A Review of the Empirical Literature on Meaningful Work

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Catherine Bailey of King’s College London, Ruth Yeoman of the University of Oxford, Adrian Madden of the University of Greenwich, Marc Thompson of the University of Oxford, and Gary Kerridge of the University of Warwick. They recently published an article in the Human Resource and Development Review entitled “A Review of the Empirical Literature on Meaningful Work: Progress and Research Agenda,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below they reflect on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

hrda_16_4.coverWhat motivated you to pursue this research?

In recent years we have witnessed a growing interest in meaningfulness. As we started to research in the area of meaningful work, we became aware that the literature is quite disparate, with studies published in a wide range of different fields such as sociology, psychology, political theory, ethics, philosophy and theology, but no efforts to bring this all together. In particular, we noticed that there have been a lot of conceptual or theoretical contributions but relatively few empirical studies, so it was difficult to distinguish between opinion and evidence.

We saw a need for a study that reviewed all of the high-quality empirical studies relating to meaningful work and that created a structure around it to enable researchers and practitioners to gain a sense of the extent and quality of the evidence base alongside any gaps in knowledge.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting your research?

A challenge with any evidence review is ensuring that you cast a wide enough net to capture all the relevant studies. This necessitates developing a broad research strategy covering a huge range of literature. The next problem is then sifting through all the many thousands of publications to distil these down until you only include studies that meet a stringent quality threshold.

Were there any surprising findings?

We were surprised that there weren’t more high-quality empirical studies, given the level of interest in the topic, but this creates an opportunity for researchers as many unanswered questions remain.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

Ours is the first comprehensive systematic review of the empirical literature on meaningful work that evaluates the evidence relating to the theories, definitions, antecedents and outcomes of meaningfulness. As such, we hope that it will become a useful point of reference for researchers in the field and help them identify fruitful areas for their own study.

What advice would you give to new scholars and incoming researchers in this particular field of study?

Meaningful work is a highly topical area at the moment with many new publications coming out all the time in a wide range of journals. For example, there is a special issue on the topic that we have edited that is shortly due to be published in the Journal of Management Studies, and we have also edited an Oxford Handbook of Meaningful Work due to be published in 2019. I would urge new scholars in the field to make sure they keep up to date with the new literature and connect with scholars who have similar interests, for example in the International Symposium series on meaningful work that we run which holds biannual events; previous meetings have taken place in Oxford, Auckland and Amsterdam, and the next one will take place in Chicago in 2020.

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Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations

[We’re pleased to welcome author Dr. Richard Egan of the University of Canberra, Mark Turner and Deborah Blackman of the University of New South Wales. They recently published an article in the Human Resource Development Review, entitled “Leadership and Employee Work Passion: Propositions for Future Empirical Investigations,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Dr. Egan reflects on the inspiration for conducting this research:]

HRDR_72ppiRGB_powerpointIn what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

By measuring employee perceptions of their interpersonal experience with organizational leaders as well as employee affect and levels of intent, this study contributes to bridging the gap between the long-standing research base relating to organizational leadership and the emergent theory of employee work passion. Indeed, scholars such as Albrecht (2010) and Meyer, Gagné, and Parfyonova (2010) have called for research to integrate theories and evidence from adjacent fields. Such integration will allow Human Resource Development scholars and organizational practitioners to develop a deeper understanding of related psychological constructs that contribute to the development of work passion.

In terms of practical implications, by exploring theoretical links between leadership behavior, employee affect and work intentions, we develop and provide a relevant theoretical framework for future discussion, analysis and refinement. With a clearer understanding of how leadership impacts on employee affect and employee work intentions, HRD practitioners can measure the antecedents to and consequences of work passion accurately. Subsequently, appropriate behavioral interventions, such as training and coaching programs that aim to increase leader awareness and skills needed to build workplace environments where employees can choose to be passionate about their work, can be developed.

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How Has HR Become More Strategic and Integral to Businesses?

12669067945_e017b825c8_zIn today’s competitive and complex business environment, the role of human resources (HR) is constantly changing. With its increasing alignment to core business and integration to the bottom line, HR is a reflection of the constant changing nature of its functions. Being responsive to globalization, demographic and technological changes, as well as the turbulent, competitive and complex environment of business, HR itself has been changing dramatically. From the conventional role of “administrative expert,” HR has evolved to become more tactical and integral to business strategies.

