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While research is emerging around the employee engagement construct, evolution is in early stages of development. Presently, some questions remain about how employee engagement differs from other well-researched and documented constructs such as job satisfaction, job involvement, and job commitment. Although such inquiry is seemingly academic in nature, the use of engagement in practice is gaining momentum, and debate remains healthy as to the utility and statistical validity of the engagement construct. To respond, developing clear lines of interpretation and coordination across varied disciplines seems prudent, but an essential first step is a context-specific, conceptual exploration of the construct of employee engagement in relation to other well-researched job attitude and organizational constructs in the literature. This article explores literature on employee engagement, job satisfaction, commitment, and involvement. Implications for organizational learning and workplace performance are examined in a human resource development (HRD) specific context.
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Development Review
Human Resource
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The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/1534484312463921
November 2012
2013 12: 11 originally published online 27Human Resource Development Review
Brad Shuck, Rajashi Ghosh, Drea Zigarmi and Kim Nimon
Performance
Emerging Construct and Implications for Workplace Learning and
The Jingle Jangle of Employee Engagement : Further Exploration of the
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DOI: 10.1177/1534484312463921
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463921HRD12110.1177/1534484312463921Hum
an Resource Development ReviewShuck et al.
2012
1University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA
2Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA
3University of San Diego & The Ken Blanchard Companies, San Diego, CA, USA
4University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Brad Shuck, University of Louisville, College of Education & Human Development, Woodford and Harriett
Porter Building, Louisville, KY 40292, USA.
Email: brad.shuck@louisville.edu
The Jingle Jangle of
Employee Engagement:
Further Exploration of the
Emerging Construct and
Implications for Workplace
Learning and Performance
Brad Shuck1, Rajashi Ghosh2, Drea Zigarmi3,
and Kim Nimon4
Abstract
While research is emerging around the employee engagement construct, evolution is
in early stages of development. Presently, some questions remain about how employee
engagement differs from other well-researched and documented constructs such
as job satisfaction, job involvement, and job commitment. Although such inquiry is
seemingly academic in nature, the use of engagement in practice is gaining momentum,
and debate remains healthy as to the utility and statistical validity of the engagement
construct. To respond, developing clear lines of interpretation and coordination
across varied disciplines seems prudent, but an essential first step is a context-specific,
conceptual exploration of the construct of employee engagement in relation to other
well-researched job attitude and organizational constructs in the literature. This
article explores literature on employee engagement, job satisfaction, commitment,
and involvement. Implications for organizational learning and workplace performance
are examined in a human resource development (HRD) specific context.
Keywords
employee engagement, human resource development, job satisfaction, job involvement,
organizational commitment
Theory and Conceptual Articles
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12 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
Recent research has called into question the utility of the emerging motivational con-
struct employee engagement (Newman, Joseph, Sparkman, & Carpenter, 2011).
Newman et al. (2011) proposed that what is commonly known in the scholarly litera-
ture as employee engagement actually commits the jangle fallacy, in which apparently
similar constructs measuring like nomological networks are labeled unique from one
another (Kelly, 1927). The jangle fallacy is a common issue in construct validation
work particularly as a new construct emerges in research. Newman et al. suggested
that engagement, examined under its current operationalization (Macey & Schneider,
2008; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2003), is no different from overall job-related attitudes
defined in earlier research as the “A-Factor” (Harrison, Newman, & Roth, 2006).
Newman et al. (2011) went on to propose questions regarding whether or not measures
of engagement actually provided utility beyond existing measures of validated, well-
researched constructs currently in use (i.e., job satisfaction, job involvement, and
organizational commitment).
Furthermore, in reaction to recent models of employee engagement, several
authors (e.g., Griffin, Parker, & Neal, 2008; Hirschfeld & Thomas, 2008; Newman &
Harrison, 2008; Saks, 2008) have provided commentary dialogue regarding the con-
temporary conceptualization of engagement. Some of these scholars have suggested
that engagement provides little utility above what is already known about perfor-
mance. For example, Saks (2008) commented that engagement has become an
umbrella term encompassing a myriad of operational definitions, measures, and
research conglomerates and thus remains difficult to link with specific performance
outcomes. Others have suggested that engagement is not a distinct construct, and
several doubt that engagement can be individually assessed at any level (Pugh, Dietz,
Brief, & Wiley, 2008). Meyer and Gagne (2008) further proposed that engagement
lacks the necessary comprehensive framework for serious research. It seems that
Newman et al. (2011) are not alone in their concerns.
Notwithstanding, and on the other hand, recent research has provided some empiri-
cal evidence of the employee engagement constructs distinction and empirical merit
(Christian, Garza, & Slaughter, 2011; Rich, LePine, & Crawford, 2010; Shuck, Reio, &
Rocco, 2011). For example, work by Christian et al. (2011) found that engagement
“exhibited discriminate validity from, and criterion related validity over, job attitudes”
(p. 89); this evidence seems to be in contrast to research by Harrison et al. (2006), the
foundational framework on which Newman et al. (2011) built their perspective.
Moreover, other scholars such as Rich et al. (2010) provided empirical evidence that
job involvement, job satisfaction, and intrinsic motivation failed to exceed engagement
in predicting performance-related outcomes. The Rich et al. (2010) study proposed a
new framework for engagement connected to, yet distinct from, traditional measures of
performance in the workplace (as measured by a three-factor engagement model).
Other research specifically grounded in the context of HRD highlighted the predictive
utility of employee engagement (see, for example Shuck, Reio, et al., 2011) above and
beyond other traditionally linked antecedents (i.e., job fit, psychological climate). As is
often the case with emerging research, two divergent perspectives have developed.
