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Work Engagement, Disengagement and Meaningfulness

A doctoral dissertation by

Dr Trevor Long

Submitted to the Henley Business School, University of Reading in partial fulfilment for the Degree of Doctor of Business Administration

ISBN: 978-1-909507-97-5 Copyright Š Trevor Long Licence to publish granted to Academic Conferences and Publishing International Limited, 2014 For more information see

WORK ENGAGEMENT, DISENGAGEMENT AND MEANINGFULNESS: Achieving the simultaneous benefits of high work performance and individual well-being



March 2013

Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

ABSTRACT This thesis reports research into work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness. The research commenced with a general proposition that significant progress could be made in designing work that enhanced performance and employee well-being concurrently. Literature on engagement provided the foundation on which to explore these phenomena, and identified the experience of meaningfulness as a key factor in engagement, but which was not clearly understood. Adopting a constructivist perspective and interpretivist paradigm, underpinned by Personal Construct Theory, the research explored the inner experience of engagement. An iterative approach elicited qualitative data from respondents in a service organisation over several phases of interviews, punctuated by analyses and the development of new techniques as the research progressed. Confirming much of the literature, findings also developed new insights which, contrary to current thinking, indicated that engagement and disengagement are different constructs and that both could therefore be experienced simultaneously, within the same activity. Subconstructs







meaningfulness, as a dynamic tension between stability and growth, to play a key role in engagement and disengagement experiences. Implications for management and leadership, and for self-management, are discussed. It is proposed that the management of engagement and of disengagement require some distinctly different fundamental approaches. A technique is proposed for use in analysis, and the management, of engagement-related experiences, as a means of enhancing meaningfulness, well-being and work performance. The research contributes to theory, to practice and to methodology.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am grateful to many people for their involvement with me on the PhD journey. Thank you to Professor Jane Mackenzie for your detailed and challenging advice, and to Professor Pam Denicolo for your support and depth of insight. As my supervisors, your interest in the research, and in helping me to achieve my best, on an enriching and enjoyable journey, has been exceptional. I am grateful too, to Professor Pat Joynt whose supervision for some of the time helped me to keep focus, and to Professor Dan Remenyi, for informal, but incisive discussions. My sincere thanks to the research participants who willingly gave their time for interviews and have remained welcoming and interested in the progress and findings from the research. Particular thanks to the CEO of the research organisation, for his enthusiasm and openness to take a risk, and facilitating links to all staff. Many family and friends have encouraged and supported me, and put up with me not being around as much as I would have liked. Thanks to my mother and late father who were always interested in how I was getting on. Thank you to my daughter Joanna and son Jonathan who have always been an inspiration to me, and now also Jo’s partner Anthony, and their sons, Lewis and Ewan. I single out a particular friend, Terry, with thanks for your friendship and involvement, now deeply missed. A special thank you to Nikki, for reading drafts, discussing progress, challenging and supporting, who started out as my PhD partner and became my life partner. Thanks for believing even when I didn’t. I am grateful to the following people who contributed directly to research activities: Louise Amos Amanda Barnes Shirley Boon Gemma Bloomfield Martin Carey Jonathan Cox Gregg Dodds

Dawn Edwards Wendy Evans-Hendrick Lesley Gentry Mandy Gowers Michelle Guilder Sally Hobson Jamie Hopkins

Stephen Javes Claire Kent Paul Kingston Caterina Mallardo Tony Morris Annie Palmer Mike Penman


Andrew Regent Claire Ridsdale Neil Salisbury Nancy Sloan-Capasso Diane Stirton Cath Wright Chris Wyer


ii iii iv x

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1 INTRODUCTION 1.1.1 Research Motivation and Focus 1.1.2 Research Journey 1.1.3 Contributions Contribution to Theory Contribution to Practice Contribution to Methodology 1.1.4 Thesis Structure Narrative Mode 1.2 RESEARCH CONTEXT 1.3 ENGAGEMENT 1.3.1 The Importance of Engagement and the Research Contextual Factors Work Design Factors 1.3.2 Engagement and Leadership Leadership and Commitment Leadership Doing and Being 1.4 MOTIVATION TO ENGAGE 1.4.1 Early Insights 1.4.2 Principles and models of Work Engagement 1.4.3 Recent Perspective on Motivation and Engagement 1.4.4 Conclusion to the Motivation to Engage 1.5 CONCLUSION TO CHAPTER 1

1 1 1 2 4 4 5 5 5 8 8 10 10 14 15 16 17 18 20 20 20 23 25 26

CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1 INTRODUCTION 2.2 THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ENGAGEMENT 2.2.1 Psychological Conditions Psychological Meaningfulness Psychological Safety Psychological Availability 2.2.2 Engagement and Burnout 2.2.3 Disengagement 2.3 MEANINGFULNESS 2.3.1 Meaning and Life Meaning of Life i God-centred supernatural theories ii Objective natural theories Meaning in Life i Soul-centred supernatural theories ii Subjectivism iii Factors influencing meaning in life

27 27 29 29 30 31 31 34 35 39 40 41 43 44 45 46 47 48


2.3.2 Meaning and Work Meaning of Work Meaning in Work i The importance of work meaning ii Factors of work meaning iii Intrinsic and extrinsic work meaning a Intrinsic and extrinsic work factors b Intrinsic and extrinsic meaning 2.3.3 Meaningfulness and Self 2.4 SELF 2.4.1 Personal Construction of Self 2.4.2 Self and Social Context 2.4.3 Self Identity 2.4.4 Self and Ideology 2.4.5 Self and Motivation Self-Efficacy Self-Esteem Self-Consistency Attribution Theory Control and Autonomy Achievement Theory Expectancy Theory Equity Theory Summary of Self and Motivation 2.4.6 Self-Determination Theory 2.4.7 Dynamic Stability of Self 2.5 CONCLUSION TO CHAPTER 2

52 52 57 57 59 61 61 63 67 70 70 72 74 76 77 78 80 81 81 83 84 85 87 88 89 91 93

CHAPTER 3 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 3.1 INTRODUCTION 3.2 RESEARCH PHILOSOPHY: THE PARADIGM 3.2.1 Perspective on Reality Relativism or Realism 3.2.2 Perspective on Knowledge Positivism and Objectivism Constructivism, Subjectivism and Phenomenology 3.3 THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE 3.3.1 The Application of Interpretivism Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis 3.3.2 Iterative Approach 3.3.3 Inductive Approach 3.3.4 Personal Construct Psychology 3.4 RESEARCH QUALITY 3.4.1 Credibility 3.4.2 Transferability 3.4.3 Dependability 3.4.4 Confirmability 3.5 ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS 3.5.1 Ethical Perspectives Teleology Utilitarianism

100 100 101 102 103 105 105 107 110 111 112 113 114 116 120 121 121 122 122 123 123 123 124

v Deontology Covenantal Critical Philosophy 3.6 CONCLUSION TO CHAPTER 3

125 125 126 127

CHAPTER 4 RESEARCH ACTIVITIES 4.1 INTRODUCTION 4.2 SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS 4.2.1 Accessing Personal Constructs Alternative Techniques for Eliciting Constructs The Repertory Grid Triangulation 4.3 DATA COLLECTION 4.3.1 Respondents 4.4 RESEARCH PROGRAMME 4.4.1 Pilot Interview: Process and Evaluation 4.4.2 Across-Organisation Interviews: Phase 1 Evaluation of Phase 1 Interview Process 4.4.3 Executive Group Interviews: Phase 2 Evaluation of Phase 2 Interview Process 4.4.4 Executive Group Interviews: Phase 3 Phase 3 Interview process i Repertory Grid ii Concept Card Mapping Evaluation of Phase 3 Interview Process 4.4.5 Middle Management Interviews: Phase 4 Evaluation of Phase 4 Interview Process 4.5 ANALYSIS OF DATA 4.5.1 Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis 4.5.2 Thematic Analysis Engagement Conditions 4.5.3 Repertory Grid Analysis 4.5.4 Concept Card Mapping Analysis 4.5.5 Metaphors 4.5.6 Integrated Analysis 4.6 CONCLUSION TO CHAPTER 4

129 129 129 131 132 134 136 137 138 140 141 142 144 145 146 148 149 149 150 153 155 156 157 158 158 160 161 163 163 164 164

CHAPTER 5 RESEARCH FINDINGS 5.1 INTRODUCTION 5.2 PILOT INTERVIEW 5.3 INTERVIEW THEMES 5.3.1 Detailed Themes Overview of Detailed Thematic Findings i Engagement ii Lack of Engagement and Engagement iii Disengagement iv Engagement, Lack of Engagement and Disengagement 5.3.2 Integrated Thematic Analysis Work Characteristics Purpose Connection

166 166 167 168 169 173 173 174 177 178 179 182 183 184



5.5 5.6 5.7

5.8 Self-Concept Self-Determination Growth Values 5.3.3 Conclusion to Thematic Analysis REPERTORY GRID FINDINGS 5.4.1 Elicited Constructs 5.4.2 Activity Elements 5.4.3 Construing of Elements General Patterns Relationships Between Constructs 5.4.4 Integrated Analysis 5.4.5 Conclusion to Repertory Grid Findings CONCEPT MAPPING FINDINGS METAPHORS INTEGRATED FINDINGS 5.7.1 Individual Respondent Findings 5.7.2 Findings by Engagement Condition Engagement i Self-enhancement ii Self-concept iii External factors iv Concreteness v Facilitation and Drivers vi Completeness Lack of Engagement i Self-enhancement ii External factors iii Purpose iv Values v Self-concept Disengagement i Self-concept ii Work characteristics iii Self-determination iv Self-efficacy All Engagement Conditions CONCLUSION TO CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6 DISCUSSION 6.1 INTRODUCTION 6.2 THE NATURE OF ENGAGEMENT 6.2.2 Engagement Continuum Thematic Analysis Concept Mapping 6.2.3 Work Characteristics 6.2.4 Purpose 6.2.5 Connection 6.2.6 Self-Concept 6.2.7 Self-Determination 6.2.8 Values

185 186 187 188 189 190 190 192 193 193 195 198 203 204 208 211 211 211 212 212 212 212 212 213 213 213 213 213 214 214 214 214 215 215 215 215 215 217 218 218 219 219 220 221 222 224 226 227 229 230



6.4 6.5 6.6


6.2.9 Growth 6.2.10 Conclusion to The Nature of Engagement THE NATURE OF DISENGAGEMENT 6.3.1 Common Engagement and Disengagement Themes Connection Purpose Self-determination Values Growth Conclusion to Common Engagement and Disengagement Themes 6.3.2 Distinguishing Engagement and Disengagement Themes Work Characteristics Self-concept 6.3.3 Disengagement and the Literature 6.3.4 Disengagement as a Distinct Construct 6.3.5 Engagement and Disengagement as Distinct Constructs Alternative Explanations FACILITATORS AND DRIVERS OF ENGAGEMENT DISENGAGEMENT AS A CONTINUUM THE NATURE OF WORK MEANINGFULNESS 6.6.1 Dynamic Stability and Meaningfulness 6.6.2 Work Characteristics 6.6.3 Purpose 6.6.4 Self-concept 6.6.5 Connection 6.6.6 Values 6.6.7 Growth 6.6.8 Self-determination 6.6.9 Conclusion to The Nature of Work Meaningfulness CONCLUSION TO CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7 CONCLUSION 7.1 INTRODUCTION 7.2 IMPLICATIONS OF RESEARCH FINDINGS 7.2.1 Contribution to Theory 7.2.2 Contribution to Practice 7.2.3 Contribution to Methodology 7.2.4 Leader-Analysis of Engagement and Disengagement Systematic Leadership Processes i Making changes ii Leadership competencies Implications for the Doing and Being of Leadership 7.2.5 Self-Analysis of Engagement and Disengagement High Engagement / Low Disengagement Low Engagement / Low Disengagement Low Engagement / High Disengagement High Engagement / High Disengagement More Granular Analysis 7.3 LIMITATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH


231 232 235 236 237 237 238 239 240 241 241 242 243 245 247 249 250 251 256 258 259 260 261 262 262 263 264 264 265 266 268 268 269 269 269 270 270 271 273 276 277 281 283 284 284 285 286 287








307 308 310 311

River Housing Association Organisation Chart E-Mail Letter to Phase 1 Interview Respondents Interview Consent Form Interview Format for Pilot, Phase 1 and Phase 2 Example Page of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis from Transcript (EG10) F One Interview Example of Themes G Pilot Interview Report H Example of an Interview Summary Note I Interview format for Phase 3 J E-Mail to Phase 3 Interview Respondents K Respondent Phase 3 Interview Preparation Form L Repertory Grid form used in Phase 3 Interviews M Cards for Concept Mapping Exercise N Interview Quotations O Repertory Grid Constructs P Repertory Grid Elements Q Composite Cluster Analyses R Metaphor Quotations S Example of One Integrated Report


312 313 314 318 320 321 322 323 324 326 346 350 352 355 358


Research Journey


2.1 Research Concept Model 2.2 Conceptual Experiences of Meaning 2.3 Reseacrh Concept Model

29 63 95

3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6

Ontological Position Key Research Distinctions between Relativism and Realism Epistemological Position Theoretical Perspective Research-Related Inductive and Deductive Approaches Quality Criteria for Different Paradigms

102 103 105 111 115 120

4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7

Research Journey Across Organisation Respondents in Phase 1 Interviews Executive Group Respondents in Phases 2 and 3 Interviews Concepts Used in Concept Mapping Exercise Photograph of a Completed Concept Mapping Exercise Middle Management Respondents in Phase 4 Interviews Integrated and Original Themes

140 143 146 151 152 155 160

5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 5.9 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 5.19 5.20 5.21 5.22 5.23 5.24 5.25 5.26 5.27

Concepts Elicited from Pilot Interview Engagement Themes Elicited from IPA Analysis Lack of Engagement Themes Elicited from IPA Analysis Disengagement Themes Elicited from IPA Analysis Finding from Detailed Thematic Analysis Engagement and Lack of Engagement Themes Integrated Engagement Themes Integrated Lack of Engagement Themes Integrated Disengagement Themes Integrated Engagement and Lack of Engagement Themes Repertory Grid Constructs Cluster Analysis for EG2 Cluster Analysis for MM4 Cluster Analysis for EG4 Cluster Analysis for EG6 Order Display for EG6 Constructs Elicited by EG6 Construct Categories Ordered from Even to Skewed Construct Ratings EG Element Clusters MM Element Clusters Composite Element Clusters EG3 Construct Clusters EG8 and EG11 Construct Clusters MM11 Construct Clusters MM2 Construct Clusters EG Construct Clusters Associated with Self-Determination EG Construct Clusters Associated with Growth

167 170 171 172 173 175 180 180 181 181 191 193 194 194 196 196 196 197 198 198 198 199 199 199 199 200 200


5.28 5.29 5.30 5.31 5.32 5.33 5.34 5.35 5.36 5.37

MM Construct Clusters Associated with Purpose MM Construct Clusters Associated with Growth Composite Construct Cluster Associated with Purpose and People Composite Construct Cluster Associated with Growth Concept Mapping for High Engagement Activity Concept Mapping for High Disengagement Activity Work Characteristics and Self-related Factors: Engagement Work Characteristics and Self-related Factors: Disengagement Engagement Metaphors Disengagement Metaphors

201 201 202 202 205 205 207 207 209 210

6.1 Research Concept Model 6.2 The Engagement Continuum 6.3 Engagement Concept Model 6.4 Disengagement Concept Model 6.5 Passive and Active Engagement Drivers 6.6 Passive and Active Constructs 6.7 Engagement and Disengagement Matrix

222 233 249 250 252 253 257

7.1 Engagement and Disengagement Matrix of PhD Journey 7.2 Engagement and Disengagement Continuum of PhD Journey

282 287

Declaration I confirm that this is my own work and the use of all material from other sources has been properly and fully acknowledged.


Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION “Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge” Gibran 1.1


This thesis presents research into the nature of work engagement. Current understanding, summarised from the literature, identifies work engagement as a recent construct, central for optimising work performance and well-being, but which is not clearly understood. The research was designed to contribute to knowledge and practice, by exploring the particular role that the inner experience of meaningfulness has on work engagement. An iterative, inductive research design supported an exploratory approach in which the elicitation of qualitative data provided deep insights into constructed realities of individual respondents. Activities and techniques evolved as the research progressed and findings revealed new perspectives on engagement and disengagement as distinct constructs and how a person’s sense of meaningfulness plays a central role for enhancing engagement and diminishing disengagement. Key factors that may be applied by leaders and managers for their team members, and by individuals for themselves, to enhance engagement are identified. 1.1.1

Research Motivations and Focus

My interest in this research grew as I became aware of particular perplexing paradoxes in the context of work, reflecting the quotation at the head of this chapter. Work appears as an activity which constrains people by degrees of control, direction and objectives but in which people need degrees of freedom, involvement and purpose to perform well.

Work seems to be most

effective and satisfying when there is a close fit between demands of the work and characteristics of jobholders. These appear, most often, not to be aligned, however I maintain a strong belief, which admittedly is ideological, that it is possible to achieve both high well-being and high work performance simultaneously – or at least a degree of improvement over the status quo. This was my starting point for this research. Herzberg’s protest in 1968, republished in 1987 (Herzberg, 1987), that our assured 12

understanding about the complex nature of the psychology of motivation is ‘small indeed’, remains to this day (Latham and Pinder, 2005), and this gap opened the opportunity to make a contribution. The scope of the research was limited by several different factors. Cultural variations impact inner experiences of engagement (eg., Adigun, 2000), and so the research was restricted to the United Kingdom / Western cultures.

The research focused on engagement at work, not

engagement in relation to family or other social relationships, although some factors would almost certainly apply to all. A single organisation was selected for the research because this allowed control of contextual variables and, within the limitations of the research, allowed depth of data elicitation and analysis, rather than breadth (chapter 4), but this inevitably constrains the application of findings to other contexts. The research did not explore longitudinal aspects of work but focused on engagement as an inner experience in the moment, as activities are carried out. It balanced gender and age, and focused on jobholders who were in mid-career, not pre- or post-work experience or those very early or late in their careers. The rationale for the selection of respondents can be found in section 4.3.1. 1.1.2

Research Journey

The research journey is summarised at Figure 1.1. It shows a flow diagram indicating the steps I took in the research programme. These are shown under headings which largely represent the thesis chapters in which they are discussed. I considered spiritual aspects of work early in the research, but I considered the literature to be insufficiently rigorous as a foundation for PhD research. Motivation theory provided some insights but appeared to be limited in scope for exploring the simultaneous possibilities of high work performance and individual well-being.

However the engagement literature was

sufficiently well founded on which to built a research study and identify a gap in knowledge relating to the role of meaningfulness in engagement. From this I raised the initial research question: ‘What is the nature of meaningfulness in work engagement?’, and from a more focused literature review which followed, I refined this to: ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’





Organisational Spirituality

Initial Review

Work Engagement

Broad Review

Initial Question

Work Engagement & Meaningfulness

Focused Review

Research Question




Concept Model Research Theory Review

Research Paradigm o o o o o

Relativist Constructivist Interpretivist Qualitative Inductive

Theoretical Perspective

o Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis o Personal Construct Psychology


Conversational o Pilot o Across organisation (Phase 1) o Executive Group (Phase 2)

Review Update Interviews Work Engagement Disengagement & Meaningfulness

Repertory Grid Concept Mapping o Executive Group (Phase 3) o Middle Management (Phase 4)

Engagement and disengagement distinctions? Self-factors?

Engagement and Disengagement



Limitations Future research

o Distinct constructs o Continua o Sub-constructs

o Theory o Practice o Methodology

Figure 1.1 Research Journey With insights into main concepts from the literature (summarised in a concept model, Figure 2.1, chapter 2), and the research question defined, I drew on research methodology literature to develop a research philosophy and paradigm, which, in turn defined the theoretical perspective. The research was based on a constructivist philosophical perspective and interpretivist paradigm, underpinned by Personal Construct Theory (chapter 3). I then defined methods for the collection of data (chapter 4). Qualitative data were elicited from respondents through semi-structured interviews. Data collection was programmed into phases of interviews, allowing evaluation and adaptation of the research as it progressed. There were four main interview phases.