A recent major change in the function of HR the strengthening partnership with line managers. By providing line managers better understanding of their responsibility in specific HR issues, such as absence control, team development, discipline, induction, health and safety, recruitment policy and performance management, HR aims to enhance Current Issue Coveremployee engagement and open communication between line managers and employees. These in turn lead to low turnover and high morale—keys to organizational performance and competitive success. In this regard, by replacing the traditional supervisory role of line managers and empowering them to act as leader, enabler and facilitator, HR is playing the strategic role of an “objective adviser”.

This change has made HR more strategic and more business integrated. This reorientation helps HR to not only play a critical role in the overall strategic planning of the business, but also to act as a messenger to clarify and direct employees about the desired goal of the organization. A recent article from the journal Vision entitled “Strategic Value Contribution Role of HR,” from authors Humaira Naznin and Md. Ashfaq Hussain,  delves into the evolution of HR.

 The abstract for the article:

This article aims to challenge the perceived lack of a strategic value of human resource (HR) function and seeks to focus on the devolution of HR from its transactional role to strategic effectiveness. Utilizing a range of secondary resources, this article aims to critically analyze the shift of HR from transactional to a strategic role and its value contribution role in business. HR needs to overcome conventional resistance and act as the driver of an organizational strategy through aligning the HR strategy to the business strategy, adopting workforce planning and measuring an organization’s competencies. The paper contributes to the evaluation of HR management from viewpoint perspective and offers help to HR practitioners in understanding the changing role of HR.

Click here to read Strategic Value Contribution Role of HR from the journal Vision free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Make sure to sign up for e-alerts and be notified of all  of the latest research published the journal Vision!

*Image attributed to woodleywonderworks (CC)

Deconstructing Privilege and Equalizing Access to Employee Engagement

1118629691_d977a99f65_z[We’re pleased to welcome Brad Shuck of University of Louisville. Brad recently published an article in Human Resource Development Review with co-authors Joshua C. Collins, Tonette S. Rocco, and Raquel Diaz, entitled Deconstructing the Privilege and Power of Employee Engagement: Issues of Inequality for Management and Human Resource Development.” From Brad:]

We were inspired to write this article due to some experiences that each author had encountered in their own personal lives. In some situations, we found ourselves thinking about what work must be like for people we met in our daily lives, how they might be treated as an employee, and how their co-workers and leaders were experienced. I personally had a profound experience while traveling aboard, watching a man dig hundreds of small square holes in the blazing sun, with no break or water in long sleeves. Despite the conditions outside and what seemed to be the grueling nature of his work, he was smiling and seemed to be enjoying his duties. He moved from hole to hole with energy and presence, paying close attention to the details of the earth he was moving.

I wondered if it were possible for this man to be engaged when the conditions of his work seemed so tough. After some reflection, I realized that I needed to check my own privilege, realizing that I had a lot to learn about deconstructing issues related to privilege – and inherently power – when it came to exploring the idea of employee engagement. It was of course entirely possible for the man I met to be engaged – and for any person to be fully engaged in any work – and that so much of what I was assuming about his work – and again, the work of others – was wrapped in the ways individuals encountered experiences of privilege in their own work settings. It became important for us to explore these issues, as we suspected that both privilege and power potentially influenced experiences of engagement, although we knew very little about how and why this might happen.

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We were initially struck by the fact that almost universally, every organization wants higher levels of engagement, and despite decades worth of research and practice, the numbers on engagement have changed very little. Some have suggested that this is due in large part of the failure to win the hearts and minds of employees. We offer, however, that perhaps it is not a massive failure at all; rather for the many who go to work every day, organizational struggle is the norm due to encounters of privilege at play inside organizations. When employee engagement is a privilege only a select few employee’s experience, we agreed with scholars such as David Guest – who suggested that employee engagement is nothing more than a manufactured, normative, and exploitative overextension of work (our words, not his).

