Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Work Engagement: A Rethink

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Work Engagement: A Rethink

Article excerpt

Work engagement has been recognized as a much desired and irreplaceable organizational asset in the prevailing globalized business environment. Yet building an engaged work force continues to be a challenge for organizations, thanks to the ambiguous conceptualization and limited understanding characterizing the construct. This study examines the extant literature on work engagement, enumerates the specific limitations that remains embedded in the same, and strives to provide an independent existence to the construct by reconceptualising it through qualitative research methodology. Work engagement is defined as application of self in the role context and comprises passionate task performance (PTP) and organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB).

Introduction

Popularized and propagated by the Gallup Research Group, the construct of Work Engagement has acquired considerable stature in the eyes of practitioners and academicians, promising significant returns to organizations on its application. In fact, research has demonstrated the statistical relationship it shares with a wide variety of organizational constructs such as productivity, profitability, employee retention, safety, and customer satisfaction (Buckingham & Coffman 1999, Coffman & Gonzalez-Molina 2002). Welbourne (2007) characterizes Work Engagement as one of the hottest topics in management. The observation of Joo and McLean (2006), who label engaged employees as a strategic asset, lends further credence to the importance of the construct.

The exhilaration around Work Engagement should not be surprising since engaged employees are believed to be fully psychologically present (Kahn 1990), thus ever willing to go that extra mile to achieve success (Schaufeli et al. 2002), thereby making their impact on the business outcomes phenomenal. Moreover plenty of evidences seem to accumulate that support engagement-related benefits to the organization, e.g., a meta analysis of 7939 business units in 36 companies by Harter, Schmidt and Hayes (2002) identified significant relationships between Work Engagement and improvement in customer satisfaction, productivity, profits, turnover and safety records. Similarly Saks (2006) too ascertained that Work Engagement is a significant predictor of job satisfaction and organizational commitment, while Gonring (2008) argued on the pivotal role played by engaged employees in ensuring customer loyalty. The importance of the topic gets further accentuated when we take into consideration reports that indicate the ever deepening disengagement among employees today (Bates 2004, Richman 2006). It has even been reported that the majority of workers today, roughly half of all Americans in the workforce, are not fully engaged or they are disengaged leading to what has been referred to as an "engagement gap" that is costing US businesses $300 billion a year in lost productivity (Bates 2004, Kowalski 2003). These disengaged employees, devoid of passion for their work, are not just unhappy but also act out their unhappiness everyday thus undermining the accomplishment of their engaged counterparts.

However, despite the growing organizational recognition and appreciation for engaged workforce, organizations are incapable of achieving the same thus falling short of enjoying the associated benefits. According to Frank, Finnegan and Taylor (2004), engaging employees continues to remain "one of the greatest challenges facing organizations in this decade and beyond", e.g. Bhatnagar (2007) asserts that the lack of awareness amongst Indian software firms on Work Engagement being the key to the retention of talent, results in them experiencing escalating attrition rates despite paying substantially above Indian standards. This, we contend, can be accounted for on the acute lacunae of academic research and understanding that surrounds the construct of Work Engagement. Many authors affirm (e.g. Macey & Schneider 2008) that the existing literature on Work Engagement rests more on a crest of faith than on rigorous academic investigation thus motivating us to look at the construct afresh in order to advance research, understanding and subsequent application of the same. …

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