In the first two phases I explored engagement events using

conversational interviews, eliciting factors and constructs that contributed to insights into the nature of engagement and the role of meaningfulness. Initial findings indicated that the construct of engagement appeared to be different in nature to that which I had understood from the literature (chapter 4). In summary, there appeared to be some fundamental differences in the factors that related to engagement and disengagement. More specifically, whilst, from the literature, I understood engagement and disengagement to be two ends of a continuum, my initial findings did not support this. It did appear that high to low


engagement was a continuum but also that disengagement was a separate construct. Those factors that were of key importance in the engagement continuum appeared to be different to those factors that were of key importance in relation to disengagement. I therefore returned to the literature to explore disengagement in greater depth (chapter 2) and, through this, I refined the focus of the research, introducing techniques that would allow greater exploration of disengagement as a distinct construct to engagement. In interview phases 3 and 4 I explored engagement and disengagement using more established techniques, namely Repertory Grid and Concept Mapping (chapter 4). Whilst continuing to elicit data relating to engagement, further insights were provided into disengagement as a distinct construct and meaningfulness. Interviews elicited qualitative data which, through thematic interpretative phenomenological analysis, elicited meanings associated with engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness. Contributions from the research are made to theoretical knowledge, to practice and to methodology (chapter 7). These are summarised in the next section. 1.1.3


The research contributes in three main areas, summarised here and discussed in more depth in chapter 7. Contribution to Theory The research contributes conceptual perspectives on the nature of engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness, as internal experiences, and how these inter-relate. A model is produced from an extensive review and synthesis of the literature, which is modified following the research. Whilst the literature suggests that engagement and disengagement are on a single construct continuum, the research provides evidence that this is not the case and contributes a new perspective on the nature of engagement and disengagement. The role of meaningfulness was explored through the research, which found evidence to position it not as a state, but as a process of dynamic stability in the tension between self-maintenance and self-enhancement.

15 Contribution to Practice Through re-conceptualising engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness, the research proposes ways in which this knowledge may be used to help managers and leaders assess engagement-related experiences of team members and to help people assess their own engagement-related experiences. A matrix and graphical tool is proposed for this analytical approach. The research suggests not a list of factors that may be formulaically applied, but rather a number of principles that may be used to explore and improve engagement-related experiences. Contribution to Methodology The research applied new methodology to the investigation of engagement and disengagement. The theory of Personal Construct Psychology underpinned in-depth exploration of meanings. An iterative approach allowed the evolution of appropriate techniques for the collection of data as the research progressed, including computer-based elicitation and instant analysis during interviews.

The triangulation of data from different methods provided inductive insights,

building new understanding as the nature of the phenomena became clearer. 1.1.4

Thesis Structure

This section summarises the structure of the thesis. The boxes at the top of Figure 1.1 represent the main chapters (chapters 6 and 7 are combined). In this chapter I discuss the developing context of work and how the profile and importance of work engagement has grown. I summarise examples of some projects involving the application of engagement principles in work, and then discuss theories of motivation that relate to work activities and have a foundational impact on the development of engagement and disengagement constructs. Consistent with the focus of this chapter, I limit this discussion to theories that relate directly to the context of work. Motivational dynamics relating to broader psychological processes are discussed in chapter 2. The importance of the research is emphasised through recognising, first, the general significance of work engagement, second, the need for greater understanding of the constructs of


engagement and disengagement, third, gaps in knowledge, and, fourth, the particular need for deeper insights into meaningfulness in the context of engagement. Chapter 2 develops insights from previous contributions and current thinking through a review of relevant literature. It builds on the contextual discussion from chapter 1 and discusses psychological aspects of engagement and disengagement.

Having recognised that

meaningfulness is a key factor in work engagement, but that literature in this domain is limited, I explore meaningfulness in the broad context of work and life. The discussion identifies the ‘self’ as a key dynamic, and different perspectives of the self are explored, incorporating those factors that relate to identity as a central construct, and those factors that relate to psychological motivational processes. The chapter concludes with a summary of the key concepts from which a model is derived and explained. Exploratory research into the nature of engagement and meaningfulness requires careful consideration of methodology. The philosophical and theoretical research perspective, forming a consistent paradigm, is discussed in chapter 3. I justify the approach taken, characterised by a relativist, constructivist philosophy, phenomenological, interpretivist paradigm, and underpinned by Personal Construct Theory, and contrast this with other possible options.

Chapter 3

concludes with a discussion of quality issues, including ethical considerations. In chapter 4 I discuss the activities carried out to collect data. There are two main elements to this chapter. The first relates to the methods, tools and techniques I used, showing how each one elicited evidence during different phases of the research.

The second element is the

programme of activities. This is discussed chronologically, showing how the exploration evolved as the research developed. I discuss the four phases of interviews in detail showing how I applied different techniques to elicit concepts and constructs, including conversational semistructured interviews, Repertory Grid, metaphors and Concept Mapping. Chapter 5 is a detailed summary of the findings from analyses of data. Thematic analysis is noted first, including details of individual themes elicited from interview transcripts, which are then combined to form integrated themes, supported by interview quotations, against experiences described as engaging, lacking in engagement and disengaging. This is followed by findings from Repertory Grid analysis in which patterns from activity elements and constructs are elicited, using integrated themes to organise findings. The findings from analyses of concept


mapping exercises and of metaphors noted in the interviews are combined with thematic and Repertory Grid analyses to provide ‘triangulated’ evidence from different lenses to develop patterns about the nature of engagement and disengagement, which are then considered with reference to one case exemplar. Insights gained from findings are integrated with the literature in chapter 6 to develop arguments and propositions about the nature of engagement, the nature of disengagement and the nature of work meaningfulness, and how they inter-relate. This directly addresses the research question and they are explored in depth by returning to those sub-constructs and factors identified as key themes impacting each of these super-ordinate constructs. Evidence is presented to support the claims that engagement and disengagement are distinct constructs and consideration is given to these as distinct continua, raising the prospect that people may experience engagement and disengagement independently, that they relate in particular to some key factors and that they may be experienced simultaneously. This in turn raises questions concerning the management of engagement and disengagement, and these are addressed in the final chapter, chapter 7. Chapter 7 concludes the thesis. It focuses primarily on implications of findings, noting in particular how they may be used to analyse and manage engagement and disengagement experiences. I consider how leaders and managers may facilitate analyses and change relating to team members and how individuals may analyse their own work engagement dynamics. I present a tool that may be employed for individual analysis and I apply this in an analysis of my own engagement and disengagement experiences over the PhD programme. This therefore also provides a reflective account of the journey. A discussion of limitations of the research and recommendations for future research concludes the chapter, and the thesis. Narrative Mode Carrying out and reporting research requires rigour. The scientific method involves objectivity, with the traditional impersonal, third person reporting style. However, as I discuss in chapter 3, the constructivist and interpretivist research philosophy and paradigm adopted rendered me an integral part of the research process (van Manen, 1990). I therefore needed to be clear, first to distinguish my interpretations from those more properly attributable to respondents, in the primary research, and second, when citing other authors, to declare my commitment to particular arguments. I align with Wolcott (2009) who argues that the use of first person is favoured in


reporting qualitative research because it recognises the critical nature of the role of the researcher, and can add clarity, avoiding the seductive belief that ‘impersonal language intensifies an author’s stronghold on objective truth’ (ibid., p17), or what van Manen (1990, p17) calls ‘obfuscating, flowery, or self-indulgent language’. I will also, therefore, use as much ‘plain English’ as I can, whilst not avoiding the necessity to use terms that more properly describe particular concepts or techniques. Having introduced the purpose, contributions and focus of the research and summarised the thesis structure, the next section discusses the research context. It outlines a broad work context and then considers the nature and importance of engagement from several perspectives, including leadership, and underlying motivational dynamics. The importance of the research is demonstrated through recognition that engagement is critically important for organisational performance and people’s well-being, that meaningfulness has a key role in engagement, and motivation theory provides some insights into engagement, but that engagement and meaningfulness are not sufficiently understood to be able to operationalise them effectively in leadership and management practice. 1.2


There is no universally agreed definition of engagement in scholarly articles (May et al., 2004; Zigaemi et al., 2007; Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009), or in practice (eg., McBain, 2007), but it is a foundational construct for understanding work motivational and behavioural dynamics, and further in-depth research into engagement is needed (Christian et al., 2011). For the research, I aligned broadly with Kahn (1990), positioning engagement as a person’s inner psychological experience in which he or she is fully involved, attentive and absorbed. I show through the literature that motivation theory contributes important insights into work engagement, but that deeper inner dynamics play a primary role in the experience of work engagement and disengagement. The construct of meaningfulness is a key factor (May et al., 2004; Alfes et al., 2010) however, this too is not understood in depth, and would benefit from further empirical research (Michaelson, 2005; Overell, 2008). This defines the scope of the research. Deeper understanding of engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness is important because the world of work is increasingly turbulent and uncertain (Ciulla, 2000). This can have a profound negative impact on people, physically and emotionally (van Dierendonck et al., 2004),


yet it is increasingly important to realise the potential of people at work (Overell, 2008). Also, whilst equality in opportunity may have developed in recent decades, because of persistent world views and internalised expectations, opportunities remain unequally distributed, for example, between men and women (Cornelius and Skinner, 2008). High performance and well-being can be maintained in an organisation where leaders and managers create an environment in which jobholders have a strong sense of engagement (Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe, 2008; Gatenby et al., 2008). Increasing numbers of jobholders have more discretion than ever before over work activities, pace, quality and time spent on different tasks (Blackburn, 2001). However, whilst there is pressure for managers to take increasing responsibility for people-management issues (Cornelius, 2001), managers and leaders cannot directly control engagement in people or build engagement in work, but can only facilitate the development of people’s inner psychological drives towards engagement (Holbeche and Springett, 2004; Overell, 2008). Engagement is driven by many different factors (Kahn, 1990). As noted, a critical factor driving engagement is meaningfulness (May et al., 2004; Alfes et al., 2010) and benefits of meaningful work include higher retention, more effective management of change, creativity, team working, commitment and enthusiasm (Holbeche and Springett, 2004; Zhang and Bartol, 2010). However the construct and operationalisation of meaningfulness is not clearly understood (Michaelson, 2005), and understanding meaningful work has become more urgent (Overell, 2008). 1.3


Interest in engagement as a construct has gained increasing momentum, witnessed by the significant recent growth in practitioner literature, and the development, to a lesser degree, of scholarly literature. There is no single established definition of engagement (Zigaemi et al., 2007). Terms such as ‘involvement’ (May et al., 2004) ‘commitment’ (Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009) and ‘passion’ (Zigaemi et al., 2007) have common elements but differ in detail or emphasis. The construct of commitment is discussed in section The perspective of engagement taken in the research aligns with the definition presented by Kahn (1990), in what has become a seminal contribution in scholarly analysis of engagement: ‘… the harnessing of organization members' selves to their work roles’ (Kahn, 1990, p694) ‘… the simultaneous employment and expression of a person's "preferred self" in task behaviors that promote connections to work and to others, personal presence (physical, cognitive, and emotional), and active, full


role performances.’ Kahn, 1990, p700 This definition emphasises that external, contextual factors affect engagement, but it is not possible to directly build engagement or influence a person’s motivation to engage. Engagement is a discretionary willingness to employ self and it cannot be forced or mandated, which in turn implies that leaders need to create environments that ‘release’, rather than direct people into engagement. Engagement itself is an internal psychological experience. Effective engagement involves the ‘self’, as a holistic being. It is about the active and positive expression of the self, as well as employment of self to contribute, involve and connect with work, its context and other people. 1.3.1

The Importance of Engagement and the Research

Engagement has been shown to have many positive benefits to people’s well-being and work performance (May et al., 2004; Truss et al., 2006; Harding, 2008; Rich et al., 2010). However, research into attitudes and engagement in the UK (eg., Truss et al., 2006; Harding, 2008) indicates that the majority of people are not engaged in their work, and that older people, women and managers are generally more engaged than younger people, men and non-managers. It also indicates that psychological responses such as satisfaction, attitudes and emotions, and behaviours such as performance, sickness absence, people being positive about their organisation and the tendency to stay in a job rather than seek to quit are all more positive for engaged than for non-engaged people. The ‘Engage for Success’ taskforce was set up in 2008 by the UK Government to research, build awareness and promote best practice for engaging employees (MacLeod and Clarke, 2008) and now claims to be a ‘movement’, drawing together representatives from business and academia committed to personal and organisational growth (MacLeod and Clarke, 2012).


workgroups and research activities have highlighted the impact of a lack of engagement, for example, only around one third of UK employees say they are actively engaged; 59% of engaged employees said their job elicits their most creative ideas; companies with high levels of engagement show turnover rates 40% lower than companies with low levels of engagement; engagement has a positive impact on productivity, innovation and health and safety and studies conclude overall that engagement leads to enhanced performance (Rayton, 2012).


Rich et al. (2010) found evidence that the most important antecedents of engagement, through which job performance is improved, are job involvement, job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation, as means of employing different aspects of self simultaneously. Gallup research suggests three strategies for integrating engagement practices into organisations: communicate engagement in real-world terms; discuss engagement one-to-one; and, empower team members to lead team engagement sessions (Knight, 2013). McBain (2007) contributes a helpful model linking key drivers of engagement and outcomes. Antecedents of engagement, and the nature of self in relation to engagement, are discussed in chapter 2. Whilst the current research focuses on engagement at work, the importance of engagement is illustrated in other areas, for example, engagement, or ‘purposeful expenditure of energy’, is the single most critical factor for human learning (Dean and Jolly, 2012). This links to the sense of meaningfulness relating to the proposition of the human self as a self-perpetuating agent which tends towards maintenance and enhancement, discussed in section 2.4. Examples of organisations that have actively sought to develop employee engagement follow. These indicate the broad scope of principles that have been applied, and organisational sectors that have recognised the importance and need for enhanced engagement. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS), has followed the UK Government’s Department of Business’ initiative, seeking to review and build employee engagement by implementing greater employee focus through organisation-wide surveys and application of greater relationshiporiented leadership and management (Pickard, 2009). Related work for the NHS has been carried out by Alimo-Metcalfe and Bradley (2008) where, connecting to research by AlimoMetcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe (2008), they analysed change in leadership of teams in mental health professionals.

They emphasised that practices such as collective decision-making,

empowerment and trust, and listening to others and accommodating their ideas facilitate the building of engagement, but must be embedded within a supportive organisational culture. Central principles used by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority to build people’s motivation to generate more discretionary engagement include facilitating people’s understanding about how they fit into the organisation and contribute to its success, and having the right environment and tools to do the job well (Sappal, 2004). The importance of purpose as an underpinning factor in meaningfulness and engagement is discussed in chapter 2, and the link between selfdetermination and meaningfulness is discussed in section 2.4.6. Stevens (2010) reports on the


key policy of engaging employees in a defence electronics company, SELEX Galileo, by showing them how the equipment they make contributes to the needs of end users. Originally seeing themselves simply as producers of electronic component subsystems, employees’ more recent involvement with military users has shown them the broader purpose of these units, their application and ways in which they help protect lives. This was judged by the organisation to have clearly improved fulfilment, motivation and engagement. This is supported by Grant, A. M. (2012) who, as noted in section 1.3.2, showed how employee awareness of beneficiaries of their work improved meaningfulness and engagement. How employees may ‘go the extra mile’ is discussed by de Vita (2007). She summarises work by the Towers Perrin consultancy who emphasise the importance of authentic management and leadership, employees knowing how their work contributes to the organisation, and interpersonal relationships as being some of the key dynamics to maintain emotional connection and engagement to the company. De Vita (2007) notes Honda as an example of a company with a particularly strong involving culture, and Arup (a global firm of engineering and business consultants) who claim to live by values of ‘spiritual employment’ including trust, openness and relationships, as well as externally focussed ethical and social values. Harding (2008) emphasises the importance for engagement of sincere interest by senior management into employee wellbeing. This principle is re-enforced by Arkin (2009) who reports on successful changes at the UK’s Birmingham City Council to build greater engagement through wide involvement of all staff in the development and then implementation of a policy to build employee belief in themselves, taking personal responsibility to develop excellence in their jobs and treating all staff with respect and trust. Capital One, a global credit card lender, claims to have increased engagement from 26% to 83% in three years through various internal activities designed to build trust, develop synergies and change practices (Bowes, 2012),

BT has introduced a common process involving open

communication, setting expectations, removing barriers and development activities to embed engagement practices throughout the organisation (Darwent, 2012), and the University of Greenwich is focusing on developing internal stakeholder ‘voice’ as a primary means of building engagement (Couper, 2012). These examples indicate positive outcomes from practices designed to build engagement, and whilst the benefits are, in principle, not doubted, care must be taken to recognise the often


sanitised reports of messy change practices (Cornelius, 2003), and the invalid quantification of qualitative phenomena; an engagement increase from 26% to 83%, as noted above, requires skeptical interpretation. Further, there are disadvantages with some engagement initiatives. For example, Butler (2008) cautions that whilst there is a growing interest in policies to improve engagement and well-being, in practice managers report a number of issues which frustrate engagement practices, including a lack of time to engage people as they would like, and supervisors often seen as being out of touch. He notes how workplace surveys and other communications designed to build insights into engagement often use language that does not adequately connect with employees, and therefore does not adequately assess true levels of engagement. This caution is taken into account in the current research methodology, discussed in chapter 3. Policies of engagement that are applied without authenticity and genuine interest in people’s well-being may lead to a back-lash of cynicism and a reaction of even less involvement than there may have been without the policy at all. It has also been found that engagement policies and actions by leaders may diminish the intrinsic motivation experienced by people (eg., Sheldon and Filak, 2008). This is discussed further in relation to ‘extrinsic and intrinsic motivation’ in chapter 2. Contextual Factors Contextual factors that help to provide an environment in which engagement can develop most effectively include: clear, unique and communicated strategy (Markides, 2006), removal of bureaucracy (Zhang and Bartol, 2010), suppressed political activity (Holbeche and Springett, 2004), positive leadership attributes including relationship-orientation (Pickard, 2009; Tamkin et al., 2010), sincere interest in people (Harding, 2008), serving the needs of others (Greenleaf, 1998), integrity, openness and transparency (Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe, 2008), challenge, variety, creativity and autonomy (Kahn, 1990), and leadership authenticity (de Vita, 2007). Ulrich and Ulrich (2010) emphasise the importance of a positive work environment. However it is clear that contextual or hygiene factors cannot normally positively motivate, whilst they have the potential to dissatisfy (Herzberg et al., 1959). Herzberg et al. (1959) note that positive motivation is normally generated by content factors at work. Whilst a negative environment will almost certainly frustrate opportunities for people to develop meaningful engagement, and a


positive environment can facilitate the development of meaningful engagement, because this is an inner experience, it cannot be assumed that the use of any particular work factors will directly decrease or increase meaningful engagement. Deeper insight into the inner experience of meaningfulness, a focus of the current research, can help people to build understanding and selfawareness of what creates greater meaningfulness for them, and this in turn can help leaders and managers to more effectively design work contexts which increase the potential for people to experience greater meaningfulness, fulfilment and engagement. Having noted the nature of contextual factors in relation to engagement, the next section considers some work context factors that are already understood to enhance engagement experiences. Work Design Factors The literature suggests that engagement is multi-dimensional, and is driven by many different factors and dynamics (Kahn, 1990). This is demonstrated in a model presented by Truss et al. (2006) which contains dimensions relating to the individual, working life, management, leadership, communication and work attitudes, interacting with different types of engagement and outcomes. Correlations were found, for example, between satisfaction and engagement, however details about dependencies, and the independence of different constructs is not shown. Robinson (2008, p2), through her own research at the Institute for Employment Research, and citing other research, notes that there is evidence of a correlation between engagement and performance but that a causal link is not demonstrated, emphasising ‘… it is possible that engagement leads to higher performance, but it is equally possible that working in a high-performing organisation causes people to be more highly engaged’. She argues that it is most likely that there is an iterative process where engagement and high performance feed off each other. However, Rayton (2012) argues that there is evidence supporting the causal relationship in which engagement leads to enhanced performance. Bakker et al. (2012) have also found a positive link between work engagement and task performance, especially for employees who were judged to be conscientious. Robinson et al. (2004) argue that engagement is enhanced by many factors including identification and belief in the organisation, opportunities for personal and organisational improvement, seeing the ‘bigger picture’, being reliable, going beyond work requirements, and having a respectful and collaborative approach to others. They note that engagement relates to


feeling valued and involved, which was reinforced by Robinson et al. (2007). They suggested that this is generated by organisational and leadership demonstration of concern for, and valuing of employees, listening to employee ‘voice’, involvement in decision making, acting on suggestions, and providing opportunities for development and involvement. Robinson et al. (2007) also add health and safety, equality of opportunity, being treated fairly and equity. This demonstrates the many different interacting factors that can affect inner engagement. Recent research (Alfes et al., 2010) views engagement from three perspectives; ‘Intellectual engagement’ (thinking about how to do the job better), ‘Affective engagement’ (positive feelings about doing a good job), and ‘Social engagement’ (working with others).

They note the

importance, for strong engagement, of employee ‘voice’, job-person fit, line management style, clear senior management communication and vision.

