Employee engagement predictors in the Indian segment of a global media organization.

AuthorSharma, Baldev R.


In the world of business management, the term "employee engagement" is extremely popular. The reason behind its popularity is the widely held belief that an engaged employee is a more satisfied, committed and loyal worker. Such a worker, it is further believed, advocates the cause of the organization by (a) speaking well about it, (b) staying with the organization, and (c) striving to work hard beyond the call of duty. Employee engagement, therefore, is seen by the practitioners as bringing clear business advantage and real competitive advantage. As Robinson, Perryman & Hayday (2004) have suggested, engagement is big in the HR consultancy market, yet there is a dearth of academic research in this area. In the absence of systematic and sustained research on the subject, there is no consensus over either the meaning or the measurement of the construct. This paper attempts to highlight the diversity of meanings and, consequently, the measurements of the engagement construct. Based on the insights derived from various approaches, a new questionnaire to measure employee engagement was developed and used to carry out the study on which this paper is based.

What is Employee Engagement?

In Table 1 are listed in chronological order a number of definitions and meanings of the employee engagement construct. The authors of these definitions are academic scholars, researchers from the HR consultancy firms, and practitioners of management. Taken together, these definitions/descriptions indicate a wide variety of meanings of the employee engagement construct. For some, it means a positive emotional and/or cognitive attitude towards one's work role, while for others it refers to employee behavior in terms of better performance at work. For still others, an engaged employee is the one who has not only a positive attitude towards his work but also performs better than a non-engaged employee.

Yet another source of diversity of meanings is because of the apparent lack of agreement over the point on which the construct is focused. For some, the focal point is the work role, for others it is the organization, while for still others it is both the work role and the organization. Given the multiplicity of its meanings, it is clear that employee engagement has yet to emerge as a meaningful scientific construct such as job involvement, organizational commitment and organizational citizenship behavior with which it has considerable overlap. It is apparently because of these reasons that academic scholars have by and large shied away from undertaking research using employee engagement as a measure of employee attitude and/or behavior.

Despite the limitations mentioned above, well known scholars such as Kahn (1990), Schaufeli et al. (2002), Robinson, Perryman & Hayday (2004), May, Gilson & Harter (2004) and Saks (2006), to mention just a few of them, have developed questionnaires and carried out important studies on this subject. Inspired by the contributions of these scholars, the first author of this article has launched a program of research on employee engagement in India. The exploratory study on which this paper is based is part of a series of such studies, which are aimed at ascertaining the level of employee engagement in different types of organizations and also to identify the predictors thereof. Following Colbert et al. (2004), we consider employee engagement as a high internal motivational state which is reflected in positive feelings and attitudes of an employee towards his job and the organization (Saks, 2006; Wellins & Councelman, 2007).

Theoretical Underpinnings

May, Gilson & Harter (2004) are possibly the only scholars who have tried to empirically test the model proposed by Kahn (1990). This is how they have explained the observed relationships which are supportive of Kahn's model:

Maslach et al. (2001), who consider engagement to be the positive antithesis of burnout, have proposed the following six areas of work-life the presence of which leads to employee engagement, while their absence leads to burnout: (a) sustainable workload; (b) a feeling of choice and control; (c) appropriate reward and recognition; (d) a supportive work community; (e) fairness and justice; and (f) meaningful and valued work.

Saks (2006) has argued that a stronger theoretical rationale can be found in the social exchange theory (SET) for explaining employee engagement. According to this theory, when individuals receive economic and socio-emotional resources from their organization, they feel obliged to respond in kind and repay the organization (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). According to Saks (2006), the amount of cognitive, emotional, and physical resources that an individual is prepared to devote to the performance of one's work roles is contingent on the economic and socio-emotional resources received from the organization.

The underlying principle of the social exchange theory was acknowledged by Kahn (1990) when he concluded that people vary in their engagement as a function of their perception of the benefits they receive from a role. These benefits may be in the form of meaningful work and/or external recognition and reward. Maslach et al. (2001) also agree that appropriate recognition and reward are important for engagement. The same holds true for a variety of other HR policies and practices that have emerged as the critical predictors of employee engagement.

Employee Engagement Predictors

According to Erickson (2005), the antecedents of employee engagement are located in the conditions under which people work. On the other hand, Robinson (2006) has argued that individual differences play a vital role in determining an employee's level of engagement. As Bowditch & Buono (2001) suggested, the personality of an individual acts as a kind of perceptual filter or frame of reference which influences our view of the world. Since all data obtained through engagement and climate surveys are based on self-reported perceptions of employees, personality differences are likely to act as perceptual filters which may influence their responses.

Each of the two sets of explanations mentioned above is indeed true, but only partly so...

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