On the other hand, when organizations develop deeply inclusive cultures that foster engagement – when they support the conditions for engagement to flourish and all employees enjoy a positive psychological state of work—this leads to higher levels of performance, greater productivity, and experiences of higher levels of well-being. Because we define employee engagement as a psychological state dependent on an employees’ encounters with that organizational culture, the outcomes of employee engagement (i.e., higher performance) can be defined as a privilege for the organization. When an organization nurtures those conditions of engagement, employees are more likely to engage at higher levels and consequently perform better. Undoubtedly, higher levels of performance becomes an earned organizational asset that helps an organization advance and benefit over and at the expense of their competitors. The willingness to nurture the conditions for engagement develops as an authentic experience for the employee. From this perspective, employee engagement is not exploitative or overextending at all. It is transformational and positive, and it is a shared experience.

There is still so much to unpack and work through with this topic, and we hope that our work can inspire future research that might take up this perspective empirically, to test our propositions and better refine this still emerging theory. We also hope that those who read our ideas on this topic will think about their own engagement and how, if at all, their experiences with their own work have been influenced by encounters with privileged organizational structures and individuals, as well as what role they choose to play in that process and experience.

The abstract for the article:

The purpose of our work was to explore the job demands–resources model of engagement through the critical lens(es) of privilege and power. This deconstruction of the privilege and power of employee engagement was focused toward exploring four principal questions: Who (a) controls the context of work? (b) determines the experience of engagement? (c) defines the value of engagement? and (d) benefits from high levels of engagement? We conclude that organizations and employees both benefit from the outcomes associated with the heightened experience of employee engagement. We maintain, however, that the organization is uniquely positioned to influence systems of power and privilege that ultimately enable the conditions for engagement to flourish. Organizations desiring high levels of engagement have an obligation to confront manifestations of privilege such as unequal states of power, access, status, credibility, and normality.

You can read Deconstructing the Privilege and Power of Employee Engagement: Issues of Inequality for Management and Human Resource Development from Human Resource Development Review free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from Human Resource Development ReviewClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

Job Satisfaction Plays A Large Part in Employee Engagement

3911231181_6754709d83_z[We’re pleased to welcome Brad Shuck of University of Louisville. Brad recently published an article in Group & Organization Management entitled “Untangling the Predictive Nomological Validity of Employee Engagement: Decomposing Variance in Employee Engagement Using Job Attitude Measures” with co-authors Kim Nimon of University of Texas at Tyler and Drea Zigarmi of The Ken Blanchard Companies and the University of San Diego.]

Our interest in this work was driven by the need for practical understanding of the employee engagement construct in connection with precise theoretical positioning – we knew from growing citations in the literature that many scholars and practitioners are using employee engagement in their work, but there remained some level of confusion about what employee engagement was, and how it should be applied.

Of great interest to us was whether employee engagement was adding anything to the research literature or, if engagement was redundant as some scholars had suggested. We believed, based on our experience and understanding, that employee engagement did offer something unique from say, job satisfaction or organizational commitment, but beyond the primary use of bivariate relationships, no work had deconstructed the inner empirical makeup of the psychological construct. More, no one had graphed the theoretical structure of the relationships physically, so we took that task on. The purpose of our work was to examine the predictive nomological validity of employee engagement using a set of three job attitudes commonly linked to employee engagement – that, is we opened up the hood to explore its inner make-up.

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Roughly speaking, our findings suggested that that across two overall measures of engagement (the UWES and the JES), job satisfaction contributed the most unique variance to employee engagement, followed by job involvement, and organizational commitment. We were not surprised that job satisfaction contributed the most variance to employee engagement, but we were surprised that job involvement lacked almost any degree of emotion – rather, it functioned at a mostly cognitive level and was identify related, versus emotionally driven. The main finding from our work was that no 1st-order, 2nd-order, or 3rd-order commonality coefficients fully explained, stand-alone or in combination, all the variance in the two engagement measures. In fact, there remained a substantial amount of unexplained variance in each measurement (47% of the variance remained unexplained in the JES and 34% of the variance remains unexplained in the UWES-9). In short, this told us that engagement operated as a standalone construct and was not fully redundant with anyone job attitude or combination of job attitudes. We were not surprised by this finding, but we suspect that others might be.