Significantly, they emphasise that

meaningfulness, developed essentially through having clear purpose, with links to the ‘bigger picture’, is the most important driver of engagement. 1.3.2

Engagement and Leadership

As a significant factor in work, leadership can have a profound impact on people’s engagement. Engagement is linked with leadership by Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe (2008) who report a meta analysis of surveys, research and case studies. They emphasise that ‘engaging with others was a better predictor of staff morale and well-being than either ‘visionary leadership’ or ‘leadership capabilities’ and … that only ‘engaging leadership’ significantly predicted the team’s performance’ (ibid., p21). They note transitions that have occurred in leadership practices over time - from task-focused, order and control, and a status-driven role, to a more transformational, people-focused role, seeking to inspire their people to take individual responsibility and personal involvement, with a more involving approach. However, whilst people-focused transformational leadership may inspire employees, it is insufficient to build optimal engagement, which requires leaders to facilitate the possibility of employees understanding the impact of their work on others, to bring more meaning to their work (Grant, A. M., 2012). Others have noted the clear movement towards serving the needs of others, rather than being served as a leader, as a key principle for effective, engaging leadership in today’s business environment (Greenleaf, 1998). Employee engagement is enhanced by transformational leadership practices (Tims et al., 2011), and leadership that psychologically empowers employees has been shown to improve intrinsic


motivation and engagement in creative processes – an important dynamic in today’s work environment, as discussed in section 1.3.2 (Zhang and Bartol, 2010). More recently Grant, A. M. (2012) has shown that transformational leadership is most motivational when employees understand how their work benefits others, making it more meaningful for them. Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe (2008) stress that for leadership to be engaging it should facilitate people’s autonomy, encourage individual control, team working and collaboration, provide opportunities for people themselves to lead, and facilitate removing barriers to ‘connectedness’. They emphasise the importance of not just servant characteristics of leadership, but also the need for leaders to be partners, that is, to be able to make connections as ‘ordinary’, not extraordinary people, with humility and even vulnerability. They emphasise the importance of flexible, open-ended leadership, guided by ethical principles that build shared ownership, with commitment to the vision and ways of working. As noted, the term ‘commitment’ has been used inter-changeably with ‘engagement’, as discussed in the next section. Leadership and Commitment A review of literature on commitment (Robinson et al., 2004) emphasises its complex nature and that it can be influenced by many different interacting factors. Kanter (1968) argues that commitment is the willing expression of energy and attachment to a particular social system, and is central to the understanding of human motivation and system maintenance. Antecedents of commitment, Robinson et al. (2004) suggest, include organisational processes, such as recruitment, rewards, training and promotion, personal factors such as demographics and worklife balance, and perceptual issues including organisational fairness, trust, professional relationships and job satisfaction.

Meyer et al. (2002) recognise commitment as a

multidimensional construct and distinguish three types.

‘Affective commitment’ denotes

identification with, and emotional attachment to an organisation, ‘Continuance commitment’ relates to remaining in an organisation because of the costs associated with leaving, and ‘Normative commitment’ reflects a perceived moral obligation or responsibility to remain in an organisation. Robinson et al. (2004) suggest others: ‘Affiliative commitment’, felt because of the acceptance, and compatibility of individual and organisational interests and values, and ‘Associative commitment’, that is, positive feelings attached to being part of a community or organisation.


Of particular interest is that whilst commitment is presented as a positive dynamic, not all forms or combinations of commitment lead to positive work outcomes, for example, a person with high Associative or Continuance commitment but low Affective commitment may stay in an organisation but perform ineffectively. For this reason, because of the link with discretionary, emotional involvement, affective commitment is often considered as the most important aspect of commitment for performance in organisations. Eisenberger et al. (1986) emphasise the relative importance of affective commitment and add that organisations wishing to develop this in people must likewise show commitment to them. Whilst engagement and commitment have some distinguishing characteristics, affective commitment relates to the focus of the current research, on discretionary engagement, and emphasises the importance of focus on internal psychological factors for understanding meaningfulness and engagement (Robinson et al., 2004). This section has considered engagement as an internal psychological experience, and, importantly, the central notion of meaningfulness as the ‘encompassing’ psychological state underpinning engagement. The importance of further research into meaningfulness has been noted in this discussion (May et al., 2004; Overell, 2008), recognising that the construct of meaningfulness is not clearly understood (eg., Michaelson, 2005). The construct of meaningfulness is explored in depth from the literature, in chapter 2. Leadership Doing and Being Tamkin et al. (2010) explore characteristics of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ leadership from a ‘doing’ and a ‘being’ perspective, noting the importance of: thinking and acting systematically; seeking harmony within complexity; building positive relationships; applying the ‘spirit’, not emphasising the ‘letter’ of the law; being self-aware, adaptable, serving, collaborative and authentic; giving time and space to people; being encouraging; and unlocking peoples potential, building trust, integrity, openness, forgiveness and security, facilitating a sense of ‘meaning’, with a strong sense of purpose. Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe (2008) make an important distinction between the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of leadership. In relation to what makes a good leader, they note certain attributes and competencies as being necessary. But these, they argue, are not sufficient. In relation to how to be a leader that facilitates engagement, they note that a leader needs to be ‘… someone who encourages and enables the development of an organisation that is characterised by a culture based on integrity, openness and transparency and the genuine valuing of others and of their contributions.’ (ibid., p16).


Other research (Robinson, 2009) notes important characteristics of engaging management, including: empathy; responsiveness; supportiveness; involvement; visibility and approachability; generous with praise and recognition; developmental; and willing to tackle issues head-on. Holbeche and Springett (2004) emphasise the importance of management and leadership characteristics which build meaning and commitment for employees, including: having a sense of purpose; being a role model for values; keeping values in focus and explicit; being proactive and a champion for good practices such as corporate social responsibility; being collegiate, open and honest, with trust, integrity, commitment, enthusiasm and involvement; and suppressing negative political activity. In summary, whilst ‘good’ leadership focuses more on transactional activity and efficiencies in relation to values and beliefs, involvement, development, purpose and targets, ‘outstanding’ leadership focuses more on subtleties relating to attitude, style, and cultural issues, based on selfand other-awareness, with flexibility and openness. ‘Outstanding’ engaging leaders appear to be more principles-based than ‘good’ leaders. Leadership that builds engagement is characterised not just by what a leader does, but who he or she is, which may be described as ‘being’ rather than doing. What is striking about the references, above, relating to engaging leadership, is the high number and broad scope of issues noted. The current research does not seek to contribute yet another broad list of ‘factors’ or leadership attributes that can more or less positively influence engagement, but rather it seeks to develop insights into key inner dynamics of engagement, and to propose principles that leaders may use to explore engagement in others, and individuals may use to assist in their own self-awareness about how to develop more meaningfully engaging practices. Having discussed the importance of engagement in a work context, the next section explores in greater depth the historical development of models and theories about the factors that effect people’s motivation to engage in work. This sets the scene by building insights into those inner dynamics which are important for the development of discretionary engagement in practice. 1.4



The need for motivated employees in order to optimise performance is not in question (Boggs et al., 2003). However what is in question is what dynamics create the most effective conditions to motivate people to engage. Motivation is positioned in this research as a driver behind the employment of self to engage, and motivational theory is summarised to provide context. However, as noted in section 1.4.3, whilst motivation theory provides some insights, new perspectives are required. 1.4.1

Early Insights

An early philosophical view, from Aristotle (384BC - 322BC), suggested that ‘Eudaimonia’ may be the most fundamental motive for engagement in life (Grayling, 2002).

Eudaimonia is

happiness through ethical and moral life motives from the application of virtues such as courage, generosity, and magnanimity, and contrasts with ‘hedonism’ – the pursuit of self-centred pleasure. The scientific method led Darwin (1872) to suggest that human beings are not entirely free agents but develop within a dependent system of evolution, with individual organism and collective motives, and Freud (1932) to examine subjective experience, proposing that all behaviour has a causal link to inner, often unconscious motives and drives.

Jung (1923)

considered motivations to be based on constructions of reality, developing an extroversion introversion typology, which suggested that extraverts are motivated by external objective realities and introverts by internal subjective realities. Adler (1930) emphasised the importance of interdependencies and other social dynamics on individual motives and development, observing people’s constant striving for power as a means to express their individuality within the world. From these early, general insights, the following section summarises theoretical principles and models relating to the motivation to engage in work. 1.4.2

Principles and Models of Work Motivation

A growing interest in efficiency at work since the industrial revolution was formalised through Taylor’s ‘Scientific Management’ principles (Taylor, 1947), which were underpinned by the belief that financial rewards for employees were a key motive. However, work designed on these


principles was found to have a negative impact on people’s inner and behavioural experiences, including the experience of alienation (Caldari, 2007). Caldari’s (2007) discussion reflected Karl Marx’s (1818 – 1883) assessment of the impact of work in capitalist economies (Lefever and Lefever, 1977), who identified the separation of things that naturally belonged together in harmony, as with people fully engaged in integrated work and life activity, as the state of ‘Alienation’. Blauner (1964; Huczynski and Buchanan, 1991) identified four main aspects of alienation. These were loss of control (‘Powerlessness’), loss of sense of identity (‘Normlessness’), separation of self from work (‘Self-estrangement’) and loss of significance and identity (‘Meaninglessness’).

Zohar (1997) notes the impact of alienating

dynamics in today’s fast-changing and uncertain work environment, created through the inappropriate application of Newtonian scientific principles including reductionism and specialism. In summary, alienation is the sense of loss of self and meaning in work. It is discussed further in section 2.2.3. The evolution of motivational theory since the early 20th century shows increasing emphases on integrated, people-focused work practices, leading to the development engagement theory, and in turn the growing interest in meaningfulness as a key to enhancing both performance and wellbeing in work. The ‘Hawthorne studies’ (Mayo, 1930) revealed the central importance of human factors over physical conditions on jobholder performance. There have been many criticisms of this research (eg., Kirchner, 1992; Yunker, 1993; Hansson and Wigblad, 2006) but it heralded the ‘Human Relations Movement’ which reversed the focus from contextual factors to human dynamics (eg., Fudge and Schlacter, 1999). People are motivated to satisfy needs through work. Maslow (1943) identified a hierarchy of five need categories from lower physical needs to higher psychological needs, later adding ‘Being values’ as fundamental for the development of peoples’ potential (Maslow, 1971). Maslow’s theory has been widely criticised on empirical and operational grounds (eg., Goodman, 1968; Schneider and Alderfer, 1973; Wahba and Bridwell, 1976; Rodgers, 2003; Yang, 2003) and needsatisfaction theories have developed since. Schneider and Alderfer (1973) argued that three need categories interact dynamically as people seek to make work meaningful and Yang (2003) developed the ‘Y’ model, where people are motivated to balance physiological survival needs


(‘Genetic transmission’), and psychological and personal growth needs (‘Genetic expression’). Early need-satisfaction theories were applied directly to work by Herzberg in the late 1950’s (Herzberg et al., 1957; Herzberg et al., 1959) and he identified two main types of factors affecting satisfaction and motivation at work, ‘Motivators’, including job content factors such as achievement, recognition and opportunity for growth, and ‘Hygiene factors’, including work context factors such as administration, supervision, pay and working conditions, which did not positively motivate when present but dissatisfied when absent. This contrasted fundamentally with the established wisdom that satisfaction was a single dimension (Behling et al., 1968). There is general acceptance of Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory (eg., Friedlander and Walton, 1964; Behling et al., 1968; Cummings, 1975), but it has been widely reviewed and criticised, especially on methodological grounds (eg., Vroom and Maier, 1961; Hulin and Smith, 1967; Bockman, 1971; French et al., 1973; Ondrack, 1974; Cummings, 1975; Gardner, 1977). However, Bockman (1971) argues that much of the criticism disregards key explanations and arguments, and the theory has had a major positive influence on the quality of working life and the enrichment of jobs (Mullins, 2007), leading to more integrated and holistic models for engagement motivation, including the Job Characteristics Model. Building on Herzberg’s theory, The ‘Job Characteristics Model’ (JCM) (Hackman et al., 1975; Hackman and Oldham, 1976; 1980) emphasises the relationship between core characteristics of a job, such as skill variety, task identity and autonomy, jobholders’ psychological states, including meaningfulness and responsibility, and outcomes, including internal work motivation and work performance. The JCM has received some criticism (eg., Morgeson and Humphrey, 2006; Humphrey et al., 2007) but it has been found to be generally valid (Fried and Ferris, 1987; Lee-Ross, 1998). It continues to be refined (eg., Boonzaier, 2008; Casey and Robbins, 2009), with the core model remaining unchanged, and is central in work design theory (Clegg and Spencer, 2007; Humphrey et al., 2007). Behson et al. (2000) emphasise the importance of the psychological states as mediators between job characteristics and outcomes and in particular they note that ‘Experienced Meaningfulness’ is ‘crucial for the beneficial outcomes of job redesign’ (ibid., p182). This underpins the emphasis applied to engagement and disengagement in the current research.



Recent Perspectives on Motivation and Engagement

Motivational theory continues to contribute insights into work performance and well-being (Latham and Pinder, 2005; Yukl and Becker, 2006; Rich et al., 2010), especially in the current turbulent work context (Takash, 2009), but more clarity is needed about those factors that most influence motivational drive (Yukl and Becker, 2006). Steers et al. (2004) note the lack of theoretical development since the ‘golden age’ of process theories (noted in chapter 2), of the 1960s and ’70s, claiming that progress has been mainly to ‘refine and extend’ existing theory. However they argue that theory needs to develop ‘to fit realities of the changing contemporary workplace’ (ibid., p384). Shamir (1991, p405) cites reviews of work motivation theories that are ‘unanimous in their dissatisfaction with the state of the art’ mainly because of their ‘implicit claim of being universally applicable’ and notes that ‘advances in the field are likely to come from the reconceptualization of current theories …’. Reis and Peña (2001) argue for a new paradigm for motivational theory, especially in the context of change. Rich et al. (2010) suggest that the construct of engagement has greater potential for understanding predictors of job performance than factors noted in motivational theories. Whilst academic protocol would require that we ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ (attributed to Isaac Newton 1642 - 1727, in Lincoln and Guba, 1985, p19), new perspectives are necessary so that past paradigms relating to motivational drive in work do not constrain the development of understanding (Boxenbaum and Rouleau, 2011). Locke and Latham (2004) summarise propositions for future research including the development of a more integrated approach, to incorporate theory from other domains, and consideration of deeper psychological dynamics such as ‘Conscientiousness’. They emphasise that the unique conceptualisation of a person’s world creates widely varying drives and behaviours. Understanding behavioural drivers is therefore not a logical assessment of dependencies but a complex interaction of many different internal and external factors. The idea of a unique conceptualisation is consistent with the theoretical underpinning of the current research, Personal Construct Psychology (PCP). A detailed discussion of PCP relating to the research is in section 3.3.4. PCP is based fundamentally on the conviction that a person’s reality is constructed, it is therefore uniquely individual, and it is subject to change as a person experiments with the efficacy of this reality, perceives, internalises and adapts (Kelly, 1955).


Kelly adds further to the arguments noted at the commencement of this section, suggesting that the notion of motivation implies motives which drive in a certain direction, but that, whilst motivation is often understood in terms relating to the object of the motive, the nature of the drive itself is unknown (Kelly, 2003). Kelly argues that the characteristic of being alert to external reality and developing behaviours to move in particular directions is a fundamental aspect of peoples’ being. Steers et al. (2004) recognise the recent development of integrated self-based theory and Shamir (1991) argues that a self-concept based theory would help to overcome limitations in established motivational theory. Different perspectives on self are discussed in chapter 2. Michaelson (2005) suggests that self-related dynamics are increasingly important, in particular, individual value and the experience of meaningfulness in work. This is supported by Humphrey et al. (2007, p1346) who found, in a meta analysis, that ‘experienced meaningfulness is the best mediator of the relationship between motivational characteristics and work outcomes’. However, Michaelson (2005) notes that meaningfulness has attracted little research interest: ‘Hopefully, making the link between meaningful work and work motivation theory will stimulate further inquiry and research into meaningful work, which … suffers from a paucity of attention.’ Michaelson (2005, p237) May et al. (2004, p32) also emphasise that ‘future research should continue to explore the determinants of psychological meaningfulness’.

More recently Nair and Vohra (2010) have shown deeper

understanding about meaning at work in a study of alienation amongst knowledge-workers. Further emphasising the importance of meaningfulness, Overell (2008) suggests key changes in work that have caused meaning to become more central for people, certainly in developed economies. First, the rise of the ‘knowledge economy’, with faster growth of education, skills and expectations from life and work, the profound increase in opportunity and choice, and the development of work as relationship-oriented rather than product-oriented.

Second, the

development of information and communication technology, which has facilitated the knowledge economy, opened networks and relationships beyond the organisation, and raised the ‘cognitive bar’ as automation has displaced many routine occupations. Third, a shift in social values towards more expressive freedoms and the need for social identity and ‘self-hood’. The


importance of meaning in people’s lives is discussed in section 2.3. 1.4.4

Conclusion to the Motivation to Engage

This discussion has shown the developing interest and insights into people’s motivations to engage in work, focusing on those conditions and contexts of work that can impact this dynamic. It has indicated the change in attention from performance-related factors of scientific management to recognition of the importance of people’s well-being and the effect this has on performance. This developing understanding has highlighted the importance of internal human processes in creating the inner conditions for optimal motivation to engage in activities. In particular it has emphasised the importance of involvement in work, of social dynamics, of the satisfaction of inner growth needs, the importance of internal or intrinsic job characteristics and it has most recently indicated the importance of self and the experience of meaningfulness. More recent research and commentary has recognised the limitations of motivational theory, especially in today’s work dynamics, and has highlighted the need for more holistic approaches, including the need for research into deeper factors such as self and meaningfulness. These are some of the gaps that exist in understanding deep inner dynamics relating to engagement. The next chapter builds on this initial discussion, developing a more focused analysis of current understanding from the literature, as a basis for the design of the primary research. 1.5


Whilst recognising the critical importance of work factors for enhanced work performance and well-being, in the context of organisational and leadership practices designed to enhance engagement, this developing theory does not provide deep insights into the inner, psychological nature and operation of these factors as a basis for the development of internal, psychological engagement. The current research therefore aims to contribute to the development of this understanding. Having identified the potential importance of meaningfulness (Blauner, 1964; Hackman and Oldham, 1980; Behson et al., 2000; May et al., 2004; Michaelson, 2005; Alfes et al., 2010), but recognised that meaningfulness is not clearly understood, the research is designed to explore the inner experience of meaningfulness as a key factor of engagement. It therefore seeks to make a


contribution to the understanding of factors that individuals should be aware of for their own experiences of meaningfulness and engagement, and to those management and leadership practices that will help to provide an environment that will release people into meaningful engagement, to enhance both their well-being and work performance. The next chapter explores the literature into deep internal psychological experiences in relation to engagement.

It develops from engagement into an exploration of literature on

meaningfulness and, as it becomes clear that the notion of ‘self’ is a key component of meaningfulness, the literature on self is also explored.


Chapter 2 LITERATURE REVIEW “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it” C S Lewis 2.1


Chapter 1 established the purpose and importance of the research, summarising my interest, its background, and contextual issues. I noted the development of my own curiosity with inner drivers of human behaviour and a general growing recognition that in spite of decades of research and experience of managing people at work, insights into how leaders can most effectively engage employees to simultaneously improve their well-being and work performance were limited. I noted a century of research into work-related motivation theory, leading to the introduction of the term ‘engagement’ as a construct around which general current interest in the domain of work performance has been built, but I indicated that whilst research has shown the positive benefits of engaged employees, there are still fundamental gaps in our understanding. One such gap is the role of meaningfulness in engagement. This construct has been introduced in the motivation literature, for example in relation to alienation (Lefever and Lefever, 1977) and in the Job Characteristics Model (Hackman and Oldham, 1980) but short of a definition, the nature of meaningfulness has not been explored in depth and its importance and the need for further research was recognised (Michaelson, 2005).

Work engagement in general, and

meaningfulness in particular therefore formed the focus of this study. Recognising this lack of deep insight, I considered different methodologies that I may apply in the overall research project. I discuss these in detail in the next chapter, in which I argue my approach from a philosophical perspective and develop a coherent paradigm. I note that I did not consider a ‘grounded theory approach’ to be appropriate, even one with which Straus, who accepted that prior learning will influence the research, may have been content (Charmaz, 2005), because, whilst I recognised the importance of giving primacy to respondent-generated data, I also recognised the value of building on existing knowledge. For this reason I started the research journey with an in-depth and broad exploration of related literature.


My initial review of literature led me to several diverse areas, including organisational spirituality, mindfulness, happiness, and human perception of time, in addition to those more clearly centred on work engagement dynamics. The current chapter is a refinement of this diverse territory, focused to summarise those theories, concepts and ideas which most effectively set in place a foundation on which my primary research was designed. This chapter therefore develops on the discussion into motivational dynamics, considers the nature of the inner experience of engagement and explores the construct of meaningfulness. Whilst I remain generally in the domain of work, I include a broader discussion around meaningfulness because in the literature relating to work, understanding of what constitutes meaningfulness is limited.

