[We’re pleased to welcome authors Brad Shuck of the University of Louisville and Kobena Osam, Doctoral Student at the University of Louisville, Drea Zigama of the University of San Diego, and Kim Nimon of the University of Texas at Tyler. They recently published an article in the Human Resource and Development Review entitled “Definitional and Conceptual Muddling: Identifying the Positionality of Employee Engagement and Defining the Construct,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Shuck and Osam reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]
Engagement is a trending topic and as with any hot button issue, there is a lot of information that gets tossed around. Unfortunately, some of this information is often misused and/or misapplied in research. We were concerned about this, and wanted to help create a resource that researchers interested in engagement (whether, work, job, employee, etc.) could rely on for solid, evidence-based information.
Were there any specific external events—political, social, or economic—that influenced your decision to pursue this research?
There were no specific external events, political or otherwise for our work; however, within the phenomenon of engagement, and in our anecdotal experiences, we see and hear from a lot of people who want to do meaningful work, be engaged, believe that their voice matters, and contribute to a workplace that is optimal. We suspect that there are a lot of people who thirst to be engaged — whether that be as an employee, with their family, or in some kind of a community. Maybe, in some small way, this work can be a catalyst for that and impact people beyond the words, tables, and figures in our work. Nothing could be a higher compliment for us.
What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research? Were there any surprising findings?
It took tremendous effort to go through the hundreds and hundreds of articles to examine how engagement was being defined and used. However, what was most challenging for us was trying to identify, understand, and explain the patterns of misuse we found within the engagement literature. We did our very best to provide tools and resources that can be used within the context of our article, as well as standalone. So no matter what level a scholar might be, this article can provide a boost to their work, as well as serve as an important reflection on the state of the field. We are excited about this dual purpose.
In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?
Our study is unique in the sense that it draws out the most commonly used engagement terminologies and provides clear conceptual distinctions between them. We also draw a pretty clear line in the sand regarding the definition of employee engagement, and we are not only clear about this line, but also about the formation of the psychological state of employee engagement. We believe our study has the potential to serve as a goldmine of engagement related information that future researchers can draw from. We hope that we have offered a helpful, accurate, source of information on employee engagement.
We also note throughout the article that not everyone will agree with us and we do not expect that. Debate is a form of academic curiosity, and civilized discourse and conversation can only sharpen what we know. Our point was to offer our perspective and invite others into the conversation.
What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?
We would encourage scholars and students to be intentional and mindful when choosing an engagement theory to apply to their research. It is very easy to fall into the trap of misusing engagement terms. Be precise and intentional —