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Shuck et al. 13
Understandably, the debate on employee engagement continues and, is healthy for
a new construct evolving in the scholarly literature. In many ways, it is expected; how-
ever, in light of the current discussion around engagement, there remains widespread
confusion as to what engagement is conceptually and statistically how it differs from
widely used performance tools and expected outcomes. Several existing frameworks
for understanding employee engagement have been proposed (Shuck, 2011), and
while definitions remain as varied as individual perspectives on the topic, some agree-
ment on the conceptualization of engagement is taking shape (see, for example,
Christian et al., 2011; Kahn, 2010; Macey & Schneider, 2008; Rich et al., 2010; and
Shuck, 2011), but clearly the concept is still advancing. Meanwhile, as the engagement
evolution continues, the use of employee engagement in human resource practice goes
on (Shuck, 2011). Evidence of this growth can be operationalized in the growing body
of research on engagement as well as the numerous practitioner-based commentaries
touting unique engagement interventions aimed at increasing organizational perfor-
mance. Recent research by Schaufeli and Bakker (2010) suggested that between the
terms employee engagement and work engagement, some 639,000 entries can be found
on the Internet alone. While debate continues on what engagement actually is, its use
as a tool remains active. This scholar-practitioner gap presents a unique challenge to
the HRD community.
Problem Statement
Employee engagement is a well-known construct to scholars and practitioners alike
(Christian et al., 2011). Although research is emerging, evolution of the construct is
in its early stages of development, and little agreement exists, statistically speaking,
about how engagement differs from other well-researched and documented constructs
such as job satisfaction, job involvement, and organizational commitment. While this
question seems purely academic in nature, the use of engagement in practice touts the
ability of the construct to influence organizational learning and workplace perfor-
mance, two constructs that represent the bedrock of HRD (Swanson & Holton, 2009).
While its use in practice gains momentum, little is known about how, or even if,
employee engagement adds uniqueness of any kind to the utility of HRD practice.
Certainly, questions have been raised. As suggested earlier, some scholars have pro-
vided evidence that suggests differentiation (see, for example, Christian et al., 2011,
and Rich et al., 2010) while others continue to ask questions that push the boundaries
of known research (see, for example, Newman et al., 2011 and Nimon, Zigarmi,
Houson, Witt, & Diehl, 2011). While debate remains healthy, exploration remains one
promising way to investigate recurring questions.
As suggested by Shuck (2011), the next steps for employee engagement should
focus toward differentiating the construct from “other well-researched job attitude and
organizational constructs such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, job
involvement, and job affect, as well as uncovering statistical evidence regarding the
concept’s demonstrated usability and validity” (p. 317). To respond to questions
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14 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
related to both scholarly inquiry and reported relations to both organizational learning
and workplace performance, Macey and Schneider (2008) suggested developing clear
lines of interpretation and coordination across varied disciplines. To begin work, a
deep, thorough understanding of the literature is required; conceptual integration is
necessary. To better understand implications for both organizational learning and
workplace performance, a context-specific, conceptual exploration of the employee
engagement construct in relation to other well-researched job attitude and organiza-
tional constructs is long overdue and an essential first step.
The purpose of this article is to explore conceptually, through known research,
the utility of employee engagement within an HRD specific context. Specifically,
because of its importance to organizational learning and workplace performance, we
aimed to examine one of the research questions posed for further exploration and
refinement by Newman et al. (2011). That is, according to the literature, “Is employee
engagement different from an overall job attitude?” (p. 38). In this article, because
rigorous research must first be developed on solid theory, our goal was to explore
and illuminate existing literature on employee engagement, job satisfaction, organi-
zational commitment, and job involvement and to examine conceptual relations,
both commonality and uniqueness, as they relate to the original research question of
Newman et al. Loosely following Torraco (2005), because the nomological network
of employee engagement had been scantily explored in the HRD literature as a spe-
cific focus, a holistic review of existing frameworks from disparate streams of litera-
ture and research was a logical first step. The remainder of this article unfolds as
follows: (a) review of constructs, (b) implications for research and practice, and
(c) recommendations for future research.
Review of Constructs
The following sections review and integrate literature on each of the constructs
described previously to generate relevant propositions that guide attempts to answer
the research question posed.
Employee Engagement
There are many frameworks from which to view the employee engagement construct
(Shuck, 2011). While many available frameworks offer unique perspectives that differ
in range and application, research by Rich et al. (2010) offers a multidimensional
framework reflecting underlying conditions of an employee’s experience of work, an
important yet often overlooked dimension of the evolving employee engagement
construct. Quite often, engagement, as a psychological state and an observable behav-
ior, is measured simultaneously (both the state of and resulting behavior to). Rich et al.
(2010), however, suggested alternatively that researchers should focus on dimensions
of motivational energy affected by latent conditions within an employee’s environ-
ment that result in observable behavior rather than focusing on the behavior alone.
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Shuck et al. 15
According to Rich et al. (2010) the simultaneous investment of cognitive, affective,
and physical energies into performance-related outcomes represents something dis-
tinct and fundamental, differentiating engagement from other potentially related vari-
ables (i.e., job satisfaction and commitment; Newman et al., 2011). Moreover, the
intensity at which these motivational energies are applied in concomitant fashion gives
context to individuals’ level of full engagement in their work as well as highlight the
personal choice they make to invest such energies in their work performance.
Engagement in this context is much more than what we see employees do; it is rather
how employees experience and interpret the context around them, and then, accord-
ingly behave. As such, employee engagement is operationalized as a motivational-
state variable representing the manifestation of individual evaluations (cognitive and
affective) regarding personal resource allocation toward work-related tasks (Christian
et al., 2011; Rich et al., 2010). Exploring further, two main characteristics of engage-
ment should be considered when distinguishing the concept in operationalization:
(a) intensity of focus on the task and (b) the decision to invest personal resources
toward the tasks (Christian et al., 2011).
One of the fundamental characteristics of employee engagement is the focus
toward work, or more specifically, tasks related to the immediate work of the
employee. As several researchers have pointed out (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter,
2001; Rich et al., 2010; Shuck, Reio, et al., 2011; Shuck, Rocco, & Albornoz, 2011),
although levels of engagement can be affected by a variety of organizational ante-
cedents (i.e., job fit and psychological climate), employee engagement involves per-
formance on immediate, work-related tasks, not attitudinal functions about or
perceptions of the work environment; it can be assumed, however, that attitudes and
perceptions about the work environment can and do affect levels of employee
engagement in an intimate fashion. This does not downplay the utility of under-
standing antecedents to engagement although the two perspectives should be distin-
guished in research. The experience and interpretation of work during the ephemeral
moment that work is underway is the focal point of employee engagement. Measures
that explore dimensions of tangible and intangible elements of the environment (see,
for example, Shuck, Rocco, et al., 2011) rather than state-of-the moment experi-
ences serve a different purpose from understanding the utility of engagement; rather,
these kinds of studies provide context about the moment of employee engagement
and what its antecedents and leverage points might be; however, these kinds of stud-
ies are often confused with having a utilitarian purpose above and beyond their
exploratory focus. Research around the nomological fringes of engagement can be
useful for understanding antecedents and outcomes; however, this is different
research and must be distinguished.