A wider exploration provides greater depth of insight for this

research. The literature on engagement and meaningfulness, and to some degree motivation, incorporates aspects of the ‘self’. Because I sought to research deep dynamics in relation to work engagement, I explored the nature of self and include here a discussion of key aspects of self in relation to the central research theme. During the phases of primary research I uncovered indicators that questioned some fundamental arguments about the nature of engagement, leading me to return to the literature to inform further developments. The research process is discussed in chapter 4. The current chapter integrates all key literature from this full exploration. In the conclusion to this chapter I summarise the main factors relating to engagement, disengagement, meaningfulness and self. It includes a diagram showing the key concepts and how they inter-relate, as a synthesis of the literature. This diagram is therefore a concept model (Remenyi et al., 1998) of how self relates to the engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness experience. The diagram is reproduced below, Figure 2.1, so that it may be referred to as key arguments are developed in this chapter.



Authenticity Values Self-Esteem Self-Worth

Self-Identity Self-Efficacy Self-Attribution Self-Expression

Purpose Worthwhileness Knowledge Autonomy

Transcendence Integration Connection Challenge




Figure 2.1 Research Concept Model



Following an initial discussion of the nature and importance of engagement, in chapter 1, this section explores deeper psychological dynamics. 2.2.1

Psychological Conditions

Kahn (1990) is referenced as seminal in the engagement literature. He reports on research into psychological conditions in relation to engagement in two different populations: employees of a young people’s summer camp in the West Indies, and a high-end architectural firm in the NE United States. He examined the degree to which employees were engaged, or ‘psychologically present’ in their roles at different moments in their work by assessing the degree to which they applied their ‘self’ physically, cognitively and emotionally. Kahn proposes that people develop identities with different roles and that they may embrace (engage with) or distance themselves (disengage) from these roles. ‘People are constantly bringing in or leaving out various depths of their selves during the course of their work days’ (Kahn, 1990, p692-693). This is elaborated in the context of self and symbolic interactionism in section 2.4. He considers engagement of self as the degree to which a person applies discretionary input in what he considers as a momentary ‘contract’ in which conditions are favourable for ‘employment’ of self, and in so doing the person displays authentic identity, thoughts and feelings. The employment of self in this way creates a dynamic in which the self and role are in what may be termed a symbiotic relationship. Kahn considers 39

disengagement as the experience of decoupling preferred self from role activity. Kahn indicates that emotional engagement may relate primarily to meaning, and cognitive engagement may relate primarily to interest or mental stimulation, although he does not clarify how ‘meaning’, as he understands it, may be distinguished conceptually from ‘interest or mental stimulation’. Kahn’s (1990) research, built on motivation and job design theory, proposes that people’s psychological experience of work influences their attitudes and behaviours and that ‘individual, interpersonal, group, inter-group and organisational factors’ moderate this relationship (ibid., p694). From initial phases of the research, Kahn (1990, p703) identified three psychological conditions that determined the degree to which people ‘brought in’ or ‘left out’ their selves, or experienced engagement or disengagement. These were ‘psychological meaningfulness’, ‘psychological safety’ and ‘psychological availability’. He associated these with Hackman and Oldham’s (1980) psychological states, noted in chapter 1. That disengagement is the opposite to, or antipode of, engagement is therefore assumed in Kahn’s (1990) construction of engagement, in the absence of clear definitions of the term disengagement. However it raises the question of whether the dynamic that causes people to be disengaged relates to the absence of factors that cause people to be engaged, or to the absence or presence of some other factors. This is not explored by Kahn, but is pursued in the context of findings from the research reported in this thesis. Psychological Meaningfulness May et al. (2004) builds on Kahn’s (1990) research and whilst he too does not consider disengagement as anything other than the antipode of engagement, he adds to Kahn’s (1990) definitions of the three conditions, producing the following joint explanations. Psychological meaningfulness is defined as ‘the value of a work goal or purpose, judged in relation to a person’s own ideals or standards’ (May et al., 2004, p14). Meaningfulness was found to be higher when the task was challenging, varied, creative, somewhat autonomous and clearly defined, when role characteristics, either formal or informal, indicated how central the person was to the organisation, and when interactions were positive and promoted dignity, self-appreciation and a sense of worthwhileness. May et al. (2004) focused on the notions of job enrichment, first noting the importance of Hackman and Oldham’s (1980) job characteristics in enhancing


meaningfulness, second on work-role fit, emphasising the importance of perceived ‘fit’ between the self-concept and the work, and third on co-worker relations, emphasising the importance of being treated with dignity and respect. Psychological Safety Psychological safety is defined as ‘feeling able to show one’s self without fear of negative consequences to selfimage, status, or career’ (Kahn, 1990, p708). People feel psychologically safe where relationships are supportive and trusting, where their informal roles within the social system of the organisation receive respect and authority, where management and leadership are supportive, resilient, open and clarifying, where people have some control over their work, and where people remained within the understood norms of the organisation. May et al. (2004) concentrate on supervisor and co-worker relations, and co-worker norms, emphasising the importance of supportive and trusting relationships and clear understanding of the informal ‘rules’ within which a person feels safe. Psychological Availability Psychological availability is the belief people have that they have the physical, emotional and cognitive resources to engage the self at work. People feel greater psychological availability where they have the physical energy to engage in an activity, where they have the emotional and intellectual resources to meet demands of an activity, and where they feel secure about their work and status, rather than lacking confidence and being too self-conscious, or feeling ambivalent about the organisation, and where they were not too pre-occupied with issues in their lives outside of work. This associates with the notion of self-efficacy, discussed in section May et al. (2004) emphasise the importance of personal ‘resources’, and especially emotional and cognitive resources, feeling free from being judged within work, and of the effect of outside activities, which can have the affect of diminishing work engagement if too demanding, or of enhancing work engagement where they have an ‘enrichment effect’. The notion of self is noted in all three of these psychological conditions, though more explicitly in relation to ‘meaningfulness’ and ‘safety’. Kahn (1990, p700) found that ‘personal engagement is the simultaneous employment and expression of a person’s “preferred self” ’, recognising the central importance of self in engagement and that this employment of preferred self creates connections, personal


presence and involved performance. The notion that engagement is about employing self is explored in section 2.4. May et al. (2004) explored the direct and mediating effects of the three conditions, meaningfulness, safety and availability. An interesting development is their use of the term human spirit as ‘… that part of the human being that seeks fulfilment through self-expression …’ (ibid., p12). This relates to the construct of self-actualisation (Maslow, 1943), whereas Kahn (1990, p694) conceptualised this in terms of ‘harnessing of organisation members’ selves in their work …’. May et al. (2004) associated engagement firstly with ‘job involvement’, but emphasised the emotional component of engagement, and

‘flow’, the sense of immersion people feel when totally

involved. Flow is discussed in section 2.4.7. May et al.’s (2004) findings with respect to these three conditions are as follows: Psychological availability was significantly influenced by cognitive, emotional and physical resources and May et al. (2004) emphasise that lack of these resources can suppress engagement, because they reduce availability to the activity, whilst enhancement in resources can build engagement possibilities. The state of lacking engagement (and disengagement) is discussed in section 2.2.3. Psychological safety was found to be of more importance to engagement than psychological availability, with supervisor relations being most important to this sense of safety. May et al. (2004) emphasise the importance of trustworthiness in psychological safety, but adherence to coworker norms was negatively associated with this condition. High levels of self-consciousness also had a significant negative effect on psychological safety. These findings may be explained first by the importance of intrinsic aspects (or ‘motivators’ (Herzberg et al., 1959)) of work (work-role fit and enrichment factors) and the non-engaging role of context factors (or ‘hygiene’ factors (Herzberg et al., 1959)) (co-worker relations and norms) and secondly, extrinsic factors (co-workers) having a negative, perhaps constraining impact on intrinsic motivation.


negative impact that extrinsic factors can have on intrinsic motivation is discussed in section Whilst both psychological availability and safety were found to be important for engagement, May et al.’s (2004) research emphasised the importance of meaningfulness, which had the strongest effect on engagement. Meaningfulness was found to be positively influenced by job enrichment and work-role fit.

This key conclusion from May et al. (2004, p32), that


psychological meaningfulness had the ‘strongest’ relationship to engagement, reinforces Renn and Vandenberg’s (1995) proposition that psychological meaningfulness may be the ‘encompassing’ psychological state impacting engagement.

Meaningfulness is discussed in

section 2.3. The detailed exploration of the three conditions is of interest because it begins to develop insights into those deeper factors that affect engagement. Of particular interest for the current study is that psychological availability and safety appear to be different in nature to meaningfulness. Psychological availability and safety are construed as states that facilitate the possibility that a person may engage, whereas meaningfulness is a state that positively drives engagement. Whilst Kahn’s (1990) concept of engagement has been considered as motivational (Rich et al., 2010), the construct of meaningfulness alone may be considered as positively or proactively motivational, whereas psychological safety and availability may be considered as not positively motivational but as fundamental conditions on which positive motivational drives may develop. It is not surprising therefore that meaningfulness was found to relate most strongly to engagement. This fundamental difference is, however, not discussed by Kahn (1990) or May et al. (2004). The way in which different types of factors impact engagement and disengagement is discussed in relation to the primary research in chapter 6. Nevertheless, this seminal work by Kahn (1990) and May et al. (2004) indicates the complex nature of engagement, with many different interacting psychological factors affecting the degree to which a person may employ self in an activity, and whilst meaningfulness was found to have the strongest influence on engagement, its nature and how it influences engagement is not discussed. To help fill this gap, section 2.3 explores meaningfulness in depth. Other constructions provide broader insights into the nature of engagement and its impact on well-being and performance. 2.2.2

Engagement and Burnout

Another important construction of engagement has developed from studies of the negative experience of burnout at work, characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment (Schaufeli and van Dierendonck, 1993), and a model which relates job demands and job resources to engagement (Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004). Whilst


Schaufeli’s early research (eg., Schaufeli and van Dierendonck, 1993) did not include the conception of engagement, his later research incorporated a measure of engagement (using scales which later became the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES)), following research by Maslach et al. (2001) who characterised engagement as energy, involvement and efficacy. Schaufeli et al. (2002) found a negative relationship between burnout and engagement, which they characterised by vigour, dedication and absorption. Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) then introduced engagement as the antipode to burnout – as though at two ends of a continuum. However, this is problematic because their research does not show that burnout and engagement are two ends of the same construct, just that they are negatively related, and the positivist application of structural equation modelling gave little room for consideration of other underpinning factors, especially qualitative factors. Schaufeli (2008) began to question this in more recent research and to suggest that engagement and burnout may be different in kind rather than similar as constructs, but he continues to apply this construction, at least until he and others began to recognise that work factors appeared to impact engagement and burnout in different ways (Schaufeli et al., 2009). In particular they found that whilst burnout appeared to be influenced by job demands, such as work pressure and emotional demands, work engagement was predicted by job resources (Schaufeli et al., 2009). This may be expected, and indicates that, as with Kahn’s (1990) construction of engagement, facilitating factors (in this case, resources), would naturally be associated with engagement. However, the question remains about not what underpins the possibility of engagement but what positively drives it. This is explored further in sections and 2.4.5. To complete the discussion on Shaufeli and others’ construction of engagement, a recent paper argues, contrary to earlier research, that burnout and engagement may not be opposites, but rather appear to be characterised as unique constructs (Hakanen and Schaufeli, 2012). This discussion raises other factors that appear to be important for engagement. In particular, self-efficacy may be a key factor (Llorens et al., 2007) in engagement. Llorens et al. (2007) found that efficacy beliefs mediated the relationship between task resources (time and autonomy) and engagement, and indicated that there was a gain-spiral where enhanced engagement in turn increased efficacy which in turn increased resources. Later research supported the relationship between resources and work engagement but noted, critically, that whilst a reciprocal relationship appeared to exist, there was ‘no significant increase in the level or resources and engagement over time’ (Xanthopoulou et al., 2009, p242), which counters the claim of a gain-spiral. In


contrast, more recent research reinforces the notion of a motivational gain-spiral between selfefficacy, job enthusiasm and work engagement (Salanova et al., 2011). In summary, whilst based on a positivist paradigm, and excluding qualitative data which could have added depth of insight, the construction of engagement developed by Schaufeli and various co-authors contributes to understanding by emphasising characteristics of vigour, dedication and absorption, and being underpinned by positive self-efficacy / personal resources and jobresources. It is independent of what was initially considered to be its antipode, burnout, and may therefore be considered as a separate construct to burnout.

It also emphasises the

compounding positive motivational gain that may be experienced through an interactive dynamic between self-efficacy, job enthusiasm and work engagement. Burnout is discussed further in the next section in relation to disengagement. 2.2.3


The term ‘disengagement’ is found infrequently in the literature and when it is used, as with engagement, it is defined in different ways. As noted, Kahn (1990) considers it to be the opposite of engagement, as a psychological withdrawal of self, whereas Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) position disengagement in relation to burnout. Hirschfeld and Field (2000) consider disengagement in relation to alienation. O'Brien and Toms (2008) associate disengagement with the point at which a person stops involvement in an activity. Dean and Jolly (2012) discuss behavioural disengagement as the response of students who choose to reject learning opportunities. In a report by Towers Perrin (2003), disengagement is used more generally to describe a state of non-engagement, that is, not an act of withdrawal, but a state of not being engaged.

Consistent with the focus of the research, the following discussion reviews the

literature that refers to disengagement as an internal (rather than behavioural) experience. Kahn (1990, p694) distinguishes personal engagement from personal disengagement by the degree to ‘which people bring in or leave out their personal selves during work role performances’. As engagement occurs when a person employs and expresses his or her preferred self, disengagement, he contends, occurs when that preferred self is withdrawn or defended. As noted, he therefore establishes disengagement as the ‘converse’, or opposite pole to engagement and seeks to find in his research those key factors that determine the place or balance on an engagement – disengagement continuum. However, in his research, whilst Kahn (1990) used


‘critical incidents’ to explore engagement / disengagement, he does not explain the nature of the incidents he uses. It appears that, consistent with his definitions, he distinguishes incidents simply by the degree to which respondents were engaged, that is, high to low engagement, and he therefore considers disengagement as the same as low engagement. May et al. (2004) employ the definitions provided by Kahn, and whilst they develop some further explanations based on the three conditions of engagement, noted above, they concede that ‘little work exists on Kahn’s conceptualisation of the engagement construct’ (ibid., p13) and continue to apply his construction that disengagement is the converse of engagement.

Others also assume that

engagement and disengagement are opposites, for example, Dean and Jolly (2012), in their exploration of engagement and disengagement of student learning, consider an engagement – disengagement continuum. Hirschfeld and Field (2000, p790) associate disengagement with work-alienation, noting ‘Work alienation represents the extent to which a person is disengaged from the world of work’. By this they mean a general psychological ‘unenthusiastic outlook’, low positive affect, or diminished psychological activation or engagement. Alienation was introduced in chapter 1 as a consequence of work based on scientific management principles, and Blauner’s discussion of four key states of alienation – powerlessness, normlessness, self-estrangement and meaninglessness (Blauner, 1964; Huczynski and Buchanan, 1991), were noted.

Seeman (1967, p273) defines alienation as

‘engagement in work which is not intrinsically rewarding’ and this emphasises alienation as involving imposed constraint in a work situation, that is, not having choice. In this sense it is therefore an inner, affective experience, not a behaviour associated with withdrawing from an activity, and Seeman (1967) notes the deep psychological damage that can be done by alienating work, including the sense of isolation, loss of control, frustration, disaffection and loss of meaning. Erikson (1986) notes the inner sense of separation or disconnection in alienating work, in which a person can lose their sense of self. Sarros et al. (2002) argue that empowering leadership and organisational structures can have a significant effect on reducing alienation. In summary, disengagement as the experience of alienation emphasises the deep psychological impact that can be experienced when a person is compelled to be in work situation in which they have little control, are isolated and have a low level of intrinsic interest. The experience of disengagement as the loss of sense of self is also explored by Dean and Jolly


(2012), who argue that internal disengagement will be experienced because of dissonance that can occur between the self that is brought to a situation (the salient self) and any threat to selfidentity. The role of self in relation to engagement and disengagement is discussed in section 2.4. The psychological experience of disengagement as the loss of sense of self due to being compelled to be in an activity, can be further explored through experiences where people are required to act in ways that are damaging to others. Margolis and Molinsky (2008) report three ways in which people may disengage when involved in these harmful ‘necessary evils’, first cognitively, by changing the mental frame, meaning, rationalisation or perceptual value of the target; second, emotionally, using humour or depersonalising the target, and third, behaviourally, by avoiding contact with the target. Psychological disengagement may be especially high when also under mental load, for example, in medical interventions or employment issues. Exploring further the argument that engagement contrasts with burnout (eg., Maslach et al., 2001; Gonzalez-Roma et al., 2006), Demerouti et al. (2001) propose two sub-divisions of burnout, one of which is disengagement, which they define as distancing self from work, and negative attitudes towards work. Further, Bakker et al. (2004) found that exhaustion, as a factor in burnout, was positively related to disengagement, implying that, if burnout was the opposite to engagement, disengagement is opposite to engagement. However, the arguments proposed here, based on the Schaufeli (eg., Schaufeli et al., 2002) construction of engagement, noted in section 2.2.2, may be circular in that, starting with definitions of burnout as exhaustion and cynicism, they then defined the opposite to these as vigour and dedication, and then in turn propose that these characterise engagement. The proposed opposing nature of burnout and engagement are therefore due to definitions, not to deeper insights into these inner constructs, and the proposition that disengagement may, as a factor in burnout, be opposite to engagement is also therefore due to terms used, not to the nature of inner constructs. In any case, as noted, recent research supports the view that work engagement and burnout are conceptually distinct (Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004), and are not direct opposites (Hakanen and Schaufeli, 2012). Whilst Demerouti et al. (2010) found evidence that burnout was opposite to engagement, Hakanen and Schaufeli (2012) build on Schaufeli and Bakker’s (2004) proposition


that interventions to reduce burnout may involve different factors to those used to enhance engagement. In particular they note that self-efficacy relates to engagement but not to burnout, indicating the importance of building self-efficacy to enhance engagement but that increasing self-efficacy may not reduce burnout. Interestingly, Hakanen and Schaufeli (2012) do not include the construct of disengagement in their discussion, and this may indicate that they do not, in this recent research, have sufficient evidence that burnout and disengagement are the same construct. In this section the construct of disengagement has been explored. Whilst Kahn (1990) and May et al. (2004) consider disengagement as the converse to engagement, Hirschfeld and Field (2000) consider disengagement as a sense of alienation. Shaufeli and others’ conception of engagement was initially construed as the opposite to burnout and burnout included an element of disengagement. However this was confounded by the use of particular definitions and, with later research placing this in question, burnout is now viewed as an independent construct from engagement, being influenced by different work factors. The notion of disengagement, then, continues to lack clear definition and agreed understanding. As noted, meaningfulness has been proposed as a critical psychological state in motivation theory (Hackman and Oldham, 1980), as a key factor in the experience of engagement (Renn and Vandenberg, 1995; May et al., 2004), and associated with disengagement through alienation, but that it is not clearly understood (Michaelson, 2005). A discussion of the nature of the construct of meaningfulness therefore follows. 2.3


Zigaemi et al. (2007, p6), in their use of the term ‘passion’, which as noted has been used as an alternative term for engagement, emphasise that ‘… Meaningful [w]ork was most closely linked to an individual’s commitment, enthusiasm, and passion for the job and the organisation …’. The importance of meaning generally is illustrated by Jung who claimed that meaning was central to the problems of all of his clients who were over the age of 35 (Kinnier et al., 2003). With work being such a key part of life, it follows that meaning at work is also of key importance. The importance of meaningfulness in work, and in particular in relation to engagement, has been noted. However because work meaningfulness is not clearly understood, and because there is a


paucity of literature on work meaningfulness (Michaelson, 2005), the notion of work meaning is explored through the broader literature on life meaning. This approach is supported by Ros et al. (1999) who argue that in order to understand work meaningfulness in depth, it is also necessary to examine the general phenomenon of meaning. Meaning in relation to life and meaning in relation to work are discussed, respectively, in sections 2.3.1 and 2.3.2. They are distinguished because they contain very different factors and dynamics. In summary, meaning in relation to life involves broader freedoms and evaluations against individual attributes such as personal purpose and worth, whereas meaning in relation to work is very much more constrained and involves evaluations against organisational and other work contexts. An examination of both perspectives reveals different insights but in particular life meaning insights help in developing understanding of work meaning, or meaningfulness. There is no single agreed definition of meaningfulness but a definition is proposed at the end of this section, based on key literature, in order to frame the current research. As the following discussion will show, it is helpful to distinguish between meaning in, and meaning of life and work. Whilst each reflects internal, psychological experience, meaning of life and work are about the purpose of life and work, or the proposed reasons for their existence, whereas meaning in life and work are about the experience of living and working. 2.3.1

Meaning and Life

In this section, meaning of life and meaning in life are examined. However, a large degree of overlap in the literature between these two is noted. Ciulla (2000) reports research by Moorhead (1988) who elicited answers from a number of authors to the question, ‘what is the meaning or purpose of life?’. Examples of answers were, ‘to help others and make people happy’ (Karl Popper, 1902 - 1994), ‘to love and do work that you enjoy’ (Lucy Freeman, 1917 - 1996), and ‘to create something alive’ (Arthur Miller 1915 - 2005). Kinnier et al. (2003) summarise quotations on the meaning of life from nearly 200 ‘eminent’ people, though not necessarily philosophers. Of ten themes identified from these quotations, five of the themes were positive, (enjoyment for the moment; love, help and compassion; contribution to something greater; become self-actualised, and service to God), representing over half of the quotations, three themes were negative (struggle; meaningless, and absurd joke),


representing a quarter of the quotations, and two were neutral (a mystery; create own meaning). Five themes allude to meaning of life, and relate to phenomena ‘out there’: experiences, mystery, meaningless, worship God, being absurd.

