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This content is taken from the Coventry University's online course, Employee Engagement and Motivation: An Introduction. Join the course to learn more.

Defining employee engagement

The first concept we need to bear in mind when considering what drives people to do a good job is engagement.

Employee engagement, as defined by Kahn (1990: 694) is:

…the harnessing of organization members’ selves to their work roles: in engagement, people employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally during role performances.

According to May, Gilson, and Harter (2004), the three aspects of work engagement are cognitive, emotional and physical.

The cognitive aspect The beliefs an individual has about the organisation, such as its policies and procedures, working conditions and its vision.
The emotional aspect The individual’s attitudes held toward an organisation.
The physical aspect The energy an individual puts into their work.

Thus, employee engagement may influence how an individual, where they may put extra effort in, feels more motivated with their job (Steptoe-Warren 2013).



Online texts from locate.coventry.ac.uk will only be available to learners who have signed up to take all the courses in the Program Engagement and Motivation.

Kahn, W. A. (1990) ‘Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work’. Academy of Management Journal [online] 33 (4), 692-724. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_proquest199783385&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

May, D. R., Gilson, R., L., and Harter, L., M. (2004) ‘The Psychological Conditions of Meaningfulness, Safety and Availability and the Engagement of the Human Spirit at Work’. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology [online] 77 (1), 11-37. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_gale_ofa115567603&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Steptoe-Warren, G. (2013) Occupational Psychology: An Applied Approach [online] Harlow: Pearson. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_pq_ebook_centralEBC5175849&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Further reading

Arnold, J., and Randall, R. (2010) Work Psychology: Understanding Human Behaviour in the Workplace. 5th edn. Harlow: Pearson

McKenna, E. (2012) Business Psychology and Organisational Behaviour: A Student’s Handbook. Hove: Psychology Press

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This article is from the free online course:

Employee Engagement and Motivation: An Introduction

Coventry University