Work around behavioral intentions in an HRD context (see Zigarmi & Nimon,
2011) developed from cognitive and emotional interpretation has significant merit
when we consider engagement as a behavioral outcome. This line of research has
received little attention in HRD as it pertains to performance, partially around the
employee engagement variable.
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16 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
The second, and perhaps most fragile dimension of engagement, concerns the
decision an employee makes to invest personal resources toward work. Grounded in
Kahn’s (1990) understanding of engagement, this decision is interpreted through a
lens that considers comparative and contextually sensitive levels of meaningfulness
and safety (physically, emotionally, and psychologically) as well as the adequacy and
availability of resources toward a given work task (Kahn, 1990; Rich et al., 2010).
When employees interpret their work as meaningful and safe and perceive that they
have the adequate resources to complete their work, they are more likely to be
engaged (Shuck, Reio, et al., 2011). A cognitive appraisal (Shuck & Rocco, 2011;
Zigarmi, Nimon, Houson, Witt, & Diehl, 2011) places a value on a given situation
grounded in the unique interpretations of that time and place. Thus engagement is
dynamic and in a state of fluidity with each new appraisal, not static or monotonous.
Kahn suggested that this decision could be understood operationally as the interpreta-
tion of the simple question, “Does it matter?” (Kahn, 2010). In further writings, Kahn
(2010) proposed that employees chose to invest when they felt they could “make a
difference, change minds and directions, add value” or join with something larger
than themselves (pp. 22-23). In other words, employees engage when they feel as if
their engagement matters. More specifically, it is believed that the giving of resources
can involve tangible and intangible items such as time, care, mental abilities, extra
work, pride, ownership, belief, staying later, speaking up, and other overt manifesta-
tions of personal investment. This list is inclusive, but not exhaustive. As such,
employees who choose to engage, cognitively, emotionally and behaviorally, have “a
sense of belonging and identification” that connects them to their work on a personal
level (Rhoades, Eisenberger, & Armeli, 2001, p. 825).
Job Attitude Variables
Of great interest to researchers is whether engagement is simply a repackaging of
similar constructs suggested by researchers or something distinct and new awaiting
examination. Much discussion has ensued regarding the repackaging, from metaphors
about old wine in new bottles (Macey & Schneider, 2008), an emperor in his new
clothes (Newman, Joseph, & Hulin, 2010), or an old lady in a new dress (Schohat &
Vigoda-Gadot, 2010). Regardless of semantic metaphor, there seems to be some con-
fusion about how, if at all, engagement is distinct from similar attitudinal-type con-
structs, such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and/or job involvement.
This central question is a good one.
In the forefront of this debate are questions about employee engagement and over-
lap with traditional measures of attitudinal factors. For example, some have asked,
“What utility does employee engagement have beyond measuring what we already
know about work attitude variables?” Others wonder, “What does engagement add to
the conversation about improving work performance above and beyond traditionally
measured job attitudes such as satisfaction?” These questions seem prudent; both prac-
tical and scientific issues guide inquiry into this nomological space. Additionally, we
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Shuck et al. 17
believe that HRD has a serious stake in the answer to such questions, particularly as
organizations continue to turn their attention to the development of increased engage-
ment levels across multiple industries, in multiple countries, and at multiple organiza-
tional levels.
The following sections present a review of literature that conceptually examines the
question posed by Newman et al. (2011): Is employee engagement different from an
overall job attitude? Our attempt is to identify and bring forth literature that has the
potential to inform and guide. First, job satisfaction is explored, followed by job
involvement, and finally, organizational commitment.
Job satisfaction. Job satisfaction has been defined as a favorable evaluation of one’s
work role (Smith Kendall, & Hulin, 1969). Several researchers and authors explicitly
define employee engagement as a satisfaction-related concept (Fleming & Asplund,
2007; Harter, Schmidt, & Keyes, 2003; Wagner & Harter, 2006). For example, Harter,
Schmidt, and Hayes (2002), authors of a well-cited study on employee engagement,
defined engagement as “satisfaction-engagement,” suggesting that engagement and
satisfaction with one’s work occupy the same conceptual and empirical space. Here,
engagement is operationalized as a satisfaction-like state. Furthermore, practitioner-
based models (Towers Perrin, 2003, 2007) conceptualized engagement as having sat-
isfaction-like rational and cognitive elements, suggesting that, at least conceptually,
engagement and satisfaction shared similar nomological linkages. Also, Macey and
Schneider (2008) pointed out that “many traditional measures of satisfaction . . . seem-
ingly tap facets that fit [the] conceptual space for engagement” (p. 7). And still, Bray-
field and Rothe’s (1951) seminal measure of job satisfaction provided parallels to
several statements that, at least on the surface, seem to be intertwined with the nomo-
logical network of the engagement concept. An example of one such statement is
“Most days I feel enthusiastic about my work” (Brayfield & Rothe, 1951, p. 311),
which directly parallels measures on the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES;
Schaufeli & Bakker, 2003).
Many measures of employee engagement appear similar to those used for measur-
ing satisfaction, and it is thus tempting to label engagement as a repackaging of job
satisfaction or as a construct that adds little value to understanding organizational
performance. On the other hand, as Erickson (2005) pointed out, engagement is a pro-
gressively forward moving state in which satisfaction is stationary and is understood
as fulfillment. Satisfaction in this context conveys contentment and the fulfillment of
human needs through organizational means (Macey, Schneider, Barbera, & Young,
2009). This suggests that engagement as a behavioral output ultimately has movement
forward whereas satisfaction, in its final measurable state, does not; rather, satisfaction
is an inactive or unmoving state of fulfillment. At the time of this article, no study on
satisfaction could be located that suggested otherwise (i.e., satisfaction as anything
other than the measurable state of satiation). Despite conceptual linkages between
satisfaction and engagement, definitional and operational aspects of the two constructs
seem to differ. While satisfaction connotes fulfillment, engagement connotes “urgency,
focus, and intensity” (Macey et al., 2009, p. 40).