However the other five themes may be more

appropriately classified as factors relating to meaning in life: love, struggle, contribute, selfactualised, create. Aspects of two of the five ‘meaning of life’ themes could also be included in the ‘meaning in life’ theme in this main section: serve (God) and enjoy (experiences). From these quotations, whilst discussed together, meaning of life issues are noted as being mainly external and meaning in life issues are mainly internal. However, the broad scope of responses clearly indicates wide variation in belief, perhaps mirroring Tolstoy’s experiences that ‘rational knowledge of wise people did not give meaning to life’ (Ciulla, 2000, p213). Meaning of Life A full exploration of the meaning of life is beyond the scope of the current research! Eagleton (2007) challenges the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’, arguing that just because it is presented as a question, this does not mean it actually is one, or at least one that makes sense. Eagleton’s (2007) ontological position is that the ‘question’ is a misuse of language and that life cannot possess meaning in itself; it is not a feature of life. Rather, life can be attributed with meaning, which is different. He argues that, as life cannot, of itself, contain meaning, it is not something we can find ‘out there’. However, although Eagleton (2007) takes the view that external purpose and reasoning for life does not actually exist, meaning of life may be experienced through some inner dynamic. This could be a religious belief, for example, and this inner belief about the meaning of life may (but not necessarily) also provide the basis for an experience of meaning in life, that is, that life is meaningful. Ciulla (2000) makes the point that whilst a definitive answer to the meaning of life may not be possible, meaningfulness is clearly a central experience in life and she argues this from a negative perspective: in extreme circumstances of despair or loss of hope, life, for a time, can be experienced as having no meaning. This supports the view proposed by Eagleton (2007) that the only place that meaning may be experienced is by finding it inside, not by searching for it ‘out there’. The possibility of finding meaning of life externally is discussed in section


In addition to the question of whether it is possible to know the meaning of life is also the question of whether actually knowing the meaning of life is really beneficial. Eagleton (2007) argues that it is the not knowing about the meaning of life that is actually part of the driving process which develops the meaning that we give to it; it is the context of uncertainty and the searching for meaning of life that creates the experienced meaning in life. This is supported by the view that humans are ‘self-perpetuating systems’, (eg., Gecas, 1982), discussed in section 2.4, which indicates people’s continuous seeking of insight into the purposes and possibilities that there may be in life. Seeking to confront the question of the meaning of life is perhaps unique to human beings because of human self-awareness, and awareness of mortality. However the pursuit of an answer to this question may also create anxiety and dread, rather than a positive response of living in the experience of the present, satisfying needs and growing into the future. Having considered issues in relation to definitions and the nature of the phenomenon of the meaning of life, the following discussion explores ways in which people seek to find and have beliefs about the meaning of life. Metz (2002), has carried out a meta-survey of literature on the meaning of life, focusing on recent Anglo-American philosophical literature, of which, he notes, there is however relatively little. He considers theory in two main categories, ‘Supernaturalism’ and ‘Naturalism’. Supernaturalism relates to some form of spiritual realm. He divides ‘Supernaturalism’ into ‘Godcentred’ theories, relating to a belief in the existence of God and ‘Soul-centred’ theories, relating to the condition or health of a person’s inner being – that ‘immortal spiritual substance that could be embodied in time or disembodied in an atemporal realm’ (ibid., p788). Naturalism is sub-divided into ‘Objectivism’, the notion that meaning relates directly to actual objects or features of life, and ‘Subjectivism’, that meaning depends on a person’s mental orientation.

(He also notes a third possible category, the ‘non-natural’ which is neither

supernatural nor natural, such as Kant’s view of noumenonology – the rational conceptual thinking involved in human enquiry, but he concedes that almost nothing has been written about this, and it is not developed further here). Metz (2002) includes all of these categories in a discussion on the meaning of life. However,


consistent with the current perspective, aspects that relate more to meaning in life are discussed separately, in section God-centred Supernaturalism and Objectivism would seem to fit more readily into the ‘meaning of life’ debate, where meaning in purpose of life may be found externally. Soul-centred supernaturalism and subjectivism would seem to fit most readily into the ‘meaning in life’ debate, relating to inner experiential meaningfulness.

Metz’s (2002)

discussion does contribute to this distinction in that he suggests that a person could have a strong meaning of life, through a God-centred religious belief, but a weak meaning in life, where this belief does not translate to a real sense of experiential meaningfulness (noted above in relation to Eagleton’s (2007) arguments). Issues relating to meaning of life are discussed in this section and issues relating to meaning in life, in the section following. i

God-centred supernatural theories

Metz (2002) notes that with God-centred theories, meaning may be experienced only to the extent that a person believes that God gives him or her a purpose that could be fulfilled. He notes objections to this notion, for example that, to the extent that God gives a person a purpose, he diminishes the person’s autonomy and therefore their ability to experience significance. However a counter argument to this is that a person maintains autonomy through the choice he / she has to seek to fulfil the purpose or not. A further counter argument is that meaning may be derived just from the belief that God’s purpose is being fulfilled. There is also the objection that concerns the nature of the purpose, and what if God requires a person to do something which is morally wrong, but again this is countered with the belief that God’s purpose is always above people’s own purposes and perhaps beyond peoples understanding and moral standards. This discussion illustrates the convoluted nature of meaning based on belief in God and the internal dilemmas that can arise. Metz (2002) argues that ‘purpose theory’ may, because of the arguments noted, be internally inconsistent, and suggests three plausible God-centred alternatives to the purpose theory.

First, that meaningfulness is about associating with

something higher that is meaningful, and God can be seen as infinitely meaningful. The second alternative concerns not our part in God’s plan but rather the association that we may have with (the welfare of) other’s lives and that God may therefore have with us, in an everlasting unified


experience. The third alternative relates to the perfect nature of God and that the more we aspire to the highest and most perfect nature (God) the more meaningful our lives will be. God-centred supernatural theories rest, therefore on some perceptual manifestation of an external God, through a purpose, plan or relationship, and although creating degrees of complex dilemmas or inconsistencies, can provide an internal sense of meaning of life. The next section considers external ‘meaning’ possibilities though not through ‘God’. ii

Objective natural theories

Objective natural theories do not, as noted, have God as a key component of meaning but rather contend that meaning may be derived from (other) external objects or features of life (Metz, 2002). The most widely held objective theory states that for a life to be meaningful, it must involve external active engagement in something, and that this active engagement must be in something that is worthwhile, that is, something deemed to be of value. Meaning therefore derives not from the intrinsic nature of an activity, as may be experienced, for example where there is intrinsic interest in the task itself, but from the expected outcome of the activity. However this is complicated by the dynamic that whilst an activity may have a worthwhile outcome, during the act of engagement this may not be clear to the person, for example, in medical research in which outcomes are uncertain. The motivation to continue engagement would, then, come from pursuit in an activity that is expected to, or where there is hope that it will, lead to a worthwhile outcome. The expectation and hope may be so great that even against unfavourable odds or uncertainties, a person may maintain meaningful engagement. Other aspects of ‘objective’ theory noted by Metz (2002) include, first, the engagement in creative development through artistic or intellectual discovery. However, this is more consistent with what is noted here as meaning in life, section, because this is viewed through the lens of subjective meaningfulness experienced because of the inner sense of creative endeavour. The second aspect of ‘objective’ theory noted by Metz (2002) is the need to express some degree of compassion and benefit to others, however this is consistent with the perspective noted above, in which active engagement in a worthwhile cause is person-focused. He suggests that some theorists (eg., Singer, 1996) also contend that some form of morality is also necessary for meaning, involving a higher good, promoting well-being, justice and moral virtues, although he recognises that it is not clear whether we need an absolute or a relative moral standard. He also


notes, however, some theorist (eg., Kekes, 2000) who suggest that some people may find life meaningful even though their actions are not moral, such as a thief. In summary, there are a number of theories relating to how people may find the meaning of life, the primary of which are around God-centred or religious beliefs. Meaning of life may also be gained through objective features of life. However theories of the meaning of life neither clarify the actual meaning of life – a question that cannot be answered conclusively – nor are conclusive about the way in which people seek the meaning of life. Some, for example, Eagleton (2007) as noted, suggest that this is, in any case, a non-question and that it is perhaps not to be answered because it is the very unknowing of meaning of life, and the seeking of it, that can give meaning to life. It appears therefore that to achieve meaning of life, worthwhile purpose is key, which may have its root in ‘God’ or some other external cause. The experiential sense of meaning of life may provide the basis for the inner experience of meaningfulness, or the psychological sense of meaning in life. This is illustrated in the quotation by Frankl (2004), at the beginning of the next section in which meaning in life is explored. Meaning in Life ‘What matters … is not the meaning of life in general but the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment’ Frankl, 2004, p113 This quotation illustrates the distinction between (general) meaning of life and specific experiential meaning (at a given moment). Frankl (2004) emphasises the importance of the latter and, as discussed below in this section, developed a branch of psychology based on experiential meaning. In the current discussion, the experience of meaning in the moment is defined as meaning in life. This quotation also, then, illustrates a temporal aspect to meaning. This is discussed in section 2.4 in relation to the self as a self-perpetuating system and the apparent tension between seeking stability through maintenance of the self – who a person is, and seeking growth through enhancement – who a person is becoming. Ciulla (2000) argues that when people feel their lives are fragmented and do not make logical or


rational sense, they seek meaning elsewhere, and in particular in religious faith – a phenomenon beyond, outside of self, and not relying on their current existence. In other words, if they do not have meaning in their life, they seek meaning of life. This may ‘mask’ life problems but not actually create experiential meaningfulness.

This illustrates the complexity of the internal

experience of meaning and in this case is perhaps what Marx (1818 – 1883) meant in his widely quoted view that ‘Religion is the opiate of the people’. The phenomenon of searching for meaning through external religion is noted here to illustrate that people do clearly seek meaning in their lives, and if they cannot find it, they search for meaning from outside of their lives. Pöhlmann et al. (2006) argues that meaning in life is important for mental and physical health, whilst noting its dependency on people’s proactive choices to develop meaningfulness. Meaning in life is an inner or subjective experience. Following the discussion in the last section, Metz (2002), notes ‘Soul-centred supernaturalism’ and ‘subjectivism’ as two sources of meaning. These are framed in the present discussion in relation to meaning in life. i

Soul-centred supernatural theories

In soul-centred theories, Metz (2002) notes that meaningfulness is dependent on the inner sense of self being in a certain state. The most common theoretical standpoint here is that for a life to be meaningful it must be worth living, that is, there is sufficient current value, and expectation of future value for it to be worth continuing. This notion of a life worth living seems a broader notion than that associated with the notion of doing something that is worthwhile. A promise of immortality for the soul provides some inner value, but this raises the question of whether this is sufficient to experience inner meaningfulness in life or just meaning of life. Metz does consider the argument that meaningfulness through sufficient current and future benefit makes sense only where death is not an ending and where life can make a permanent difference, but also recognises arguments that suggest that a life can be meaningful and worth living even if it does not make a permanent material difference, for example where lives contribute to ‘human welfare or excellence’ (ibid., p789). Beliefs about the mortality of life would appear to impact critically on issues of meaning and life decisions.

Metz (2002) discusses Williams’ (1973) ‘Makropolus Case’, which claims,

paradoxically, that an immortal life may actually be boring and therefore meaningless because it is immortal. He concludes that meaning in life may be experienced not necessarily with the


prospect of an ‘actual’ afterlife but with a kind of afterlife, and it could be argued that to leave a legacy of service, an artistic or intellectual contribution or some change that has long term implications is a kind of afterlife that provides this value, worth and meaning in life. So, meaning in life that is rooted in the belief in the soul, links with God centred meaning of life, where eternal life may be expected, either literally or through some legacy, or to ‘objective’ natural theory through a belief that life has some current and future worthwhileness. What is key for a sense of meaning in life, however is the subjective experience meaningfulness, and this is developed in the next section where subjectivism as the central dynamic for meaning in life is discussed. ii


Subjectivism takes the position that meaningfulness is essentially about the mental orientation, or inner experience of the person, though Metz (2002) concedes that there is no consensus in the literature about which mental capacities constitute meaning. These could be, for example, feelings, desires that are fulfilled, ability to choose how to achieve purposes, or judgements and beliefs, but it is likely to be a complex combination of these. Metz argues that the overall subjective orientation is constructed internally, citing Taylor (1992), who emphasises that meaning arises from constructed orientations and that the purpose of these constructed orientations is to maintain authenticity through being true to self (self-theory is discussed in section 2.4). Wolf (1997) argues that meaning arises from positive engagement into activities that have intrinsic value. There have been some philosophical objections to these views, and to subjectivism in general on the basis that meaning needs an external reference point. As noted, however, whilst it would seem appropriate to suggest that meaning of life needs an external reference point, it is not a necessary component for meaning in life. Internal meaning could be experienced through an external reference point, such as a contribution which is viewed by the contributor as worthwhile, or because of some internal (constructed) dynamic, such as an experiential belief in a religion, but inner meaning may be experienced without this external reference. An example of meaning (in life) that may not have an external reference point is the inner sense of success, progress or growth that is experienced in regaining faculties after an accident, or in reaching a


standard in an intellectual pursuit. However, it could be argued that even this incorporates an external reference, and whilst Maslow (1971) does not argue that meaningfulness cannot be experienced without an external reference point, to reach the highest level of self, a person must be involved in a cause outside of self. This is supported in a review of theory and research by Ardichvili and Kuchinke (2009), who suggest that for professionals to feel that their work is ‘good’ it must involve advanced expertise, be challenging and interesting, and have a positive impact on the community and wider world. Alfes et al. (2010, p23) found that ‘where people can see the impact of their work on other people or society in general then their jobs are seen as more meaningful’. In summary, subjective experience of meaning is by definition constructed internally and may be experienced most effectively through an external reference point. An externally meaningful activity may also be internally meaningful because of its intrinsic value, but this is not necessarily the case. iii

Factors influencing meaning in life

What factors influence meaning in life? One of the key factors that appears in the literature is purpose (Hughes, 2006). A sense of purpose can be considered as a striving towards fulfilling goals, and therefore involves elements of future value that can be conceptualised, and viewed as achievable (Baumeister, 1991). Debats (1999) emphasises from reference to several studies that commitment to a purpose is central to the experience of meaningfulness. Other factors that relate to meaning in life are a sense of significance, value and worth (eg., Debats, 1999; Hughes, 2006; Pöhlmann et al., 2006) and these seem to be universal in the meaningfulness experience. The notion of significance alludes to the importance of a sense of worthwhileness and value, and self-worth and value are important if a person is to experience life as meaningful (Baumeister, 1991).

Hughes (2006) also emphasises the importance of self-worth.

The notion of

worthwhileness relates to the idea of involvement in something that matters, and this in turn implies value gained by self through doing something that provides value to others or some other value outside of self. This could be in interpersonal relationships, a sense of belonging or service to others (Debats, 1999; Holbeche and Springett, 2004). The concept model (Figure 2.1) indicates the distinction between worthwhileness and self-worth, with the former having an


external focus and the latter being an inner experience. The notion of ‘self’ is central to many of the factors relating to meaningfulness and alludes to the proposition, which is explored further in section 2.4, that the employment of self is intimately related to, or is the same experience as, meaningfulness.

Debats (1999) emphasises the

importance of expressing self and of the growth of the self, and Holbeche and Springett (2004) note the importance of being free to be genuinely and fully oneself and of being at ease with oneself, perhaps because this allows expression of the preferred self in context. The idea of genuineness alludes to the possibility of authenticity (section 2.3.3). Driver (2005) emphasises the importance of the authentic self for achieving meaning, and Baumeister (1991) and Hughes (2006) emphasise the importance of self-efficacy (feelings of effectiveness, capability and in control) as a basis for experienced meaningfulness. Baumeister (1991) notes the limited research into meaning in life but suggests four main elements that are necessary for meaning in life: ‘self-worth’, ‘purpose’, ‘personal control’ or ‘efficacy’ and ‘values and justification’. Meaning in life may be achieved from many different sources but it is not the number of sources alone that contribute to well-being and it does not require one particular framework or system, such as a religion, rather, it is the commitment or devotion to the source that appears to be critical in achieving meaning in life (Debats, 1999). ‘[A] framework or purpose in life without a concomitant sense of commitment has little, if any, positive impact on participants’ general and psychological well-being’ (ibid., p34). This supports the view, noted above, that it is possible to have a sense of ‘meaning of life’, such as a religion, but lack meaning in life. However, diversity of sources, accessibility to these sources, and inter-relationship or coherence of the sources, underpinned with an overarching philosophical perspective on life, are key for achieving meaning of life (Pöhlmann et al., 2006). This emphasises the importance of employing self in activities as a means of experiencing meaning and that the degree of employment of self, or commitment will determine the degree of meaning that may be experienced. Frankl (2004), in an account of an extreme life experience, argues that it is possible to find meaning in life irrespective of circumstances. He was a psychiatrist and recounts his experiences in Second World War concentration camps in the Holocaust and how he was able to survive and indeed grow internally because he had ‘meaning’. He is cited as often quoting Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how’ (Frankl, 2004, p9). This emphasises the importance of


purpose in life, noted above as central to the experience of meaningfulness. He notes that even in ‘utter desolation’, internal processes, in particular, in his case, memory of his ‘beloved’, it is possible ‘through loving contemplation … [to] achieve fulfilment’ (ibid., p49) and also that ‘it is possible to practice the art of living … although suffering is omnipresent’ (ibid., p55). He considers suffering to be a relative phenomenon. He notes a key struggle as being to maintain self-respect, and hope, recalling many people in the camps who lost their sense of being, as an individual, their personal ego and value, and lived in the past, losing any sense of meaning in the present or faith in the future, and eventually they lost their will to live and, through psychologically giving up, also their lives.

He notes the importance of inner value, being anchored not in external

conditions but in ‘higher, more spiritual things, [that] cannot be shaken by camp life’ (ibid., p72), that it is possible to choose one’s own attitude, and it is this ‘spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful’ (ibid., p75-6). He argues that if there is meaning in life, then as suffering is such an integral part of life, there must be meaning in suffering. Rooted in his experiences, Frankl developed a therapy, which he called Logotherapy. It is beyond the scope of this thesis to include analysis of psychotherapeutic processes, however, Logotherapy is a meaning-centred therapy (Frankl, 2004, p104) (‘Logos’ denotes meaning in Greek) and it will be summarised to the degree that this contributes insights into meaning in life issues. Logotherapy has been found to have strong theoretical and empirical support and the primary logotherapy measure of the construct of meaning (the Purpose in Life test) has been found to be a valid measure of other meaning-related constructs (Schulenberg et al., 2008). Logotherapy focuses not on the past, but on the future and builds on the notion that we should consider not what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. Frankl (2004, p105) contends that peoples search for meaning is ‘the primary motivation’ and is a phenomenon that can be fulfilled only by the individual. This contrasts with Freud’s views on the key importance of happiness (Thompson, 2004), and Adler’s views which emphasise the will to power (Coan, 1987). Logotherapy is not intended primarily to help people avoid pain or gain pleasure but to help people find meanings in their life, and to allow these meanings to underpin growth towards achieving their potential. Frankl (2004) argues that whilst people’s past will inevitably influence them, they are not fully conditioned or determined by the past; that life is essentially selfdetermined and they can make choices that take them towards the person they seek to be. He also argues that whilst people are not free from social or personal conditions in life, they are free in


the way they face, deal with and manage these conditions. This links with Personal Construct Psychology, which underpins this research, and which argues that a person’s reality is essentially his or her own, personal construction (section 3.3.4). More recent research and literature into meaning in life continues to reinforce its general importance for health, well-being and happiness, for example, Francis and Hills (2008) and Hicks and King (2007) who also note the relationship between positive affect, or mood, and meaning in life. Hughes (2006, p611) makes the point that affect has been central in research into quality of life issues but, whilst affect is clearly fundamentally important to commitment, he argues that research needs to go beyond just affect, emotions and feeling towards ‘meanings and purposes that people use to generate significance, validity and coherence in their lives’. He uses several key life examples to suggest that meaning may be a more fundamental dynamic for quality of life than affect, for example, parenthood and care giving, where affect may be low but people continue to be involved because meaning is high. Francis and Hills (2008, p219) found that ‘the extent to which we experience a sense of meaning in life relates more to who we are, rather than what we think or do about it’ supporting the view that meaning in life, as defined in this thesis, is a more fundamental construct in well-being than meaning of life a more cognitive or externally focused construct. Meaning of life and meaning in life analysis provides insights into the fundamental dynamics of experiential meaningfulness.

