best for them.

Engaged teams tend to have more fun and get more done.

4. Increase Engagement With Presence And Accessibility

Another surefire way to increase engagement is to be present and accessible as a leader. This is important when people are working in the office, but also when they are working hybrid and remote.

Be accessible and responsive when people reach out, following up efficiently and answering questions thoroughly. In addition, be present with people. Pay attention to how they’re doing and check in regularly—asking them how they are. When you’re meeting with people—either virtually or in person—set aside devices or distractions. Tune in, listen, empathize and support them.

When people feel you respect them and value their work, they are more likely to be engaged. Reciprocity is a natural part of the human experience—and we tend to give more when we get more. Likewise, when you provide authentic attention, focus and recognition, people will respond with effort, energy and performance.

5. Increase Engagement with a Strong Culture

People value strong cultures in which values and norms are clear. They prefer “legibility”—meaning people and organizations they are easy to read. Based on this understanding, people know how they can engage and contribute in order to make an impact.

The most effective cultures are characterized by clear mission, vision and direction as well as involvement and participation—and when people are engaged, they can inspire each other and lean in to participate.

In addition, great cultures have consistency and clear processes balanced with the capacity to adapt and learn—and these too are positively affected by employee engagement as people seek to improve things and grow based on their commitment and dedication.

Talk about your culture, including what you value and how you want to behave together. Obtain feedback from people about their experience and how you can continuously improve. People know things won’t be perfect, and they will appreciate your effort to get better all the time.

Of course, none of these are one-time strategies to check off the list. Engagement is something that requires intentional effort and ongoing investment of time and energy. It pays off significantly, but is never complete.

You must reinforce the purpose continuously and keep performance expectations and goals up to date. You need to be continually attentive to people and how they’re working and what they’d like to learn next. You’ll want to shift practices as work continues to evolve. You must develop your own leadership skills—getting better all the time so you can do your best for team members. And you must monitor and assess culture continuously.

Leaders have a huge impact on mental health and experience. And while this creates pressure, it is also a terrific opportunity to make a difference for people and the organization.

Bottom Line

Give people a sense of purpose and meaningful work—and provide as much choice and control as you can. Be present and accessible for teammates. And continually sustain your culture.

All of these will drive not only engagement but performance—at individual, team and organizational levels—and they will positively affect happiness and fulfillment for people.

Tracy Brower, PhD

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    employee engagement research papers 2020

  3. Research Paper: Impact of Coaching on Employee Engagement

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    employee engagement research papers 2020

  5. Employee Engagement

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  6. Top 15 Employee Engagement Strategies for 2020

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  1. The impact of engaging leadership on employee engagement and team

    Most research on the effect of leadership behavior on employees' well-being and organizational outcomes is based on leadership frameworks that are not rooted in sound psychological theories of motivation and are limited to either an individual or organizational levels of analysis. The current paper investigates whether individual and team resources explain the impact of engaging leadership ...

  2. (PDF) Employee Engagement: A Literature Review

    Wellins and Concelman (2005) stated that. engagement is a mixture of commitment, loyalty, productivity, and ownership. Saks (2006) defined employee engagement as a ―di f ferent and unique ...

  3. Employee Engagement as An Effort to Improve Work Performance

    Employee engagement is a physical and psychological condition related to work cognitively, emotionally, and behavior to achieve the goals of the organization. The purpose of writing this. review ...

  4. (PDF) Employee Engagement And Organizational Performance: A Human

    Employee engagement has emerged as a critical factor in determining organizational success and performance. in contemporary workplaces. This research paper aims to explore the intricate rela ...

  5. How Companies Can Improve Employee Engagement Right Now

    This article offers a research-based checklist to help managers boost employee engagement amid the pandemic. It covers topics such as passion, stress, rewards, and time off.


    Employee involvement is an important factor in organizational success, which is able to drive productivity, innovation, and employee welfare. This literature review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of employee engagement, exploring the conceptualization, causes, outcomes, and measurement of employee engagement. The conceptualization of employee engagement involves the emotional ...

  7. An integrative literature review of employee engagement and innovative

    Volume 30, Issue 2, June 2020, 100704. An integrative literature review of employee engagement and innovative behavior: Revisiting the JD-R model ... and Sakai (2017) went further to maintain that this taken-for-granted dichotomy of job performance may have misled employee engagement research. In ... Cross-check and additional search for papers ...

  8. Employee engagement practices during COVID‐19 lockdown

    Further research shows that employee engagement has an effect on a company's bottom line and is sturdily linked to business performance ... Employee engagement: A review paper on factors affecting employee engagement. ... (2020, April 08). Employee engagement‐how remote learning can help organizations keep employees engaged during lockdown.

