Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Employee Engagement: Conceptual Issues

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Employee Engagement: Conceptual Issues

Article excerpt


The authors of this article explore the construct of employee engagement, which has received considerable press recently in management literature and practice. Our research explores questions concerning how the construct employee engagement is defined and how it compares and contrasts with other existing, well-validated constructs. We discuss positives and negatives of employee engagement research and the application of the construct to organizational outcomes. Many organizations now measure their employees' level of engagement and to attempt to increase those levels of engagement because they believe that doing so will improve productivity, profitability, turnover and safety. We encourage users of the construct to continue research on employee engagement in order for both academics and practitioners to better understand what they are measuring and predicting.


Employee engagement has been written about widely in the management literature and the popular press. The term has shown up in Workforce Magazine (2005), Harvard Business Review (2005) and the Washington Post (2005), not to mention the websites of many Human Resources consulting firms such as DDI (2005) and Towers Perrin (2003). Employee engagement, a term coined by the Gallup Research group, seems to be attractive for at least two reasons. Employee engagement has been shown to have a statistical relationship with productivity, profitability, employee retention, safety, and customer satisfaction (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999; Coffman & Gonzalez-Molina, 2002). Similar relationships have not been shown for most traditional organizational constructs such as job satisfaction (Fisher & Locke, 1992). In addition, the items used in employee engagement surveys measure aspects of the workplace that are under the control of the local manager.

The term employee engagement, in its present usage, was coined by the Gallup Organization, as a result of 25 years of interviewing and surveying employees and managers. Their intent was to create a measure of workplaces that could be used for comparisons. Their research has been published in books, practitioner magazines, academic journals and on websites. In First, Break all the Rules, the original book coming out of the Gallup research, Buckingham & Coffman (1999) report that Gallup spent years refining a set of employee opinion questions that are related to organizational outcomes. The statistically derived items, called the Gallup Workplace Audit (GWA), that measure employee engagement are related to productivity, profitability, employee retention and customer service at the business unit level (hospital, hotel, factory, etc.). They report that employees who score high on the questions are "emotionally engaged" in the work and the organization. (See Appendix A for the questions.)

Coffman & Gonzalez-Molina (2002) in Follow This Path, the second book coming out of the Gallup research, say that engagement is not only about how people think but also about how they feel. They say that the engaged employees collectively are an "economic force that fuels an organization's profit growth" (p. 26). They group employees into three categories, the actively engaged, the non-engaged, and the actively disengaged employees. Most of the book is devoted to "how-to" chapters for managers.

In both books reporting the Gallup Organization research, the authors spend considerable time and page space explaining the meta-analytic techniques used to find the relationships between the items in their questionnaire and the business unit level outcomes. They spent considerably less time defining and validating the construct of employee engagement. Because of this lack of construct definition, subsequent users interpret the construct in different ways.

The Nature of Psychological Constructs

Schmitt & Klimoski (1991) define a construct as "a concept that has been deliberately created or adopted for a scientific purpose" (p. …

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