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18 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
Moreover, early empirical work on this issue by Schaufeli, Bakker, and Salanova
(2006) distinguished satisfaction and engagement (as measured by the UWES).
Specifically, Schaufeli et al. provided evidence that, although they shared a relation,
engagement and satisfaction were two distinct constructs; statistically each was distin-
guishable from the other. Supporting commentary from Heger (2007) suggested that
measuring satisfaction provided a barometer about an employee’s general perception
but did not capture expression in day-to-day interactions. In this context, satisfaction
could be operationalized as more trait-like, whereas engagement could be operational-
ized as more state-like. Intuitively, it is understandable to expect satisfied employees
to excel in performance or be less likely to quit their jobs as opposed to dissatisfied
employees, and thus, engagement to share performance and turnover as outcomes with
job satisfaction (Judge, Thoresen, Bono, & Patton, 2001; Wollard & Shuck, 2011); this
seems understandable and somewhat justifiable.
However, using theory as a guide, we suggest that the fundamental drive of a
satisfied employee is to maintain a certain level of status quo (i.e., I like the way
things are, don’t change them, I am satisfied). This however is very different from
current viewpoints of engagement (Christian et al., 2011; Cole Walter, Bedeian, &
O’Boyle, 2012; Shuck, 2011). Furthermore, the view of satisfaction as an end state,
rather than a dynamic psychological state implies different cognitive, emotional, and
behavioral outcomes from that of engagement (Macey et al., 2009). Through this
lens—engagement vis a vis satisfaction—evidence seems to suggest that there is the
possibility of uncovering statistical, and more importantly, practical uniqueness
between the two constructs. To advance theory, research, and practice in HRD, we
propose the following:
Proposition 1a: Employee engagement and satisfaction are similar in that they
both measure a like dimension of a work-related attitude.
Proposition 1b: Employee engagement is unique in that it measures in-the-
moment expressions of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energies
directed toward organization outcomes (dynamic expressions of task focused
energies) in which satisfaction measures general, global, and static expres-
sions of an overall work-related attitude (see Figure 1).
Job involvement. Using a meta-analytic approach to examine the construct of job
involvement, Brown (1996) suggested, “[Job] involvement implies a positive and
relatively complete state of engagement [regarding the] core aspects of the job itself”
(S. Brown, p. 235). According to Macey and Schneider (2008), job involvement
occupies the same conceptual space of engagement and, in support of their argument,
they cited the Harter et al. (2002) definition of engagement that encompasses both a
state of satisfaction and involvement. Cooper-Hakim and Viswesvaran (2005) further
suggested that job involvement is the degree to which a person psychologically
relates to his or job, which in some operationalizations is a component of the engage-
ment construct.
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Shuck et al. 19
While seemingly clear parallels can be made between the two constructs, other
scholars suggest that employee engagement and job involvement are separate, yet
potentially related (S. Brown, 1996; Harter et al., 2002; Jeung, 2011; Mathieu & Zajac,
1990; Salanova, Aguit, & Peioro; 2005). For example, May, Gibson, and Harter (2004)
suggested, “Engagement may be thought of as an antecedent to job involvement in that
individuals who experience deep engagement in their roles should come to iden-
tify with their jobs” (p. 12). While they may share conceptual space, scholars agree
(S. Brown, 1996; Harter et al., 2002; Macey & Schneider, 2008; May et al., 2004;
Saks, 2006; Salanova et al., 2005) that engagement and job involvement seem distinct
and often measure unique aspects of employees’ interpretations of their work. Job
involvement is understood as a facet of engagement; however, it is not seen as equal
to engagement (S. Brown, 1996; Jeung, 2011; Macey & Schneider, 2008). Empirically
and practically, each construct maintains unique conceptual identity.
In support of differentiation, citing work from May et al. (2004), Saks (2006) sug-
gested that job involvement is a cognitive judgment about the job itself, which is tied
to self-image, whereas employee engagement is a broader, more inclusive construct
consisting of energy and enthusiasm toward the job (Christian et al., 2011; Kahn,
1990; Rich et al., 2010;). Conceptually, job involvement is a judgment; engagement is
a psychological state (Saks, 2006). However, they have the propensity to share ante-
cedents such as self-esteem and supervisory support and feedback and to be related to
common organizational outcome variables such as performance and employee turn-
over (S. Brown, 1996; Wollard & Shuck, 2011), which perhaps is the impetus for the
confusing state of affairs. A comparison of the definitions of the two constructs helps
Figure 1. Proposed nomological overlap of employee engagement and job satisfaction.
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20 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
make clear that the focus of job involvement is on cognition (e.g., Lawler & Hall,
1970; Lodahl & Kejner, 1965; Kanungo, 1982; Paullay, Alliger, & Stone-Romero,
1994), whereas, engagement, according to most definitions (e.g., Baumruk 2004;
Frank, Finnegan, & Taylor, 2004; Kahn, 1990; Richman, 2006; Shaw, 2005; Shuck &
Wollard, 2010), encompasses cognition, emotion, and behavior. Moreover, as aptly
put by Christian et al. (2011), engagement refers to a psychological connection with
the performance of work tasks instead of an attitude toward the situations or condi-
tions of the job (Maslach et al., 2001); job involvement is understood as the degree to
which a job situation is central to an individual’s identity (Kanungo, 1982).
Lastly, another important distinction between the two constructs is their association
with role perceptions and related physical or mental health outcomes. For instance,
research suggests that employee engagement represents a psychological health con-
cept (Hallberg & Schaufeli, 2006) that negatively correlates with health ailments (e.g.,
burnout symptoms such as sleep disturbances, depression, etc.) and role perceptions
(e.g., workload, role conflict). Job involvement, on the other hand, appears to be unaf-
fected by role perceptions and shows no association with any mental or physical health
outcomes (S. Brown, 1996; Hallberg & Schaufeli, 2006). This remains an important
distinction as research begins to focus on understanding relations between well-being
and work and individual levels of health and welfare.