  9. Employee Engagement Management in the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic

    The COVID-19 outbreak resulted in protracted lockdowns, causing businesses to reconsider keeping their operations running smoothly without interruption. Employee engagement has played a critical role in achieving this. This research aimed to see what strategies business organizations use to keep their employees significantly engaged during the pandemic. A systematic review of empirical studies ...

  10. The evolution of employee engagement: Towards a social and contextual

    Research demonstrates that high Employee Engagement (EE) sustains job satisfaction and performance among staff. This literature review analyses the evolution of EE, highlighting the theoretical frameworks used to explain the concept, the measurement scales adopted by researchers and the principal antecedents and outcomes relating to EE that have been progressively considered along the way.

  11. Technology Impacts on Employee Engagement During Covid-19

    This concept paper reviews the impact of communication and collaboration technologies (CCT) on employee engagement during the Covid-19 pandemic. The concept paper and arguments are based on academic research and will require future research to confirm the conceptual model and propositions. The Covid-19 pandemic is changing human interactions in ...

  12. Employee Engagement as Human Motivation: Implications for Theory

    The central theoretical construct in human resource management today is employee engagement. Despite its centrality, clear theoretical and operational definitions are few and far between, with most treatments failing to separate causes from effects, psychological variables from organizational variables, and internal from external mechanisms. This paper argues for a more sophisticated approach ...

  13. Employee engagement practices during COVID-19 lockdown

    In the present business situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, employee engagement has become one of the utmost prominent primacies for human resource managers and practitioners in organizations due to lockdown. The paper is to determine the engagement of employees by various companies during coronavirus pandemic.

  14. Remote working and employee engagement: a qualitative study of British

    While previous research has focused on the benefits of remote working, the current study explores how it might be detrimental for employee engagement during a pandemic. The study provides new evidence on the most salient risks and challenges faced by remote workers, and how the unique Covid-19 context has made them more pronounced.

  15. Effective Rewards and Recognition Strategy: Enhancing Employee ...

    Effective Rewards and Recognition Strategy: Enhancing Employee Engagement, Customer Retention and Company Performance The Journal of Total Rewards, Vol. 29, No. 2, January 2020, pp. 39-48 14 Pages Posted: 29 Sep 2020

  16. The Definitive Series: Employee Engagement

    The Definitive Series: Employee Engagement. 15 min. This report summarizes all available research from both the academic and practitioner communities so that organizations can build their engagement efforts on the best possible intelligence. Read the full report.

  17. Employee engagement practices during COVID-19 lockdown

    Abstract. In the present business situation during the COVID-19 pandemic, employee engagement has become one of the utmost prominent primacies for human resource managers and practitioners in organizations due to lockdown. The paper is to determine the engagement of employees by various companies during coronavirus pandemic.

  18. Social recognition and employee engagement: The effect of social media

    The fast-moving technology and internet-based e-economy demand an equally fast-moving skill set from their workforce. Like technology itself, the skills that current organizations possess are subject to rapid obsolescence unless the skills are updated to reflect the current state of technology. 1 Social media technology skills are increasingly becoming important as organizations attempt to ...

  19. Employee engagement and performance: a systematic literature review

    engagement, its meaning for employees, and implications for employ ers. The article is a systematic. review of the body of literature, presenting the resul ts of research on the association ...

  20. 2020 Employee Engagement & Retention Report

    Attracting and retaining talent. Our 3rd annual Engagement & Retention Report asked employees from across North America if they plan on looking for new jobs this year. The results were jarring: up to two-thirds of employees say they may leave their jobs in 2020. Employers must take immediate action to retain and engage their workforce.

  21. Global Indicator: Employee Engagement

    Employee engagement is the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in both their work and workplace. ... Gallup uses a proprietary formula founded on extensive research about how the engagement ...

  22. The Definitive Series: Employee Engagement

    The Definitive Series: Employee Engagement. In this report, we will describe what the research and practitioner communities have learned about employee engagement over the last three decades. On the research side, a review of the academic literature reveals a large volume of methodologically sound papers. What we lack is a summary of the most ...


    Various studies supported the very high level of employee engagement. The result is the same as the study of Budriene & Diskiene (2020) which signifies that the high levels of employee engagement ...

  24. 11 Employee Engagement Statistics You Should Know For 2024

    4. Companies with the highest rates of employee engagement are 21% more profitable. Employee engagement correlates with business profitability. Companies with highly engaged workforces are 21% more profitable and 17% more productive than those with disengaged staff. Engaged employees outperform their peers because they tend to be more ...

  25. 5 Strategies To Boost Employee Engagement In The Workplace

    Workforce engagement really matters, because it is linked with effort, innovation, productivity and retention—and in a competitive landscape with a shortage of talent, it can make or break a ...


    Employee Engagement is defined as an employee's involvement with assurance to, and. satisfaction with work. Employee engagement could be a part of employee retention. (Locke, 1976) defines Job ...