This forms a key basis on which literature in relation to

meaningfulness in work is now discussed. 2.3.2

Meaning and Work

In a similar approach to the discussion in relation to meaning of life and meaning in life, meaning of work and meaning in work are likewise considered as different constructs. The distinction is important in order to achieve clear focus for the current research. For the purpose of this thesis, meaning of work is defined as a broad perspective relating to the nature and purpose of work as a human activity, as opposed to other broad distinctive life activities such as those relating to family and social life. This is discussed briefly. Meaning in work relates to meaning which may


be experienced when taking part in the activity of work itself, and may be defined as meaningfulness. This is discussed in greater depth. Meaning of Work Meaning of work has been addressed in the literature from philosophical, social and psychological perspectives. Ciulla (2000) provides a detailed historical analysis of the nature of work and employment, and how this has changed over time. Some of her key points follow, showing an historical development of the ways in which people have sought meaning from work. It is clear that the practice of work and the meaning given to it has been influenced profoundly by religious beliefs, or at least in the name of religion. Work is paradoxical. People often place a great deal of weight on the importance of work for their happiness, self-worth and identity, but at the same time seek to avoid it. People may engage in work in order to live more fulfilled lives with family, friends and community, and yet can feel lost or empty when work is not there. Unemployment provides more time for leisure, but being unemployed can destroy the ability to enjoy leisure; it creates people who are not free from work, but rather, not free to work. Organisations may downsize to seek to improve efficiencies, but this very act may create greater stress and inefficiency for those retained. Gill (1999) notes, from several domains, different perspectives on the meaning of work, including social identity, self-worth, status, interaction with likeminded others, participation in collective purpose, and the need to work to avoid the psychological deprivation people can feel without it. The centrality of work for people’s identity, worth and esteem, as well as economic needs is also emphasised by Harpaz (2002) who, when researching if people would stop or continue working if they no longer had to for financial reasons, found that around 90% would continue working. However Quintanilla and Wilpert (1991) note from their research that people are placing greater emphasis on leisure and would stop working if they were able to. Their findings are not strongly conclusive, but this is supported by Vecchio (1980) who found that the likelihood of people leaving work if they could has increased in more recent years. From an historical perspective, Aristotle, referred to in chapter 1, emphasised the virtue of work and argued that, as work is a safe and secure societal context, it is not possible to enjoy leisure without this context.

This again echoes an underpinning principle of Personal Construct

Psychology (section 3.3.4) which suggests that constructs inherently contain contrasts in order to


differentiate and characterise their particular focus (Kelly, 1955). Taking key points from the historical perspective provided by Ciulla (2000): the Greek poet Homer, (if indeed he actually existed), considered work, certainly in the form of wage labour, to be a curse, and Greek philosophy in general built on the premise that thoughts and ideas were more important than the act of working. Early Christians considered (ascetic) contemplation to be more important than work, but this soon evolved into a more equitable consideration of working for necessities. Around the 600s AD, Benedictine monks developed a work ethic based on the importance of (excellent) work (for self-sufficiency) but to avoid the desire for riches. Into the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the relationship between work and spiritual life deepened with an emphasis on work being penance for sin, but at the same time saw the more positive phenomenon in the development of the more respectful craft activities, with the introduction of (often secretive) worshipful companies, and the use of surnames to identify people with their work, such as Baker, Thatcher, Carpenter. In the Middle Ages, as trade increased, with the possibility of gaining profit and material wealth beyond need, a general moral and religious tension grew between possessions and threats to the ‘soul’. The Renaissance, with the ‘resurrection’ of Greek values around creative beauty such as art, music and writing, seemed to provide a justification or context in which wealth, perhaps paradoxically, could be used for the development of ‘virtues’. There was also a growing sense that people may express power and exercise control, rather than be controlled. The Protestant Reformation, which began in the sixteenth century, had the effect of raising the importance of work as a moral and spiritual obligation for all. However, societal class continued to separate the increasingly wealthy from the increasingly poor and for the many that could not get work, this was often attributed to their spiritual deficiencies, rather than unemployment being due largely to systemic social and economic conditions. The Protestant work ethic gave reverence to all kinds of work, that people should accept one’s ‘position’ in life, the belief in ‘calling’ as a means of fulfilling God’s purposes, and moral superiority of hard work, as a means of finding identity and meaning. ‘Callings’, from God, became secularised as self-discovered ‘vocations’.


Whilst crafts people, for example, weavers, farmers and others in similar occupations directly identified with and directly benefited from the work they did, people who worked as employees were increasingly separated from the means of production and as the industrial revolution developed, were increasingly considered as a mechanistic integral part of a production system, often being paid the lowest wages possible to maximise profits. The human affect of alienation, that can be attributed to this approach to work, was noted in chapter 1. Taking a more current perspective, Herman (2002) argues that, to the degree that it continues today, the work ethic, which is no longer simply Protestant, but which gives work meaning, has been largely undermined by the relationship between people and work. He emphasises two key trends, first, that because of the division of work activities, any sense of unified work, which would give work meaning, is shattered. Second, that the destruction of the possibility of knowing the continuity of work, either within one organisation or in work at all, destroys confidence in future security. He argues that the experience of time is a key dynamic in that, as time is the basis for work, it ‘can be experienced in such a way as to undermine or destroy a sense of meaningfulness’ (ibid., p68) because it indiscriminately imposes control, making it difficult to experience meaning focused on the work itself. Van Dierendonck et al. (2004, p623) argue that the chaotic, fast changing nature of work today makes people increasingly ‘physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted’, with consequent negative behaviours including high turnover, poor performance and absenteeism.

Nixon (2006), in

research into British male employment argues that internalised general paradigms and personal identities relating to the nature and impact of work in its traditional (manual) form are not being adequately reconstructed for today’s, more service-oriented forms of work. Ardichvili and Kuchinke (2009) suggest that when people lose their professional identities they have serious problems defining who they are (‘alienation’), and that educational institutions should refocus to help graduates to cope with uncertainties and constantly shifting work patterns. The legacies from this historical development of the nature of work continue to impact conceptions of work values, beliefs, perceptions and motivations today, whilst work is seen as a key source of meaning. De Botton (2009) notes in his observation of modern work: ‘… the intelligence, peculiarity, beauty and horror of the modern work-place … its extraordinary claim to be able to provide us, alongside love, with the principle source of life’s meaning.’


De Botton, 2009, p30 Here De Botton makes the point that what is of most interest is not that meaning may or may not be found in work, but that work may be considered as so central in seeking to find meaning in life. That work may be a source of meaning in life, and the question of whether it should provide meaning, is in the domain of philosophy. An in-depth discussion of the philosophical purpose of work and its role in providing meaning is beyond the scope of this thesis, but insight is gained into this discussion through one focal point. Bowie (1998) considers the activity of work from a Kantian perspective. This is discussed here because the arguments sit at the cusp of the distinction between the meaning of work and meaning in work. As a philosopher himself, Bowie (1998, p1083) argues that organisations have a moral obligation to ‘provide meaningful work for employees’. He submits that a definition of meaningful work is not clear, but nevertheless argues that from a Kantian ethical perspective, meaningful work would be work that is: o Freely entered into. o Provides employee independence and autonomy. o Allows worker development. o Provides a fair wage. o Helps moral development of employees. o Is not paternalistic in allowing the employee to find happiness. In essence, this perspective argues that an employee should always be respected as an individual, with dignity, and never as a means of production, and work should be a place where the self may be developed, with sufficient money earned to allow self-respect and independence. Bowie (1998) discusses the Kantian approach to work today and how management may take positive steps to facilitate this approach. In Kantian terms, freedom is not just the absence of restraint, but the positive possibility to be in control. This is discussed further in section This section has noted those religious and social dynamics that have had a key impact on the (changing) meaning of work. What is clear is that, as the activity of work has developed, and was


imposed on people as an instrumental activity through the need to be employed rather than having direct involvement as with, for example, craft or farming activities, the possibility of finding meaning through involvement diminished significantly. Chalofsky and Krishna (2009, p192) argue that the importance, but loss of work meaning is illustrated through the interest in work motivation, which developed as meaning disappeared. Overell (2008, p6) argues that ‘the search for meaning at work is historically new’, noting the earliest reference to ‘meaningful work’ in the title of a scholarly article or book dating back only to 1982 (ibid., p20) and that ‘It is culturally specific to advanced modern societies’, (ibid., p47). It would be expected that people up to the industrial revolution may not have even envisaged the possibility of meaningfulness in relation to work because it was a natural, intrinsic characteristics of life experience, and that perhaps up to the twentieth century may not have understood enough about meaningfulness, nor been in the position to have demanded anything more from work than material gain, to have mourned its loss. In the current, more chaotic and turbulent environment, work, and the possibility of gaining meaning through it, has been recognised as becoming increasingly important but also increasingly complex. In particular, dynamics of the nature and perception of time and the impact of work on self-identity, including the ability to adapt to maintain identity in fast changing and uncertain work contexts, adds deeper complexities to possibilities of experiencing meaningfulness through work. In the next section, meaning in work is discussed and the notion of where meaning may be found, in particular in relation to internal processes, is considered in greater depth. Meaning in Work Whereas meaning of work relates to the broad purpose of work, meaning in work is conceptualised as the construct of work meaningfulness, that is, the personal and individual experience that a person has in relation to the work that he / she is involved with. In this section, it will be seen that aspects of psychological engagement build from the experience of meaningfulness. This follows the discussion above, on the psychology of engagement, where meaningfulness was shown to have an important link to engagement, and shows the interactive nature of the dynamic between engagement and meaningfulness.



The importance of work meaning

Caudron (1997), discusses people’s growing interest in the importance of meaningfulness at work, and whilst questioning if an organisation should take responsibility to make work meaningful, emphasises that what actually makes work meaningful varies between people and that they need to be given opportunities to explore and find what is important for them. That organisations should take responsibility for making work meaningful is partly an ethical question, and was discussed briefly above, however Holbeche and Springett (2004) emphasis that increasingly, effective leadership involves deeper values, which are demonstrated not just espoused, and are making work more meaningful. Leadership and engagement were discussed in chapter 1. Beagrie (2005) cites a survey by Penna management consultancy who found that many directors gain more meaning from work than from their home or social life and that a key to establishing meaning in work is to ensure that individual values and those of the organisation are congruent. May et al. (2004) emphasise, as noted, how a lack of meaning in work can lead to alienation or ‘disengagement’ from work and that experienced meaningfulness would normally promote personal growth and work motivation. Park and Folkman (1997) argue the importance of meaning for people in coping with pressure and stress, where meaning here relates to people’s enduring beliefs and valued goals, purpose, and their assumptions about the nature of order in their lives. Where change creates a sense of inner conflict, or ‘cognitive dissonance’, between what people believe is normal, and new, different circumstances, this may be reconciled by seeking to change the meaning attributed to the new situation. Holbeche and Springett (2004) note that whilst many people appear to accept that work today is more transactional in nature because of turbulence, uncertainties and insecurities, with people having to take more responsibility for their own career success and not rely on work for close relationship needs, others experience a sense of loss from the ‘demise’ of committed employer-employee relationships. Chalofsky (2003a) reviewed recent literature and suggested that a construct for meaningful work was emerging. He builds from work motivation theory and in a related article (Chalofsky, 2003b) considers the need for a new paradigm of work to cope with the turbulent nature of work today. He notes evidence from several sources that people have an inherent need for a


work life that is meaningful. Likewise, Ashmos and Duchon (2000) argue that people need ‘a sense of purpose and meaning in their work beyond the kind of meaning found, for example, in the job design literature, which emphasises finding meaning in the performance of tasks (Hackman and Oldham, 1975)’. Holbeche and Springett (2004) emphasise that work can give people a sense of purpose, help them to feel needed, be part of something bigger than self, provides a sense of status and can alleviate alienation. Holbeche and Springett (2004) note positive organisational advantages of deeper meaningfulness for employees, including retaining people and managing change more effectively (ibid., p8), creativity, satisfaction, team performance and organisational commitment, enthusiasm and commitment, emotional expression, and personal relationships.

They cite Unilever as an

example of an ‘inclusive’ organisation - it values diversity, and is open and creative, allowing people to grow, have fun, and develop ideas with a high level of energy. Zhang and Bartol (2010) emphasise that when people experience their job as meaningful and important they engage more divergently, seek more sources of information to help solve problems and pursue more creative solutions.

As noted in chapter 1, people have reported a deeper sense of

meaningfulness and engagement when they interact with the beneficiaries of their work when under transformational leadership (Grant, A. M., 2012). Overell (2008) notes the dilemma in the two views, first, that work is a means to an end, and second, that work is a place where people achieve their potential, but argues that whilst these may appear in conflict it may be possible to achieve both, or at least establish a place of equilibrium.

This may be a key perceptual dynamic in the experience of meaning and is

discussed further in relation to intrinsic and extrinsic work meaning in section It is proposed that meaning may even be found within the tension between these perspectives, in that the hold that work has on people as a means to a necessary end, may have the effect of positioning work as an experience within which a greater and deeper sense of responsibility and purpose may be possible. ‘Meaning struggles to be meaning if it is a matter of personal pleasure and preference alone’ (Overell, 2008, p42). The notion of tension and its importance in relation to meaningfulness and engagement is discussed in section 2.4.7. The discussion in this section has noted the importance of meaning in work, or meaningfulness, to produce positive personal and work outcomes. In the next section, factors relating to work meaning are discussed.



Factors of work meaning

Different authors have suggested that many different work characteristics underpin meaningfulness, for example, work-role fit (May et al., 2004), skill variety, task significance and feedback (Hackman and Oldham, 1980); autonomy (Hackman and Oldham, 1980; Hunton and Price, 1997; Holbeche and Springett, 2004); individual decision making (Hunton and Price, 1997; Brown et al., 2001); reciprocal respect, and opportunities for creativity, (Brown et al., 2001); being with others (Chalofsky, 2003a; Holbeche and Springett, 2004); and, challenging work activities, purpose and mission (Holbeche and Springett, 2004). Humphrey et al. (2007) found experienced meaningfulness to be the primary mediator between work characteristics and work outcomes, but as noted in section, the job design literature discusses the notion of meaningfulness with insufficient depth (Ashmos and Duchon, 2000). Holbeche and Springett (2004), use the four dimensions of ‘Wilber’s theory of everything’ (Interior-individual; Exterior-individual; Interior-collective; Exterior-collective) as a framework for summarising key factors relating to work meaning. These are: o Job self-insight, job stress, security and personal fit with organisational values (‘inner individual’ dimension). o Involvement, responsibility, work demands, control, organisation support (‘outer individual’ dimension). o Organisational ethics, values, integrity in actions and internal competitiveness (‘inner collective’ dimension). o Size of organisation, organisational structure and flexibility in work patterns (‘outer collective’ dimension). Greater meaning was experienced where these factors were positive or more balanced with individual needs, characteristics and values. Overell (2008) argues that for work to be meaningful, three inter-related motives must be present. These are: o Craft motives, drives relating to interests and talent. o Compensation motives, including materials rewards, status, recognition, power.


o Moral motives, including trust, vocation and caring. Overell (2008, p38) suggests that each can be a significant source of intrinsic satisfaction and that they are, collectively, the ‘closest we can get to a statement of meaningful work’. What is striking about this discussion is the broad scope of factors that can influence meaningfulness, and intuitively it is clear that because inner psychological experience is so interlinked, almost any positive factors may enhance meaningfulness. The focus of the research, however is to seek to contribute by identifying the central dynamics in relation to meaningfulness and engagement. A perspective that helps to give more clarity to this is the consideration of intrinsic and extrinsic work meaning factors. This is explored in the next section. iii

Intrinsic and extrinsic work meaning

Before discussing specifically the impact of intrinsic and extrinsic factors in relation to meaning, the nature of intrinsic and extrinsic factors are clarified. a

Intrinsic and extrinsic work factors

Extrinsic and intrinsic work factors are distinct (Herzberg et al., 1959; Hackman and Oldham, 1980). Extrinsic factors are those that are outside of the activity itself, for example, working conditions, pay, supervision and work processes and extrinsic motivation is the drive to achieve these rewards. As noted, extrinsic factors may help to diminish dissatisfaction, but often have little positive motivating influence (Herzberg et al., 1959). Intrinsic factors relate to the internal ‘content’ of an activity and include the task itself, responsibility and achievement. These are ‘motivating factors’ in Herzberg et al.’s (1959) terms. Intrinsic motivation represents a drive to engage in an activity because of the nature of that activity itself (Vansteenkiste et al., 2006). Feedback on performance is normally immediate and where this is positive it can produce a sustained, self-reinforcing motivational drive. Thomas (2000) provides a reminder that it is not the objective characteristics of work that are the key, but rather the interpretation, or perception and framing of the experience that is important. Perception is discussed in section 2.4.1.


Intrinsic motivation is not about enjoyment or fun (Boggs et al., 2003) but may result from involvement in an activity that is congruent with a person’s values.

Self-theory may be

considered as ‘a version of intrinsic motivation’, recognising the key importance of meaning and other individual inner experiences rather than those relating to external job design factors (Shamir, 1991, p420). Also, pay, for example, even though often considered as an extrinsic hygiene factor (eg., Herzberg et al., 1959), may in fact become an intrinsic motivator because of the meaning attributed to what it represents. Vansteenkiste et al. (2006) note the association between intrinsic work factors and the ability to self-manage, or the level of autonomy, versus extrinsic motivation, which is linked to external control. They consider intrinsic motivation to be the outworking, or the ‘instantiation of the proactive, growth-oriented nature of human beings’ (ibid., p20).

Deci and Vansteenkiste (2004)

emphasise that the basis for intrinsic motivation is people’s drive to feel a sense of ‘personal causation’, or control. This is discussed further under Self-Determination Theory in section 2.4.6. However, intrinsic and extrinsic dynamics are not independent and may interact in dysfunctional ways. For example, even where intrinsic factors influence the drive to engage, extrinsic rewards for the same task can have the effect of reducing motivation, for example, pay detracting from intrinsic engagement dynamics (Robinson, 2007). Pursuing ‘performance’ goals, especially where self-esteem is invested, can have an undermining effect on intrinsic engagement, relative to the pursuit of ‘mastery’ goals, that is, goals relating to the development of competence in the task itself (Rawsthorne and Elliott, 1999).

Murayama et al. (2010), using functional Magnetic

Resonance Imaging, found evidence of the undermining effect of extrinsic reward (in this case, monetary reward) on intrinsic motivation, suggesting that this may be due to the diminished subjective value in activity success and is linked to the diminished sense of self-determination. Sheldon and Filak (2008, p268) also note the undermining effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic engagement, citing Deci and Ryan (1991) who argue that this is because it ‘thwarts a basic human need for autonomy’. Metz (2002) directly links intrinsic motivation, inner meaningfulness and engagement, and Wolf (1997) notes intrinsic interest, along with worthwhileness, as important elements of a meaningful activity. Metz (2002) indicates close support for the view that where an activity itself, rather than


the outcomes of the activity, is rewarding, a person will experience an enhanced sense of meaningfulness, and that this is associated with enhanced engagement. Chalofsky (2003a, p71) emphasises the growing interest into the phenomenon of ‘being’ and the ‘ongoing process of becoming’ through significant and purposeful work activities. He notes that whilst the identification and analysis of intrinsic and extrinsic factors in work is helpful in understanding motivational drive to engage, there is ‘something even deeper’ (Chalofsky, 2003a, p73), which Chalofsky and Krishna (2009, p191) note as meaningfulness. This emphasises the recent resurgence of interest in those deeper motivational issues including meaning, purpose, commitment and engagement relating to personal identity, or self. Providing practical support for this notion, Chalofsky (2003a) suggests that the most important drivers for self-employed people was their sense of purpose and contribution. The next section develops from this exploration of the nature of intrinsic and extrinsic factors at work to consider intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of work meaning. b

Intrinsic and extrinsic meaning

In the following discussion, the complex interplay between intrinsic, extrinsic, internal and external experiences of meaning is discussed in order to clarify exactly what is meant by meaningfulness and its focus in the current research. Metz (2002) discusses, in some depth, subjective meaning in relation to intrinsic and extrinsic value. However he appears to use interchangeably the notions of intrinsic and extrinsic with internal and external. He suggests not only that intrinsic value is about value for its own sake, which is agreed, but also that any extrinsic value would confer intrinsic value. This needs clarification. The following diagram, Figure 2.2, has been produced to show these four conceptual experiences of meaning.

The discussion that follows explains the difference, nature and

dynamics between these.