Similar to the job satisfaction literature, the research is divided, and no definitive
empirical model exists. Thus, no clear, easy answer is available for which to ground
the conversation regarding utility. However, hints of both overlap and distinction are
resounding although disparate across disciplines. To synthesize and advance theory,
research, and practice in HRD, we propose the following:
Proposition 2a: Employee engagement and job involvement are similar in that
they both measure cognitive dimensions of work-related thought processes.
Proposition 2b: Employee engagement provides uniqueness in that it measures
psychological states of energy directed towards a task, or specific work role,
while job involvement measures a cognitive judgment about the work or the
job itself and has no known behavioral implication; rather, job involvement
manifests a personality implication connected to identity development of the
self (i.e., I identify with my job or work; I am a researcher or OD consult; I
am a teacher).
Proposition 2c: While job involvement is operationalized as a cognitive dimen-
sion of appraisal or judgment, employee engagement is thought to be made
up of three distinct dimensions (a) cognitive, (b) emotive, and (c) behavioral,
each facet each suggesting behavioral implication (see Figure 2).
Organizational commitment. Similar to job satisfaction, several practitioners
define employee engagement explicitly as commitment (Corporate Leadership
Council, 2004; Wellins & Concelman, 2005) or as a component of the commitment
concept (Towers Perrin, 2003, 2007). Commitment from this perspective is
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Shuck et al. 21
understood as a person’s attachment or attitude towards an organization (Saks,
2006). As an attitude, it is inferred that engagement is an outlook or dedicated
stance toward work or the workplace. While this subtle relation between commit-
ment and employee engagement may seem intuitive, Saks (2006) suggested that
engagement is not an attitude but rather a state and operationally speaking, the
degree to which persons are attentive and absorbed in their work (Saks, 2006).
Kahn (1990) commented on the fluctuating nature of the state of engagement,
explaining that unlike organizational commitment, which is comparatively stable
over time, organizational members might not maintain average levels of engage-
ment over time. As such, it is believed that engagement as a psychological state is
subject to ebbs and flows as employees interpret and interact with a myriad of
environmental stimuli in the workplace. Commitment, conceptually and often
empirically, remains a relatively stable construct.
Most importantly in this discussion, the foci of attachment and attentiveness should
be considered while evaluating potential nomological overlaps in the constructs of
organizational commitment and employee engagement. As noted by Christian et al.
(2011), organizational commitment refers to an employee’s attachment to the organi-
zation as a whole, whereas employee engagement represents employees’ perceptions
that are based on the job they are asked to do as well as the organization that is asking
them to do it (Zigarmi, Nimon, Houson, Witt, & Diehl, 2009). Moreover, employee
engagement is considered to be a multidimensional construct that focuses on the self’s
investment of cognitive, emotional, and physical energies (Rich et al., 2010; Shuck &
Reio, 2011; Shuck & Rocco, 2011) on behalf of both job and organizational outcomes.
Figure 2. Proposed nomological overlap of employee engagement and job involvement.
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22 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
Organizational commitment, especially affective commitment, with which engage-
ment is often compared (Meyer & Allen, 1997; Newman et al, 2011), represents the
emotional state of attachment to the organization (Christian et al., 2011). Consequently,
Macey and Schneider (2008) rightly suggested that organizational commitment might
be a facet of engagement but may not embody the entirety of the engagement concept.
From this context, engagement seems bigger. Following this logic, scholars have even
considered commitment to be the prior reason for the state of engagement (Robinson,
Perryman, & Hayday, 2004; Rothbard, 2001). Engagement might begin with the deci-
sion to commit or have a component of commitment embedded within the construct.
Many authors (e.g., Cooper-Hakim & Viswesaran, 2005; Harrison et al., 2006;
James & James, 1989; Newman & Harrison, 2008) have advocated a myriad of com-
mitment forms predictive of employee work behavior, rather than a single, specific,
narrow form such as job or organizational commitment. Building on the ideas of R.
Brown (1996), it could be reasoned that the concept of commitment is not exclusive to
either an organizational context or a job context. Brown stated that the word commit-
ment “refers to a pledge or promise of some sort …and refers to the condition of
someone who is made a firm commitment to another party connected with some future
event” (R. Brown, 1996, p. 233). Moreover, Brown stated, "It is virtually impossible
to describe commitment in terms other than one’s inclination or intention to act in a
particular way" (R. Brown, 1996, p. 234).
While distinguished conceptually in the literature, employee engagement and orga-
nizational commitment share commonly specified antecedents and consequences.
Examples of common antecedents include perceived organizational support, support-
ive organizational culture, and leadership (Lok & Crawford, 1999; Rhoades et al.,
2001; Saks, 2006; Wollard & Shuck, 2011). Consequences include but are not limited
to organizational citizenship behavior, turnover intent, and performance (S. Brown,
1996; Meyer & Allen, 1997; Meyer, Stanley, Herscovitch, & Topolnytsky, 2002;
Riketta & Landerer, 2002). Thus it is not surprising that only a few authors have sug-
gested that organizational commitment is related to, but could also be distinct from,
engagement as an antecedent variable (Macey & Schneider, 2008; Saks, 2006; Shuck,
Reio, et al., 2011). However, the incremental variance predicted in performance vari-
ables by employee engagement over and beyond organizational commitment is sup-
ported in recent organizationally focused research (Christian et al., 2011). Clearly, in
the debate regarding overlap or utility, scholars have focused on one side or the other.
In a challenge to moving the concept forward, scholars seems to be at an impasse.
However, using theory and known research as a guide in the advancement of theory,
research, and practice in HRD, we propose the following:
Proposition 3a: Employee engagement and job commitment are similar in that
they both measure an attachment-like state directed toward work dimensions
(organizational commitment is directed to the organization for which the
work is being completed, and employee engagement is directed to the job or
the task [emotional engagement]).
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Shuck et al. 23
Proposition 3b: Employee engagement provides uniqueness in that it measures
an individual’s investment of cognitive, emotional, and physical energies
directed toward organizational outcomes and understood to be a psychologi-
cal state with implied directionality (positive, to the organization). Commit-
ment is understood as a pledge or attachment to the organization as an entity
and is not focused on the specific job, task, or role (see Figure 3).