Within this work, we see many possibilities for future research. First, there is no question that researchers will need to continually examine the underlying meaning and quality of measurement used in building the still emerging nomological network of engagement. We also see an opportunity to more fully explore the role of affect in the engagement construct and the job attitudes. For example, in our results, affect demonstrated noteworthy and interesting theoretical patterns. As such, one avenue for future research might focus toward disentangling affect as a common factor between like constructs and engagement. Research might fully examine how measures of affect (both positive and negative) operate in context with JS, JI, OC, and engagement and how indicators of performance might be connected. Finally – and what we think is one of the more novel outcomes of this work  – is the naming those spaces of joint common variance we uncovered. For example, in our work Coc.js explained the greatest amount of variance across both engagement scales, but what exactly is Coc.js? At present, research has not adequately explored such combinations and when paired together – such as the case with organizational commitment and job satisfaction – combined constructs might take on a new identity. For example, theoretically, when an employee is both satisfied with their work and committed to the organization, we might call that organizational contentment as the employee is both satiated and committed to the organization, making them more likely to express a state of overall organizational contentment. A construct called organizational contentment is all but absent in the research literature yet our results would indicate that this construct – whether we call it organizational contentment or something else – explains sizeable portions of variance in employee engagement.

As a final note, we hope or work brings about conversation and dialogue. This work has brought about many new questions for our team and, we know that only through dialogue and working together with other scholars can we really begin to understand what it means to be engaged and, how the experience of employee engagement unfolds overtime.

The abstract for the paper:

The purpose of this study was to examine the predictive nomological validity of employee engagement using a set of three job attitudes commonly linked to employee engagement. Prior research concerned with the nomological network of employee engagement has predominantly considered bivariate relationships, thus missing the opportunity to fully understand the intricate and interrelated relationship between employee engagement and job attitudes. Scale- and subscale-level correlations were obtained from a previously published set of survey responses (n = 1,580) to decompose employee engagement variance into orthogonal (i.e., non-overlapping) components associated with every possible combination of the three job attitude predictor set (2k − 1 = 7). Results suggested that across both overall measures, job satisfaction contributed the most unique variance to employee engagement, followed by job involvement and organizational commitment. Findings indicated that when applying employee engagement in both research and practice, care should be taken in scale selection across models—especially those involving such as constructs. This study provides evidence of the importance for considering a construct’s nomological network within the broader management and human resource–related literature. This research not only advances the theoretical and research understanding of employee engagement but also assists practitioners in deploying precise, well-crafted measures of engagement in the field.

You can read “Untangling the Predictive Nomological Validity of Employee Engagement: Decomposing Variance in Employee Engagement Using Job Attitude Measures” from Group & Organization Management free for the next two weeks by clicking here.

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*Office work image attributed to Carbon Tippy Toes (CC)

Do the Benefits of Work Engagement Extend Beyond the Office?

3925183530_4902bb6ae9_zStudies of work engagement and the associated positive outcomes tend to focus on the effects of engagement exclusively in the work realm, but do the benefits of work engagement extend beyond the office? In a recent Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies article entitled “The Work/Nonwork Spillover: The Enrichment Role of Work Engagement,” authors Liat Eldor, Itzhak Harpaz, and Mina Westman expand the scope of research on the effects of work engagement.

The abstract for the paper:

This study examines whether work engagement enriches employees beyond the JLOcontribution of the domain of work, focusing on satisfaction with life and community involvement. Moreover, the ambivalence of scholars about the added value of the work engagement concept compared with similar work-related attitudes prompted us to assess the benefits that work engagement offers with regard to improving one’s satisfaction with life and community involvement compared with the benefits of other, similar work-related attitudes such as job involvement and job satisfaction. Furthermore, given the studies indicating the impact of sector of employment (public vs. business) on understanding the work/nonwork nexus, the current study also investigates the effect of the sector of employment on this enrichment process. Utilizing multilevel modeling analysis techniques on data from 554 employees in public and business sector organizations, we obtained results consistent with our hypotheses. Work engagement and employees’ outcomes beyond work had positive and significant relationships. Moreover, the relationship between work engagement and community involvement was stronger in public sector employees than in business sector employees. The implications for organizational theory, research, and practice are discussed as possible leverage points for creating conditions that promote engagement at work and beyond.

You can read “The Work/Nonwork Spillover: The Enrichment Role of Work Engagement” from Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to know all about the latest research from Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

*Picnic image attributed to Benson Kua (CC)