The inner, psychological experience of meaningfulness

Meaningfulness gained in the moment in the doing of an activity

Internal meaning

Intrinsic meaning

External meaning

Extrinsic meaning

Meaningfulness gained after, and as a result of doing an activity

Meaning gained from being involved in an activity that results in some value for another party

Figure 2.2 Conceptual Experiences of Meaning External meaning may be defined as the knowledge and understanding of being involved with an activity that is characterised by value, worthwhileness or significance to another party. Contributing in charitable work which serves the lives of others could be an example of work such as this. Meaning is experienced through providing value for others. This may be defined as a ‘calling’ or ‘vocation’. However the activity may simply be a sterile contribution which has no inner meaning and may not produce an inner, affective response, or a sense of fulfilment or satisfaction. Internal meaning is the psychological experience directly relating to involvement in an activity. In charitable work, a contributor may experience fulfilment because his or her involvement positively affects people’s lives, and perhaps because it is congruent with his or her own values. This internal experience is defined as meaningfulness. This may have the effect of creating an internal drive to continue, or develop, involvement. This internal meaningfulness would then be experienced at the time of the activity, and more generally as a life experience, because of the value provided to a significant cause. However an activity may not have any particular interest or fulfilment in and of itself. For example, a charitable activity may be producing food for others. The activity of producing food itself may be of no interest to the contributor. In this case, the activity has no ‘intrinsic’ meaning. In this scenario, the person is involved in an activity which has external and internal meaning, but no intrinsic meaning. He or she may be motivated to maintain involvement because it creates value for others and meaning for them as a result, but not because they are 72

interested in, or drawn to the activity because of the nature of the activity itself. If, however, producing food is of intrinsic interest to the person, then he or she would be expected to experience a deeper sense of meaningfulness in the doing of the activity. Intrinsic meaning is by definition gained only through the activity itself, not from extrinsic value. The activity may also create extrinsic meaning for the person. Extrinsic meaning is experienced when the person believes that they will gain additional value as a result of being involved in the activity. In their discussion of the means by which people seek meaning at work, Bassuk and Goldsmith (2009) define intrinsic as ‘primary’ and extrinsic as ‘secondary’ factors. They argue that secondary factors, such as philanthropic service, ethical activities, mentoring, and community service, and associated positive attitudes including health, openness and being creative and visionary, are becoming more common as means of finding meaning at work. This additional value in a charitable activity may be recognition of their contribution during an activity or after it is completed. A national award or honour, such as a knighthood received from the British Monarch could create such extrinsic meaning as this. In a non-charitable activity, status, position, promotion or payment and the receipt of material reward may create this extrinsic meaning. It may be expected that the deepest sense of meaningfulness would be experienced where all four types of meaning are achieved simultaneously. However the relationship between these is complex. For example, different sources of meaning may create inner conflict. In research into work as a ‘calling’, involving zookeepers, Bunderson and Thompson (2009) concluded that whilst people with a calling found deeper meaning and significance in their work, that is, their work had deep intrinsic value, (because it was congruent with their deep values, in this case, the welfare of animals), they may actually sacrifice extrinsic value or benefit, such as personal time, comfort or pay, to ensure that they worked-out this calling. In other words, the meaningfulness that they experienced because of the calling was a ‘double-edged sword’ because whilst it had intrinsic significance, it could also lead to a loss of extrinsic value, and possibly create inner conflict, and stress as a result. Further, the different sources of meaning can interact to create a dynamic that can undermine some forms of meaning. As noted above, extrinsic factors can have the effect of undermining potential intrinsic meaningfulness.


Where extrinsic reward is reduced, intrinsic value or extrinsic meaning may have a greater influence over overall satisfaction and meaning. This is illustrated in recent research (CIPD, 2010; 2012) which found that recessionary pressures generally had a negative impact on many perceived aspects of work including overall job satisfaction, work pressure, standard of living and job security but that people working in the charity or not-for-profit sectors remained the most engaged. One of the key factors that enable people to experience internal meaningfulness is that they are aware of the aspects of the activity that create this meaningfulness.

If a person has no

knowledge about the results of their involvement in an activity then it cannot influence their inner response in any way. Intrinsic feedback is most effective. Where feedback is not present, experiential meaningfulness is not possible and the person may experience a sense of alienation. In summary, internal meaningfulness is the term that is used to describe the inner psychological experience or sense of meaningfulness.

Intrinsic meaning is the meaningfulness that is

experienced as a direct result of carrying out the activity itself, and may provide the most powerful inner sense of meaningfulness. A teacher, for example, may experience this as he or she perceives the immediate benefits that students experience as a direct result of his or her input. External meaning relates to the value that may accrue through an activity for some cause outside of self, which may or may not result in inner meaningfulness. An example may be a financial contribution towards an animal welfare cause which is not especially important to the giver. Extrinsic meaning is experienced not through the activity itself but in relation to the instrumental value of the activity, for example a philanthropic contribution to a cause that is highly important to the philanthropist.

Given that awareness is necessary to experience

meaningfulness, this will need to be provided artificially if it is not provided through the activity itself. Intrinsic meaningfulness is the most powerful dynamic in driving engagement, and may be reinforced by internal and external meaning factors, but it may also be undermined by other factors that impact meaning, such as some extrinsic factors. This discussion illustrates the complex inter-play of factors impacting meaning in work. However, Overell (2008), in his discussion of work as a means to an end versus work as a place to achieve ones potential, integrates the extrinsic versus intrinsic argument by recognising the inter-related and ‘textured’ nature of life and work. He argues that even if work is considered as a means to the end of achieving extrinsic reward, this naturally leads to the question, why the


extrinsic reward? The answer may be to be able to have more possessions. But then the question is why seek to possess these things? The answer to this may be to work or live faster or easier. But then, why faster or easier? And so it continues until the ultimate answer is reached to be happy or that life may be meaningful. In the context of achieving potential, Overell (2008) argues that there are different potentials – knowledge, talents, competencies, experience, but these ultimately are about realisation of identity, of making sense of self within life activities, that is, of making life meaningful. In a coherent sense, then, extrinsic and intrinsic rewards, means to an end and achieving ones potential, converge onto the central and singular motive of experiencing life as meaningful by making sense of self. The notion of self is therefore central to the current research. The following discussion makes a link between meaningfulness and self and this is followed by a deeper analysis of different perspectives of self. 2.3.3

Meaningfulness and Self

‘[T]he extent to which we experience a sense of meaning in life relates more to who we are, rather than what we think or do about it’ (Francis and Hills, 2008, p219). Here a direct link is made between self as the sense of who we are, and meaningfulness. Kahn (1990, p694) emphasises the importance of ‘harnessing of organisation members’ selves in their work …’ and May et al. (2004, p12) note the importance personal fulfilment through self-expression. Driver (2005) discusses the importance of liberalising the authentic self, so that there is a congruency between personal values and work activities, and Van Dierendonck and Mohan (2006) note that there is growing evidence of a link between authenticity in being the best in life that a person can be can be, and inner happiness and well-being, or ‘Eudaimonia’ (noted in section 1.4.1). Meaningfulness is also experienced when a person is involved in something that is beyond, or greater than, self (transcendence) (Driver, 2005; Sheep, 2006; Houston and Cartwright, 2007), and where he or she has a sense of purpose as an expression of inner self (Hughes, 2006; Sheep, 2006; Houston and Cartwright, 2007), a sense of coherence or holistic integration of self (Hughes, 2006; Sheep, 2006), interconnectedness as a sense of unification, sensitivity and bond with others (Houston and Cartwright, 2007), and growth and development


of the inner self (Sheep, 2006). Hughes (2006, p611) argues that in order to understand deeper individual factors in relation to quality of life, research must go beyond affect, emotions and feelings towards ‘meanings and purposes that people use to generate significance, validity and coherence in their lives’. He uses several key life examples to make the point that meaning may be a more fundamental dynamic for quality of life than affect. Maslow (eg., 1949; 1971) links aspects of meaning to purposeful behaviour or goal orientation, and Brunstein et al. (1998) show that when goal-orientation is congruent with implicit motives (eg., McClelland, 1987), then emotional well-being is enhanced, compared to goal-orientation that is incongruent with implicit motives and Kehr (2004, p489) suggests that congruency with implicit and explicit motives leads to ‘… more profound experiences of meaning … and purposefulness …’. This inner coherence for self as a person progresses towards goals that are in line with his or her underpinning interests or goals therefore enhances meaning, but Shamir (1991, p411) argues that ‘humans are not only goal oriented but also self expressive’, that is, people do not just want to satisfy needs through their actions, but to ‘express feelings, attitudes and self concepts’ and ‘to maintain and enhance their self-esteem and self-worth’. Maslow (1949) also challenges the idea that all behaviour is motivated by external purposes and argues that people’s behaviour is often determined not by need-gratification but to express some inner aspect of character. Overell (2008, p5) links the sense of self-identity to work meaningfulness through the importance of being consistent with who one is, noting that ‘In meaningful work lies self-discovery and self-realisation, the sublime sense of being true to oneself’. Meaningfulness and self-identity are also linked by Blauner (1964) through his discussion of alienation as being a state of meaninglessness caused by loss of significance and identity. Scroggins (2008) notes a link between the nature of work, self-concept and meaningfulness. He argues that Shamir’s (1991) self-concept theory implies that ‘meaningful work is a function of the interaction between work tasks, the context in which the work is performed, and the individual’s self-concept. When job tasks match the individual’s self-concept, the individual will perceive the work as meaningful’ and increase motivation (Scroggins, 2008, p69).

Further, Scroggins (2008) argues that there is

empirical support for the distinctiveness of the self-concept / job-fit construct and his research


indicates that perception of self-concept / job-fit is a strong predictor of meaningful work and that people’s tendency to stay with an organisation is strongly associated with their experience of fit and meaningfulness with the work, but he recognises the need for more research into the construct of meaningfulness and its role in peoples ‘perceptions, attitudes and behaviours’ (ibid., p77). Chalofsky (2003a) emphasises that to build self-identity it is important for a person to be able to bring whole self to work, know his / her purpose, and have positive belief in the ability to achieve that purpose. Nohria et al. (2008) emphasise the importance of integrating ‘foundational needs’ and fundamental values (Ros et al., 1999), in understanding the deeper state of ‘being’ as a process of maintaining and enhancing inner self, as noted by Baumeister (1991), as integral to the experience of meaningfulness. Pratt (2000) argues that a set of beliefs or values serve to provide a context within which a person may be able to explain life events or make them meaningful. This is supported by Metz (2002) through his arguments that meaning arises from constructed orientations and that the purpose of these constructed orientations is to maintain authenticity through being true to self. This section, on meaning in work, is pivotal for the current research. It has emphasised and illustrated the importance of meaningfulness in work and has noted the factors that relate to it. Many factors are noted, and the point is made that the current research seeks to contribute by identifying key principles underpinning the inner psychological experience of meaningfulness. A major step in seeking to do this is noted as differentiating between intrinsic and extrinsic factors in work, and a discussion of these factors developed through a discussion of intrinsic and extrinsic meaning. This identified the nature of factors which are of key importance in the experience of meaningfulness. The important factors are those that relate to the self, and the relationship between meaningfulness and self was explored. Whilst there is no single agreed definition of meaningfulness, the following definition is developed from the core literature in order to frame the current research: Meaningfulness is experienced when people are able to maintain or enhance (Snyder and Williams, 1982) the being (Overell, 2008) or becoming (Harrington et al., 2001; Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009) of their authentic self (Metz, 2002) and when there is congruency with their self-concept (Schein, 1978; Boggs et al., 2003), self-identity (Chalofsky, 2003a; Shamir, 1991) and ideology (Carlisle and Manning, 1994).


In the next section, self is explored in greater depth, with discussion on the nature of self, and in particular, those inner factors of self that are central in the experience of meaningfulness, and in turn, engagement. 2.4


People increasingly seek to understand and express self in all aspects of life as an ‘act of becoming’, or ‘on-going project of self-hood’ Overell (2008). In this section the notion of self is explored from different perspectives to provide insight into the nature of self, and those characteristics of self that are central to understanding meaningfulness and engagement. ‘Self-theory’ identifies a fundamental dynamic in the nature of self (Snyder and Williams, 1982). It is based on general systems theory and the proposition that self, as with all living systems, is an ‘originating agent’, tending towards self-perpetuation through two fundamental dynamics; selfmaintenance and self-enhancement (Gecas, 1982).

Maintenance of system structure or

organisation is the need for stability. Self-enhancement of system well-being is the need to adapt or change. ‘Self-theorists contend that … objective situations are perceived as opportunities for, or threats to, the fundamental maintenance and enhancement function’ (Snyder and Williams, 1982, p261). Deci et al. (1994), and Deci and Vansteenkiste (2004), for example, emphasise the inherent proactive nature of people towards both ‘integrated functioning’ and growth. The tendency of human systems towards both maintenance and enhancement of the phenomenal self is paradoxical, creating potential tension or conflict. This is discussed in section 2.4.7, ‘Dynamic Stability of Self’. Section 1.4.3 introduced the proposition that people construct their sense of self, or reality and this is discussed in the next section with reference to Personal Construct Psychology (PCP). 2.4.1

Personal Construction of Self

PCP establishes a clear position on the nature of self (Kelly, 1955). PCP underpins the current research and is discussed in section 3.3.4. In summary, because the self is constructed internally, it is uniquely individual.

Constructs and construct systems develop and evolve over time

through the negotiated interplay of perceived objective reality and existing subjective reality,


through self-awareness, reason and thought (Snyder and Williams, 1982), and are sometimes termed ‘mindsets’ or ‘schemas’ (ibid., p259), or ‘scripts’ (Dean and Jolly, 2012). It is not the objective reality in itself that creates inner reality, but the interpretation, or perception of the objective reality. In this sense the self is considered to be constructed, not discovered (Raskin, 2002). Constructs and construct systems are implicit personal theories about the nature of reality.

They define a person’s self-concept within a particular context and help them to

anticipate the nature of future events. In this sense, people ‘try out’ those constructs that are assumed to apply to a particular realm, or ‘range of convenience’, and adapt them where they do not confer a good fit. Self-concept is therefore the perceived sense of self. Perception is the mental process of interpretation of stimuli received through the senses (McShane and Von Glinow, 2003). People are pre-disposed to attend to stimuli which are of particular interest (Cowan, 1998). This could, from a human information processing perspective, be external stimuli that changes – constant information is of less interest and attending to it would take up too much mental capacity, or, from a self perspective, interest in external stimuli that contributes to the maintenance and enhancement function. However, how information is selected for attention is not clear (Cowan, 1998). Incoming stimuli or information, is ‘filtered’ and interpreted (McShane and Von Glinow, 2003), based on constructs relating to, for example, values, beliefs, needs, interests and personal dispositional characteristics. Internalised information is therefore never ‘pure’ or objective but always the result of selected attention and perceptual filtering to produce construct systems. The perceived sense of self has also been described as the phenomenal self. The phenomenal self is the understanding, or conceptual image a person has about their sense of being or who they are (Snyder and Williams, 1982).

This understanding of self underpins the

phenomenological epistemological position adopted for the research, which is discussed in section

In essence, whilst Kelly himself rejected some aspects of phenomenology,

essentially relating to what he considered to be the pessimistic underpinnings of existential thinking (Warren, 1998), Butt (2003) argues that PCP is a phenomenological approach that is especially powerful for its focus on a person’s own interpretation of their actual sense of self. Kelly argues that the person him or her-self is best placed to reveal aspects of self, not a psychologist or other ‘expert’. Eliciting constructs from a person requires particular techniques, which is discussed further in chapters 3 and 4. Constructs that are, then elicited represent the


person’s own sense of reality, not some other interpretation (whilst recognising that these constructs will then be interpreted by a researcher, as discussed in section 3.3.1). Gecas (1982) alludes to the view that the actual self itself is not accessible to empirical investigation, whereas ‘the self-concept is an experiential, mostly cognitive phenomenon accessible to scientific inquiry’ (ibid., p4). Snyder and Williams (1982, p259) note that ‘there is general agreement that an inferred or phenomenal self can be described’. In summary, this section has integrated self as a central focus for the research with the underpinning theory of PCP and philosophical perspective of phenomenology adopted in the research. Whilst the focus of the research, and unit of analysis, is the individual, it is important to recognise that self develops in a social context (Overell, 2008).

The next section discusses

this perspective. 2.4.2

Self and Social Context

Insight into the nature of self in relation to external, social dynamics is considered from the perspective of ‘symbolic interactionism’ (eg., Stryker, 2008). Symbolic interactionism derived from the work of George Herbert Mead (1863 – 1931) (Crotty, 1998) and assumes ‘that human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them’ … ‘that the meaning of such things is derived from, and arises out of, the social interaction that one has with one’s fellows’ … ‘that these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretive process used by the person in dealing with the things he [sic] encounters’ (Blumer, 1969, p2). Meanings derive from human interactivity through interpretive, not objective processes (Blumer, 1969). This occurs through the exchange of gestures and significant symbols, such as language, and is rooted in the proposition that when seeking to understand other people this should be from their perspective (Crotty, 1998). These broad principles are consistent with PCP, however more detailed principles identify important distinctions. There are two main variants of symbolic interactionism, ‘structural’ and ‘processual’ (Gecas, 1982). Self as structure emanates from the ‘Iowa School’ (Gecas, 1982). From this perspective, social dynamics underpin the development of self within the context of social roles, emphasised by Stryker (2008, p17) in his aphorism about Mead’s stance “[i]n the beginning there is social process”.


These role-identities, which build from various social positions or status situations, are internally organised hierarchically, in relation to the degree of commitment to, or ‘salience’ of different roles (Stryker, 1987). From a structural perspective, self is viewed as a ‘phenomenon that develops in social interaction’ and is the ‘the philosophical underpinning for social-psychological inquiries’ (Gecas, 1982, p3). Self as process emanates from the ‘Chicago School’ (Gecas, 1982). From this perspective, self is viewed as a phenomenon that develops continuously and fluidly as experience unfolds, to produce an ongoing sense of self-concept. The notion of self from a process perspective is as a dynamic, developing individual, and as a product of reflexivity. This reflexivity produces selfconcept. Mead viewed self as process, not structure (Blumer, 1969). The self allows a person to be selfaware, to perceive aspects of self, to communicate and act with self. ‘In short, the possession of self provides the human being with a mechanism of self-interaction with which to meet the world – a mechanism that is used in forming and guiding his conduct’ (Blumer, 1969, p62). From this perspective, meanings attached to objects – which are any entity, physical or conceptual, that may be referred to – are not intrinsic to the object but are individually, subjectively defined. This is the ‘relativist’ view of reality, and it contrasts with ‘realism’, which is discussed in section The reflexivity of the self is the basis on which self-concept may be established and developed over time and on which the (phenomenal) self may be explored, as discussed in section 2.4.1. It follows then, that actions are constructed from a complex interactive dynamic of many different internal and external sources and drives, and have a purpose. Social dynamics form a primary source of meanings and because they are interpreted, perceived meanings are symbolic representations. Human interaction is a dynamic practice of shaping or moulding the self and as such, effective relationships rely on an ongoing interactive ‘dance’ of behaviours, perceptions, interpretations and adaptation to form a working consensus. This interactive, interpretative dynamic underpins a key tenet of PCP; that a person is aware of him or her self and is the best source of data about that self. The nature of the current research takes a stance consistent with processual interactionism of the Chicago School. However, whilst recognising the importance of social role dynamics (which are explored further in section 2.4.2), it seeks to understand deeper dynamics of meaning as internally constructed reality by taking the individual, not social relationships or groupings, as the


unit of analysis. Saks (2006), using Social Exchange Theory, notes that whilst dynamics relating to relationships, characterised by, for example, trust, commitment and loyalty, create informal rules of exchange, or reciprocity, and drive for engagement, job engagement is a distinct construct from organisational engagement. This is important because the current study is positioned to focus on engagement within tasks rather than engagement, or commitment (Silverman, in Robinson et al., 2004), that relates to a particular organisation, and that this engagement is the internal experience that people have when they are engaged. Christian et al. (2011) emphasise the importance of developing greater understanding of the nature of engagement through more ‘within-person’ studies. This section has noted the focus of the current research as the self-concept, or phenomenal self. Shamir (1991, p413) notes that ‘[s]elf-concepts are composed, in part, of identities’ and Gecas (1982) emphasises the importance of self-identity as a central theme in relation to self-concept. 2.4.3


Self-identity is the ‘vast domain of meanings’ that people have about themselves, and different identities may be adopted as ‘working self-meanings’, because they are the best identity available to them for a particular context (Gecas, 1982). This is consistent with Kahn’s (1990) view that engagement occurs as people employ their ‘preferred self’ in task behaviours, as discussed in section 1.3. In taking this perspective, whilst the individual self-concept, or phenomenal self continues to be the central research focus, as noted, the importance of social aspects in the construction of self is recognised. In this context, self-identity is the sense of who a person is in a social context, whereas the total concept of self, or the phenomenal self is a more general sense of self. Ardichvili and Kuchinke (2009) discuss the importance of self-identity in helping people to define ‘who they are’ and how they fit in. Latham and Pinder (2005), making reference to Social Cognitive Theory, show that cognitive variables, such as socially learned behaviours, mediate environmental antecedents and resultant outcomes in seeking to achieve goals. They suggest that a fundamental underpinning motivation is to maintain self-efficacy (section Shamir (1991) emphasises the importance of self and identity in the dynamics relating to people’s


drive for involvement. He notes that deep involvement is not driven so much by the way a task is engineered, as noted above, but through the meaning attributed to the task, through personal values, identities and other related self and perceived attributes. The notion of identity, or self, is key in past and recent literature, both here, specifically in relation to meaningfulness, and in discussion of motivational dynamics, for example, in relation to the loss of self due to alienation (Lefever and Lefever, 1977), to self-esteem and selfactualisation (Maslow, 1943), in relation to control and expectancy (Giles, 1977), self-concept in relation to career anchors (Schein, 1978), and psychological presence and engagement (Kahn, 1990). Ellemers et al. (2004) reinforce the importance of social dynamics in self-identity by considering social identity and self-categorisation processes. They argue that commitment to a group is enhanced when there is affective, emotional involvement, and that individual motivation towards a group will be enhanced when the group is meaningfully distinguished from other relevant groups. Leonard et al. (1995) suggest four different aspects of self-identity: o Perceived self (perceived level and strength of competencies, traits and values; sense of self in the present) o Ideal self (the idealised image of what one would like to become) o Social identities (the way in which people classify themselves relative to others) o Self-esteem (evaluation of self, based on the difference between the perceived self and the ideal self). This finer distinction of self recognises that there are different perspectives from which self may be viewed and this allows more precise examination of self. Leonard et al. (1995) argue that a finer definition of self can help to explain both changes in behaviours in consistent situations, as well as consistency in behaviour across (diverse) situations. Boggs et al. (2003), for example, in their discussion of ‘referent power’, argue that people will be motivated to engage in behaviours that fill a perceived gap between their current self-concept (or perceived self) and the ideal self that they may achieve through emulation of an ‘agent’.