Summary
In summary, we have proposed that employee engagement, job satisfaction, job
involvement, and organizational commitment may share similar conceptual space in
like nomological networks. We have further proposed that the variables of interest in
this conceptual research (i.e., employee engagement, job satisfaction, job involve-
ment, and organizational commitment) could also share some overlap and be statisti-
cally linked in addition to being conceptually linked. However, grounded in known
research, we proposed that at structural, fundamental levels, the constructs could also
be empirically separable and discriminate from one another. See Figure 4 for graphic
depiction of full propositional model.
In support of our proposition and before discussing implications and recommenda-
tions for research, it should be noted that there are several possible reasons for the
existing confusion that scholars and practitioners experience with the above-mentioned
constructs. We suggest that there are at least three contributing reasons for the confus-
ing and seemingly overlapping use of various constructs.
Figure 3. Proposed nomological overlap of employee engagement and organizational
commitment.
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24 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
First, the epistemological and theoretical foundations under which these various
concepts were developed bring with them various perspectives, all of which are impor-
tant and worth honoring, yet different and telling. For example, the concept of engage-
ment as originated from the academic burnout literature (e.g. Maslach et al., 2001;
Bakker, Emmerik, & Euwema, 2006), is quite different from other explanations and
emergent definitions (cognitive, emotional, behavioral; see, for example, Rich et al.,
2010; Shuck, Reio, et al., 2011; Shuck & Wollard, 2010). This could be because of the
emphasis placed on mental and physical health as a lower order facet of the engage-
ment construct (i.e., vigor, dedication, and absorption). In contrast, various definitions
of employee engagement provided by several professional consulting firms have
Figure 4. Proposed nomological overlap model of employee engagement, job satisfaction, job
involvement, and organizational commitment.
Note. Figure 4 does not consider the potential commonality that may result from the interplay between
job satisfaction, job involvement, organizational commitment, and employee engagement, respectively. Only
commonality and areas of distinction between the main focus variable of employee engagement and job sat-
isfaction, job involvement, and organizational commitment are graphically represented. We recognize there is
potential for overlapping relations between the variables of interest that are not visually represented.
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Shuck et al. 25
emphasized an employee’s involvement and satisfaction with work as well as enthusi-
asm for that work (see, for example, Harter et al., 2002). Still further, other firms have
defined engagement as a positive attitude held by employees toward the organization
and its values. Thus, it is not difficult to see why there could be overlapping confusion
and conceptual nomological chaos (see Christian et al., 2011, Shuck, 2011, Shuck &
Wollard, 2010, and Zigarmi et al., 2009, for more comprehensive summaries of this
definitional debate).
In many ways, it is not the definitions (although differing definitions do present seri-
ous problems for research); rather, it is the assumptions about these definitions that are
critical to advancing research in HRD. As both scholars and practitioners begin to
explore the utility of the employee engagement construct, inquiries should be made as
to how the term engagement fits within the operational definition and framework that
explains how employee engagement is cultivated or formed. As such, users are urged to
consider the “fundamental scaffolding” or philosophy, terms, assumptions, and princi-
ples inherent in the schools of thought from which the term employee engagement or
work engagement is derived when researching or applying the term in practice.
Second, most approaches to the concept of employee engagement fail to offer an
operational definition but rather use derivatives-based terms to define their concepts
(this is also true for organizational commitment and job involvement although discus-
sions regarding this are beyond the scope of this paper; for more information, see
Brown, R., 1996). For example, if the term engagement is explained by using words
such as involvement or phrasing such as satisfaction and enthusiasm for work, this
only provides other words or synonyms without any explanation of the latent psycho-
logical steps or phases someone might experience in the process of becoming
engaged. These words do little to help scholars or practitioners understand how
engagement develops or is formed, although they provide a familiar, often-comfortable
conversational edict. This, of course, makes it difficult for HRD practitioners to
“move the needle” on any measure of engagement. Currently, many definitions and
measures of engagement suggest an “arrival-like” state; still further, there is currently
no agreed-on operational definition or contextually sensitive approach to which
scholars or practitioners can refer.
We might offer that employee engagement is formed within a context—a work
context of daily experiences within an organization in which the employee is respon-
sible for performing a specified role and interacting with a specified set of individuals.
However, current derivative definitions of the construct suggest a flat, unidimensional
approach. Some of these definitions suggest that once employees develop high levels
of engagement, we can proudly and enthusiastically proclaim, “they have arrived—
they are engaged, and our work here is done!” This seems naive at best.
Engagement, or any psychological, emotional, or behavioral state of being
human, should not focus on an arrival, but rather on the appraisal process an indi-
vidual goes through. In the case of employee engagement, these appraisals occur as
an employee is performing a specified role towards various work outcomes. Here
the inherent challenge is the intentional use of language when discussing constructs
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26 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
and the use of language as a tool for guiding and forming theory, research, and
informed practice. For example, scholars and practitioners might consider using an
appraisal approach to describing and understanding employee engagement similar to
that used for the emerging construct of employee work passion (Zigarmi et al., 2009,
2011). Work passion has been defined as “an individual’s persistent, emotionally
positive, meaning-based sense of well-being stemming from frequent appraisals of
various job and organizational experiences which results in constructive work inten-
tions and behaviors” (Zigarmi et al., 2009). This definition involves an appraisal (or
ongoing appraisals) that includes the measurement and constant calibration of emo-
tions, the measurement and constant calibration of job perceptions and organiza-
tional experiences, and the measurement and constant calibration of work intentions.
Work passion, as a higher order construct to engagement, is a dynamic variable. The
same holds true for employee engagement which is a dynamic variable and should
be interpreted as a process, not a final state of being.
