Conceptualizing and measuring employee engagement, and examining the antecedents of leadership styles and personality attributes
Employee engagement has received wide attention over the last twenty years from the practitioner community and research scholars. It is claimed that organizations that focus on creating an engaging environment will reap significant benefits in terms of employee productivity, achievement of organizational goals, customer satisfaction, and talent retention (Kim, Kolb, and Kim, 2013; Kuntz and Roberts, 2014). However, fundamental issues revolving around the meaning, measurement, and key antecedents of employee engagement still require further research attention (Saks and Gruman, 2014). In response to these issues, this research aimed to examine the definitions of the engagement construct, develop a reliable and valid engagement scale, and, based on the definitional analysis, examine two key potential antecedents (leadership styles and personality attributes) of employee engagement.
An intensive review of the engagement literature was undertaken to identify the conceptual themes shared by the existing approaches to the construct. From this, a working definition of employee engagement was produced guiding the development of a measurement tool to tap each component of the proposed definition. Study I of the research examines the factorial structure, reliability, and discriminant validity of the newly developed engagement scale, using data from 449 employees in New Zealand. The results revealed that employee engagement is a multidimensional construct and internal consistency and discriminant validity of the newly developed instrument reported satisfactory levels. Once the internal consistency, the factorial structure, and validity of the engagement scale had been tested and the final items for the engagement scale had been set (Study I), the second stage of collecting data (Study II) took place. Data gathered in this phase were used to do test-retest reliability, where using the same measurement tool and the same sample under the same response conditions is seen necessary to establish repeatability (Allen and Yen, 1979). Thus, data of Study II were collected from 106 employees who had participated in Study I of the research. The results of Study II revealed that the internal consistency of the engagement scale, developed in Study I, was stable over the two studies. In Study II, grounded in social exchange theory, it was hypothesized that leadership styles (transformational and transactional) and certain personality attributes (conscientiousness, extroversion, proactive, positive affect, and autotelic) are antecedents of employee engagement. The results of Study II also revealed that the hypotheses proposing relationships between transformational leadership, conscientiousness, and positive affect were supported. However, the hypotheses that propose associations between transactional leadership, extroversion, proactive, autotelic, as antecedents of employee engagement were not supported.
This research contributes to the existing theory surrounding employee engagement by providing empirical evidence about the dimensionality of the engagement construct and its distinctiveness from other well-established but similar attitudinal constructs. Further, the findings of the current study support the arguments of Macey and Schneider’s (2008) state-trait like engagement and Robinson, Perryman, and Hayday’s (2004) two-way relationship engagement. The significant associations found between employee engagement and its antecedents (transformational leadership, conscientiousness, and positive affect) emphasize that the level of engagement is influenced by the quality of the interaction between the person and the leader. This research also provides HR and organizational development practitioners with practical implications for designing and developing their interventions aiming at fostering and enhancing employee engagement in the workplace. Specifically, targeted practical recommendations addressing several HR interventions (recruitment and selection, training and development, performance management, and job design) are presented. Given that the scope of employee engagement is still wide and needs further investigation, a discussion of research limitations and suggestions for future research is also presented.