Employee Engagement – Old Wine in a New Bottle?

Employee engagement is sometimes easily confused with a list of similar concepts in people management practice and research. Many of the below-described concepts are closely related to engagement.


Satisfaction is defined as a pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one's job and job experiences[1].

Albrecht argues that compared to employee engagement, which is characterized as positive energy and enthusiasm towards work, job satisfaction is characterized by less activated positive psychological states, such as comfort[2]. The difference between employee engagement and satisfaction, as well as workaholism and burnout is displayed in the below figure.

This two-dimensional view of work-related subjective psychological states is based on analysis by Bakker and Oerlemans[3]. The model displays the affective states in two dimensions – the level of activation (low to high) and the level of pleasure (unpleasant to pleasant). Employee engagement is placed in the first quadrant, which means that it is a pleasant state of high activation, characterized by excitement, enthusiasm, and high level of energy. Satisfaction is also a pleasant state, but it's calmer and more relaxed due to being lower on the activation dimension. On the other side of the pleasure dimension are such states as workaholism (high activation) and burnout (low activation).

The fact that satisfaction does not include the sense of goal-directed energy, which is an essential part of engagement, might be one of the reasons why research has shown a relatively modest correlation between job satisfaction and job performance[4].


The feeling of engagement cannot occur without a specific purpose or objective[5]. From this perspective, employee engagement is closely related to motivation. Traditionally motivation studies mainly suggest that employees are either motivated at work or not and that motivation is a relatively stable state[6], whereas engagement is often viewed as situational.

Intrinsic motivation refers to a drive or push that is instigated and propelled by an interest in and spontaneous enjoyment from an activity[7].

As long as employees interpret their work environment as supporting feelings of competence, giving them self-control, and being characterized by a sense of relatedness, people will believe that their actions and behaviors are self-determined and will be intrinsically motivated[8]. What makes employee engagement different from intrinsic motivation is the goal direction. Engagement is consistent with the organization's goals and is about one's role in reaching these goals. It’s not just about being driven to continue doing something purely out of enjoyment. Employee engagement is about being driven across multiple platforms of the self toward goal achievement, and one just happens to be intrinsically rewarded doing so. Thus, engagement subsumes intrinsic motivation[9].


Robinson, Perryman, and Hayday even defined employee engagement as one step up from commitment[10].

Employee commitment is typically characterized by internalization of organization's goals and values and a strong desire to remain a member of the organization, which results in a willingness to exert extensive energy on behalf of it[11].

Ashforth and Mael argue that commitment is an attitudinal reaction to the work environment and leadership[12].

Although commitment is an important ingredient, it is only a piece of the engagement equation[13]. Many studies suggest that engaged employees are more likely to stay with their organizations for the reason of being engaged. Based on the study by organizational behavior researcher Mitchell and his colleagues, employees of an organization can remain employed, even if they are not engaged, due to family or social pressures, as well as other commitments they have made, which require them to stay employed in their present work place[14]. Other reasons why disengaged (but committed) employees also stay with their organizations include financial rewards, career opportunities, comfortable work conditions, etc. Being disengaged does not indicate a lack of commitment, but a commitment to the wrong things[15].

Correlations between engagement and commitment tend to be moderate to high[16].


Job involvement refers to a stable cognitive judgment about the centrality of work to one's life and identity[17].

It is also defined as the internalization of values about the goodness of work or the importance of work in the worth of the person[18] and the level to which one is cognitively preoccupied with, engaged in, and concerned with his or her present job[19]. Job involvement is one aspect of the emotional dimension of employee engagement[20].

Correlations between engagement and job involvement tend to be moderate[21].

The above analysis shows that employee engagement can be compared to many other forms of relationships between individuals, organizations and the work that individuals perform related to their roles within the organizations. Engagement, however, reflects a genuine and unique psychological state that employees experience at work[22].

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