Third, if an appraisal approach is taken, the measurement of such appraisals may
require different measurement techniques. Until now, most measurement attempts
have been completed with general cognition items that can blur various components
inherent in the concept being measured, specifically descriptive cognitions and emo-
tional inferences. The measurement of affect or emotion could require the use of a
semantic differential technique that is powerful enough to separate emotion from cog-
nition while simultaneously reducing common method bias. Further, as a specific rec-
ommendation, when measuring commitment, researchers should construct clear
intention items instead of general cognition statements that may blur various specific
aspects of the latent process (Zigarmi & Nimon, 2011). The design and measurement
of overlapping constructs must take into consideration not only the similarity of con-
structs but also the discriminate qualities of concepts.
Implications and Recommendations
for Extending Research and Informing Practice
First, as an extension of research, substantial literature supports the testing of the three
propositions outlined in this conceptual review. The Christian et al. (2011) framework
can be used as a starting point for discussion and model building, yet careful extension
of the model through rigorous research is warranted. First, it would be interesting to
examine how employee engagement, job satisfaction, organizational commitment,
and job involvement are related and, if evidence suggests a relationship, at what level
or levels do the relationships exist. Understanding the potentially overlapping nomo-
logical web between the constructs could provide fruitful insight into better under-
standing issues of discriminate validity, as well as uncovering potentially limiting
factors for each construct. For example, engagement as a state-like variable could
have significant limitations in application, and thus, usability within an HRD context
(i.e., increasing levels of workplace learning and performance); however, we contend
that this is a potential outcome for each variable examined in this manuscript,
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Shuck et al. 27
although we suspect that more insights could emerge around the variable of employee
engagement because it stands to gain the most as an emerging construct.
Understanding the relationships between the constructs could begin with simple
research questions around correlational analysis and understanding baseline descrip-
tive statistics. In full disclosure, we suspect that each of the constructs would have a
relationship, potentially a strong one, but are unsure at what level this might occur;
the question remains novel indeed. While opinions on how strongly the constructs
would need to be correlated to generate suspicion vary from methodologist to meth-
odologist, Newman et al. (2011) provide a litmus test for exploration. They suggested
that correlations exceeding .70 could call the theoretical utility of the engagement
construct into question. We partially agree and believe this litmus test should be
applied constructively and within an innovative, context-sensitive approach; never-
theless, in an abundance of caution to the researcher and to the field of HRD, we
contend that should relationships reach the .70 level, we not thrown the baby out with
the bathwater, but rather look further and deeper at what the data are suggesting.
There is a story here, and we should read it.
Moreover, understanding the relationships between the constructs examined in this
manuscript provides theoretical leverage points for developing objective and context
specific interventions. For example, understanding how employee engagement, job
satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement are related could pro-
vide new theoretical evidence toward developing human resource and organizational
development interventions around workplace learning and performance. Carefully
constructed and integrated interventions focusing clearly on incorporating current
management practices, organizational structure, job-design, and culture building (Joo,
2010) could be outcomes. Specifically, we suspect that insight around the relationships
of engagement, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement
could provide useful evidence about why certain organizationally focused interven-
tions are successful in one place yet fail in another. It seems unreasonable to expect
specific, reliable outcomes when the constructs upon which an intervention is based
seem tenuous and tortuous at best. Distinction must be an outcome of future research,
and currently each construct of interest in this paper seems intertwined and confusing.
Lines of variance should be explored more fully.
Second, discriminate validity metrics of each of the propositions in this manuscript
should be examined in an HRD-specific context. Christian et al. (2011) examined the
role of individual performance and engagement, providing initial evidence that
engagement may be different from job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and
job involvement. The findings are monumental for the field of engagement theory and
particularly interesting in light of work from Newman et al. (2011); however, for the
field of HRD, the implications for research from the Christian et al. model remain
incomplete. More evidence about how the engagement construct adds utility to inter-
ventions around workplace learning and performance should be explicit for use in
practice. This adds utility to the construct and situates the usefulness and value of
engagement for practitioners within the HRD context (e.g., organizational learning
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28 Human Resource Development Review 12(1)
and workplace performance). Furthermore, in conducting such analyses, it is impor-
tant to note that there are many measures of employee engagement including, but not
limited to the Utrect Work Engagement scales (UWES-17: Schaeufeli, Salanova,
Gonzalez-Romá, and Bakker, 2002; Scaufeli, Bakker, and Salnova, 2006: UWES-9:),
the Maslach-Burnout Inventory General Survey (MBI-GS: Schaufeli, Leiter, Maslach,
& Jackson, 1996), and The Passion Scale (Vallerand et al., 2003). Although a review
of these scales and others (e.g., May et al.’s (2004) measure of psychological engage-
ment and Rich et al.’s (2010) measure of job engagement), is outside the scope of this
paper, future research that considers the propositions set forth in this article may need
to either take a multivariate approach to operationalizing employee engagement or
consider the measure of employee engagement that is best suited to the underlying
theoretical framework to be examined.
Initially, understanding the unique variance explained by engagement in relation to
outcome variables could be interesting and enlightening. As a next step, understanding
the relationships and explained variance of the combination of variables (i.e., employee
engagement, job satisfaction, job involvement, and organizational commitment) could
provide particular insight into leverage points for future research. Still further, path and
structural equation modeling, as well as other emerging multilevel modeling procedures
(i.e., fancy pants analyses [FPA]; Adelson & Owen, 2012) could be useful procedures to
investigate. This research sophistication level could be incredibly powerful and poten-
tially reopen lines of organizational effectiveness research, many of which had their case
files closed years ago. This not only extends the Christian et al. (2011) model, but it also
grounds the utility of engagement within a specific context; consequently, engagement
becomes usable to HRD. This could also provide a known-framework within which to
interpret the practical utility and statistical uniqueness of engagement and HRD. Finally,
great potential exists for uncovering new insight about the role of job satisfaction, com-
mitment, and job involvement in relation to organizational learning and workplace per-
formance and the individual and/or organizational level each represents.
Additionally, as an explicit extension of the Christian et al. (2011) and Newman et al.
(2011) models, no research has examined the utility of the three-facet model proposed by
Shuck and Wollard (2010) as well as others (see Rich et al., 2010) in relation to the over-
arching job-attitudes model (Newman et al., 2011). As suggested by Newman et al., other
domains of engagement could be explored in relation to potential performance variables
(i.e., organizational learning and workplace performance); these domains of engagement
have been defined for HRD and could continue to be fruitful grounds for exploration. As a
further suggestion, looking at performance across multiple levels (i.e., individual perfor-
mance, group performance, and organizational performance) could shed new insight on
how the varying facets of the engagement state (e.g., cognitive, emotional, and behavioral;
Shuck & Wollard, 2010) influence workplace performance and hence, guide HRD practi-
tioners. We also recommend the examination of emerging and conceptually innovative
constructs such as the work passion model (Nimon et al., 2011; Zigarmi et al., 2009, 2011)
with the three-facet employee engagement model (Shuck & Reio, 2011; Shuck & Wollard,
2010) in the context of the A-factor and workplace performance outcomes (i.e., workplace
learning and performance, intentions). As a parallel extension to HRD, the application of
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Shuck et al. 29
engagement to factors outside of work that could influence the study, perception, or experi-
ence of work (including the variables of play, relationships, leisure, community, family,
and spirituality) could be fruitful. For example, scholars or scholar-practitioners might ask
“Is there is a cost to engagement, and if so, what is it and where is it likely to emerge?”
“How does engagement influence relationships inside and outside of work, and what lever-
age points can be gleaned?” “How does engagement affect the employee at basic levels?”
As work boundaries continue to expand and become increasingly blurred, findings from
this kind of research and design have serious implications for practical utility and exten-
sions of known theory and research. The utility of engagement and the practice of HRD
might not be limited to organizational systems.
Last, at the macro-level, understanding the nomological network of engagement
and job attitude variables could help identify meaningful relational qualities among
engagement, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement; thus,
this line of research which builds from seminal work by Christian et al. (2011) has the
potential to extend and draw connections to conceptual models which served as theo-
retical underpinnings to attitudinal and workplace climate frameworks such as social
identity (Ashforth & Mael, 1989), job stress (Thoits, 1991), job design (Hackman &
Oldham, 1980), and emotion in the workplace (Hochschild. 1979). Increased under-
standing of the importance or nonsignificance of the engagement construct and what
relationships it shares with satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involve-
ment could help HRD professionals refine interventions around engagement theory as
well as inform the larger HRD and organizational behavior literature base. Still fur-
ther, it is interesting to consider the role of employee engagement and job attitudinal
variables in relation to positive psychology, emerging health and wellness research,
and the experience and interpretation of work from the employee perspective. Thus,
researchers have much to explore for many years to come. We look forward to it.
Authors’ Note
This article is the author’s original work, has not been published elsewhere, and is not under consid-
eration for publication elsewhere at the time. A previous version of this article was included in 2012
Proceedings of the Academy of Human Resource Development presented in Denver, Colorado.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
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Author Biographies
Brad Shuck is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Leadership and Learning at the University
of Louisville. His research agenda has focused on the use of employee engagement and positive
psychology in HRD, workplace culture, non-traditional methods of instructional design, and leader-
ship development. Shuck was the 2010-2011 Malcolm Knowles Dissertation of the Year Runner-Up
and recipient of the 2011 Advances in Developing Human Resources Issue of the Year Award for the
special issue on employee engagement. His research has appeared in publications such as Human
Resource Development Review, Human Resource Development International, the Journal of
Management Development, Advances in Developing Human Resources, and the Journal of
European Journal of Training and Development, among others.
Rajashi Ghosh, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Human Resource Development program in
School of Education at Drexel University. Her research aims to promote continuous learning and
development of adults in workplaces by exploring different factors that can reinforce or hinder
workforce development. Prior to joining academics, Rajashi worked in the corporate sector in the
areas of employee development and performance management. Her experience in employee devel-
opment inspired her to pursue research to improve the conditions of workplace learning.
Drea Zigarmi is a faculty member in the School of Business Administration at the University
of San Diego and Founding Associate of the Ken Blanchard Companies where he is Director
of Research. Additionally, he is coauthor of Achieve Leadership Genius and The Leader Within
as well as co-developer of a number of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ products, including
Situational Leadership II® and the widely used Leader Behavior Analysis II® instruments.
Kim Nimon, joined the Department of Learning Technologies faculty at the University of North
Texas (UNT) as an assistant professor in 2008. Her areas of expertise are in workforce development
(human resource development, employee engagement, corporate chaplaincy programs) and analyti-
cal methodologies (applied general linear model analyses, statistical software programming, mea-
surement and evaluation). She has published extensively in refereed journals such as American
Journal of Evaluation, Frontiers in Psychology, Human Resources Quarterly, Learning and
Performance Quarterly, Multivariate Behavioral Research, and, as well as book chapters. She cur-
rently is the principal investigator for grants awarded by Everman ISD, FISH Technologies, Inc., and
is external evaluator for a National Science Foundation grant. Dr. Nimon has made over 50 refereed
presentations for international and national scholarly organizations and was recently award the
Cutting Edge Award by the Academy of Human Resource Development. She also holds patents
from both the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Canada Intellectual Property Office. Dr. Nimon
holds leadership positions in professional organizations such as American Educational Research
Association, Academy of Human Resource Development, and the Southwestern Educational
Research Association. She also serves as an incoming Associate Editor for Human Resource
Development Quarterly and is the Director of the Information for Research and Analysis Lab at the
University of North Texas. Dr. Nimon received the PhD in Applied Technology and Performance
Improvement from UNT in 2007 and plans to complete the PhD in Educational Research, also from
UNT, in 2013. Her MS in Organizational Leadership is from Regent University and BS in Computer
Science is from the University of Arkansas.
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The Handbook presents comprehensive and global perspectives to help researchers and practitioners identify, understand, evaluate and apply the key theories, models, measures and interventions associated with employee engagement. It provides many new insights, practical applications and areas for future research. It will serve as an important platform for ongoing research and practice on employee engagement.
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Providing both practical advice, tools, and case examples, Employee Engagement translates best practices, ideas, and concepts into concrete and practical steps that will change the level of engagement in any organization. Explores the meaning of engagement and how engagement differs significantly from other important yet related concepts like satisfaction and commitment Discusses what it means to create a culture of engagement Provides a practical presentation deck and talking points managers can use to introduce the concept of engagement in their organization Addresses issues of work-life balance, and non-work activities and their relationship to engagement at work.