Having recognised, in previous sections, the key importance of self, and in particular selfconcept, in the context of engagement and meaningfulness, this section has summarised some aspects of self-identity as one perspective on self-concept, emphasising the constructed nature of self and notion of self as fluid working self-meaning. One of the key inner factors that effects self-meaning is ideology. 2.4.4

Self and Ideology

Carlisle and Manning (1994) summarise Shamir’s (1991) arguments on self-concept theory and develop the proposition of a ‘self’ based on the notion of ideology. ‘[T]he concept of self is central to the explanatory power of ideology in the context of work motivation’ (Carlisle and Manning, 1994, p697). Gecas (1982) suggests that self-concept may be conceptualised as self-ideology. By definition, an ideology is an integrated system of concepts, and Carlisle and Manning (1994) seek to develop insight into ideology that relates to self-awareness and the motive of ‘selfenactment’.

They emphasise the internally constructed nature of the truth of a person’s

ideology, which is sustained by … ‘… a set of interrelated beliefs that might best be described as constituting an attitude of mind towards human obligations in relation to authorizing some meaningful activity in the ongoing present'. Carlisle and Manning, 1994, p685 Carlisle and Manning (1994) therefore identify some key propositions in relation to self, meaningfulness and engagement.

The first is the notion of beliefs.

They emphasise the

importance of the deep inner mental state that defines a person’s conception of, and the basis in which they evaluate reality in relation to self. Secondly, they note the complexity and general nature of beliefs, in their inter-relatedness and attitude of mind, in defining self in relation to an activity. Thirdly, they highlight the intimate relationship between beliefs and meaningfulness, in suggesting that beliefs authorise, or give an internally consistent sanction or ‘license’ to an activity so that it makes it meaningful. Finally, they recognise meaningfulness as an inner experience that may by definition be had only in the present moment. Carlisle and Manning’s (1994) discussion, therefore, supports the proposition that positive congruency of an activity or context with deep self is the experience of meaningfulness. Given


that ideologies, as enduring beliefs, centrally define self (‘identities’) and people’s relation to the world, and that people will be motivated to sustain or enhance self-esteem and self-worth (Shamir, 1991), it follows that a person’s ideology will be a fundamental basis of their motivation to engage and their experience of meaning. The notion of self-concept is developed in the next section, where broader aspects of self-theory are discussed in greater depth. 2.4.5

Self and Motivation

This section explores the motivational dynamics associated with self, and in particular, phenomena associated with the maintenance and enhancement of self, with direct reference to the central theme of the research, that is, meaningfulness in work engagement. To reiterate, in summary, engagement is considered to be the degree to which a person’s self is employed, or is ‘psychologically present’ (Kahn, 1990) in an activity. Snyder and Williams (1982) emphasise the relationship between (maintenance and enhancement of) self and building and directing motivation in relation to engagement. Different theoretical processes of motivation are noted here because they provide insight into the scope of motivational factors that can impact behaviour. The consideration of motivational dynamics in relation to self-theory provides a basis on which people’s deeper drivers to engage in certain activities, and disengage with others, may be understood. However, Shamir (1991) notes the reductionist and restricted nature of different individual traditional motivational theories and that self-theory requires a more integrated, holistic and dynamic theoretical perspective. Therefore, in this section, whilst different process theories are examined individually, their integrated nature is recognised and a more holistic approach is taken. As already noted, Shamir (1991, p420) suggests that self-theory is ‘a version of intrinsic motivation that is less closely linked to the way particular tasks are engineered and more related to the meaning of these tasks in terms of the person’s values, identities, self-perceived attributes and possible selves’. In this proposition, Shamir strongly links self, meaning and motivational drive, and in particular, focuses on internal motivational processes. Shamir (1991) suggests that the implications of such a theoretical perspective are a deeper insight into the meanings of links between the self and different work factors including organisational culture, products and management (ibid., p419-420). So, having


established a link between self and engagement (Snyder and Williams, 1982), Shamir (1991) reinforces the link between self and the notion of meaningfulness. Gecas (1982) notes three key motives that are associated with the phenomenal self. These are self-efficacy, self-esteem (or self-enhancement) and self-consistency (or self-maintenance). These are summarised next and are followed by summaries of other theories, again consistent with the notion from the Chicago School, that people are motivated to maintain or enhance an internal reality of self, through a fluid, dynamic and negotiated process. Self-Efficacy Self-efficacy is a person’s inner sense of self-confidence and judgement about his or her ability in relation to ‘prospective situations’ (Bandura, 1982). As ‘an originating agent’, self initiates and creates thought and action. This is ‘crucial to the fundamental experience of self’ (Gecas, 1982, p18) and implies a sense of ownership, autonomy and attribution of actions to the self, which, as noted elsewhere, are central motivational dynamics in themselves. Bandura (1982) argues that, as selfreferent thought is an important inner mediator between knowledge and action, people’s judgements about their self-efficacy will critically affect their motivation to engage, and quality of performance factors including adaptability and creativity. Self-efficacy will therefore critically impact the effectiveness of this origination or initiation of thought and action. Self-efficacy is a complex dynamic, relating to many different interacting factors including psychological arousal levels, self-judgements, beliefs and perceptions, the influence of significant others, and self-control, esteem and assurance. Where self-efficacy is high, people may be more confident and motivated to engage (although, because confidence may be high, motivation to prepare for an activity may be low (Bandura, 1982)). Successes will tend to reinforce self-efficacy whereas repeated failures will diminish it, especially where the outcome is strongly attributed to self rather than external factors. Gecas (1982), with reference to Bandura (1977), emphasises the importance of differentiating between expected outcomes that can be attributed to a person’s competence, which may be influenced by their own interventions, and expected outcomes that relate to a person’s behaviours, which are at least partially dependent on environmental conditions, and may be outside of their control. associated with self is discussed in section


Attribution as a motivational dynamic

White (1959) argues that ‘competence’ or ‘effectance’ motivation is a strong internal drive which causes self to seek mastery over self’s environment. He notes the intrinsic reward that is characteristic of people in ‘exploratory’ behaviour associated with this drive (as long as physiological needs are satisfied), emphasising the inner drive to seek out ways to control or accomplish within a given environment. This is supported by Bandura (1982) who notes that where people feel they have a high level of competence they set goals and carry out activities to fulfil a need for self-enactment, that is, behaviour which is confirmatory of self. Locke and Latham (1990) note that for goals to be motivational, they also have to be specific, clearly defined, attainable, satisfy highly valued needs or wants, involve a degree of challenge, and have clear feedback on performance. Kleinbeck and Fuhrmann (2000) show that clarity in the definition and outcomes of a goal is a key to effective motivational drive. Palmer (2008) notes an example of people willing to get involved in a very demanding goal where there was a very high sense of purpose and intrinsic motivation to succeed. He highlights the importance of autonomy and the ability of people to attribute goal achievement to their own inner resources rather than external factors. Autonomy and attribution are discussed in sections and respectively. This section has argued that the self, as a creative initiator, has an internal motivational drive towards mastery over the immediate environment, which is mediated by perceived ability and confidence and the degree to which goals and expected outcomes may be attributed to self. The second motive associated specifically with self by Gecas (1982) is self-esteem, discussed next. Self-Esteem Self-esteem has been noted by Gecas (1982, p20) as ‘[t]he motivation to maintain and enhance a positive conception of oneself’ and he argues (citing Rosenberg, 1979; Wells, 1978; Kaplan, 1975; Rokeackh, 1979; Hales, 1981) that this is ‘pervasive, even universal’ in social-psychological theories, even those that ‘did not start out as self-theories’. He goes on to recognise self-esteem as a factor in a very broad scope of psychological and behavioural phenomena, in particular the relationship between low self-esteem and undesirable psychological and behavioural outcomes (citing Kaplan, 1975), high self-esteem and favourable outcomes, such as confidence and independence (citing Rosenberg, 1965), and creativity and flexibility (citing Coopersmith, 1967).


Self-esteem links to self-efficacy. For example, Bandura (1982) argues that self-referent doubt can diminish esteem. However this relationship is complex. Boggs et al. (2003, p5) consider the difference between what a person may view as their actual self, and their ideal self, noting that ‘an individual may have high self-efficacy because of how their actual self is, but have a low self-esteem because they have a very high ideal-self’. In this case, self-esteem may improve where the gap between perceived actual self and ideal self closes (Gecas, 1982). Whilst this is a complex dynamic, self-esteem nevertheless clearly operates as an engagement driver in the context of self, in particular to achieve self-maintenance or self-enhancement. Kahn’s (1990) engagement and disengagement concepts integrate the idea that self-maintenance and self-enhancement are fundamental needs. The next motive discussed, and last of those noted by Gecas (1982), is self-consistency, and this develops the notion of continuity, or maintenance of self. Self-Consistency Shamir (1991, p412-413) argues that ‘people are … motivated to retain and increase their sense of selfconsistency’, that is, the congruency between their behaviour and self-concept, and continuity of self-concept over time. Here Shamir supports Gecas (1982) in arguing that people are motivated to maintain or enhance self-concept, with an emphasis on involvement in activities that are confirmatory of self. Whilst Gecas (1982, p23) notes that self-consistency is not strongly supported in the literature as a self-motive, he notes people’s strong need to maintain a perceived coherent ‘unified conceptual system’ … ‘in order to operate effectively in the world’. He emphasises the circular tendency people have in developing mindsets or ‘schemata’ about the world, being motivated to internalise new information that supports or preserves existing schemas, and filtering-out information that is contrary to their view of the world, thereby maintaining consistency of the self. This however can clearly be dysfunctional where new information which may otherwise be positively developmental is discounted because it does not support an existing mindset. The notion of perception and the effect this has on internalising information and therefore internal mindsets, was discussed in section 2.4.1. The notion of self-consistency raises the issue of being true to self, or seeking to maintain the


true self, and Shamir (1991) stresses that, from an ‘authenticity motive’, people seek to model their ‘true self’ in their actions in order to demonstrate their ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ identity. A common theme in the three self-motives noted so far is ‘attribution’, that is, the degree to which the effect associated with any action or event may be attributed to self or to some other, external factor. For example, if people cannot take personal credit for an outcome, the outcome will not enhance self-efficacy or self-esteem and if they cannot see an association with their self, an experience cannot be self-confirmatory. Attribution theory is summarised in the next section. Attribution Theory Attribution is a natural result of contextual awareness (Harvey and Weary, 1984). Attribution theory ‘is about how people make causal explanations, how they answer questions beginning with “why”’ (Kelley, 1973, p107). ‘[C]ausal explanations play an important role in providing … impetus to action’ (ibid., p127). It developed from Heider’s work (Farr, 1977) who noted the importance to people’s behaviour of their perceptions of outcomes and in particular the causal attributions used to explain or understand these outcomes.

He emphasised the inferential nature of

observation and perception, recognising the internal dynamics associated with explaining or understanding reality, and the possibility therefore of attributing outcomes of actions to self, or to other factors. This does emphasise that self-attribution is about perception (section 2.4.1) not objectivity, and as such is subject to causal error. An activity which is perceived as successful leads to a higher sense of satisfaction when the outcome can be attributed to self rather than an eternal factor or chance (Locke and Latham, 1990). This requires an effective feedback loop (Carver and Scheier, 1982) and Klein (1989) notes that emotional responses (positive or negative) are greater when outcomes are attributed to internal factors than when attributed to external factors. Motivational force towards future activity will be a function of the degree to which people attribute outcomes of previous similar events to self. Harvey and Weary (1984) note several internal processes that influence causal attribution, including the salience, or ‘prominence’ of the event or ‘stimuli’, and attitudinal and emotional factors, such as degree of empathy with others involved. More subtle factors that effect the degree of causal attribution to self include a tendency that people have to attribute favourable outcomes to self and unfavourable outcomes to


environmental factors (Farr, 1977). For example, bad performance in an activity, especially one in which a person invests a great deal of him or her self, is more likely to be attributed to situational or contextual factors than to internal personal factors. Most people tend to accept more causal responsibility for their positive outcomes than their negative outcomes (Greenwold, 1980), although this will inevitably depend on their personal disposition. This has the effect of increasing self-esteem (discussed above), but clearly an increase in self–esteem that is built on misperception will develop a self that is not in balance. Harvey and Weary (1984) note the ‘fundamental attribution error’ that, when judging others rather than self, people tend to overestimate the impact on behaviours of personal, dispositional characteristics and underestimate the impact of situational factors. However, it is not denied that there is an underlying motivational drive to seek to understand cause of an outcome and to seek to attribute this to self where this is positive. Attribution of success to self confers the ‘achievement’ that a person may experience. Achievement motivation is discussed in section Another key factor that influences the ability to attribute outcomes to self is the degree of control, or autonomy a person has over an activity. Where a person has had little control in an event, it becomes more difficult to find a positive association and therefore attribution of outcome to self. Where a person expects to have little control in a future event, their motivation for involvement may be diminished, and they are less likely to be able to attribute any (successful) outcome to self. Control, or autonomy, also has broader motivational implications in relation to self, and are discussed in the next section. Control and Autonomy Motivational force is positively related to the degree of control people sense they personally have (Giles, 1977). Giles found that, in relation to job characteristics and motivational responses, people with internal locus of control (that is the belief that outcomes are contingent on their own actions) were more likely than people with external locus of control (belief that outcomes are contingent on others actions) to expect that enriched jobs will satisfy higher order needs and to expend greater effort. They were also more satisfied with participative management. Locus of control and intrinsic motivation act as moderators in the relationship between the need to satisfy higher order needs and the willingness to engage in more enriched work. Therefore, the


greater the internal control a person has, that is the more they are able to attribute performance outcomes to themselves, the greater will be their motivation to engage. Klein (1989) presents an integrated model of motivation built on a control theory framework in which hierarchies of goals (depending on priorities) are compared to referent standards, and behaviour is adapted through feedback loops. Klein (1989) acknowledges that in cybernetics, control loops create ‘negative’ feedback, bringing the system closer to a standard through corrective actions, and contrasts this with the motivational impact of positive feedback in behavioural sciences. The model integrates goal, expectancy and attribution theory, and also need satisfaction theories, and the emphasis in this model is on self-regulation as a motivational dynamic. Bowie (1998), discusses a Kantian theory of meaningful work (noted in section, and whilst emphasising the moral imperative of Kant’s argument, he notes the important motivational aspects of autonomy and independence through having some degree of control over the work environment. The importance of autonomy is discussed further in relation to Self-Determination Theory, section 2.4.6. The theoretical perspectives of attribution and control / autonomy have emphasised the notion of enhancement of self (esteem) that is possible when people perceive they have such autonomy or control over an activity that they are able to attribute the outcome, or achievement associated with the activity to self. Achievement motivation is discussed in the next section. Achievement Theory The need for achievement is a core motivational driver (McClelland, 1987). Achievement motivation varies between people and does not define a particular target, such as for money or position but rather is a inner, psychological drive that applies generally for a person and is rooted specifically in those values or interests that are of particular importance to the person. Achievement motivation has been found to be a key driver in different contexts, for example different cultures (Nandi, 2008).


People with high need for achievement demonstrate four main behaviours (McClelland, 1987). First, they tend to prefer tasks which have a moderate level of difficulty, rather than those that are too difficult, to ensure success, or too easy, which reduces fulfilment. Second, they like to have personal responsibility in the activity, so that they can attribute success to themselves, and also gain recognition from others. Third, they need clear and unambiguous feedback, so that they know how well they are performing, and fourth, they tend to be more innovative, preferring continuously varied and challenging tasks, which do not become routine. McClelland used the Thematic Apperception Test in the development of the theory behind achievement motivation. It has been criticised on methodological grounds, for example, testretest reliability has been questioned (Lundy, 1985; Langan-Fox and Grant, 2006) and variability in the use of different stimuli has been found (Cramer, 1999). However Hibbard (2003, p260) argues that the ‘evidence for the validity and clinical usefulness’ of the Thematic Apperception Test is ‘more robust’ than represented in the previous research. Fear of failure has been associated with achievement motivation (Elliott, 1997; Schmalt, 2005), perhaps as its mirror image or as an avoidance mechanism (McClelland, 1987). McClelland (1987) notes that a person with a high fear of failure is most likely to avoid moderate risk activities and select tasks that are either easy, so that they are less likely to fail, or very difficult, so that failure can be attributed to the task rather than themselves. Schmalt (2005) differentiates passive fear of failure, which has an inhibitory tendency and leads a person to withdraw from achievement situations, from active fear of failure, which has a facilitating tendency and leads to more involvement and engaged emotional responses to seek to avoid impending failure. Achievement motivation, and fear of failure implicitly relate to the expectation of success or failure in a future activity. For example, the high motivational drive toward moderate difficulty tasks for people with a high need for achievement will depend critically on their expectation of achieving success.

Expectation of success is therefore a critical moderating factor and is

discussed in the next section. Expectancy Theory Expectancy theory is based on the proposition that motivational drive will be higher where the expected outcome is valued and the probability of success is high, and that the outcome may be


direct or may be instrumental in leading to a primary outcome (Mullins, 2007). Vroom (2005), in a summary of the ‘origins of expectancy theory’, which was first published in 1964, suggests that motivational force is a function of two main variables, expectancy and valance. Expectancy is the perceived probability that certain behaviours will lead to a particular outcome. Valance is the anticipated satisfaction that will be gained from a particular outcome, which may be direct, or may be instrumental for the attainment of another outcome, and which can be positive or negative. Valance is different to value, which is the actual satisfaction from an outcome. Motivating force will result from the multiplicative relationship of expectancy and valance. So where both are high, motivation will be high, but if one is zero, even if the other is high, motivating drive with be zero. Lawler (1968a, p467) finds support for ‘the view that expectancy attitudes can best be thought of as causing performance’. Behling and Starke (1973) consider Vroom’s early work to be seminal in motivation theory but acknowledge later developments.

They note several postulates, or assumptions behind

expectancy theory, primarily around the ability of people to attribute, assess and compare values between options, but note that these are not defensible within ‘decision theory’. Examples of support for expectancy theory include sales and marketing dynamics (LaFleur et al., 1991), teaching moral reasoning to develop an ethical organisational culture (Fudge and Schlacter, 1999) and expectation of rewards in relation to business research productivity (Chen et al., 2006). There has been support for a multiplicative formulation to calculate the expectancy and valance impact on motivation (Arnold, 1981). Reinharth and Wahba (1975) question the consistency and validity of the theory, but Walker and Thomas (1982) argue that much criticism is because of the failure to account for other variables that influence behaviour, for example, normative beliefs relating to personal acceptability or moral correctness, intentions or goals, and predisposition or personality types. Likewise, Miller and Grush (1988) propose that expectancy theory should be revised to view humans more as social beings than rational beings by adding variables including personality and social norms. Later, Kopf (1992) noted the importance of recognising two conceptualisations of expectancy theory. The first is the motivational ‘choice’ model, which suggests that ‘when faced with a choice, a person will choose the behaviour that is expected to lead to the most pleasure, or avoid the most pain’ (ibid., p134). The second is the motivational ‘force’ model, which suggests that


‘the more motivated a person is towards high performance, the more effort they exert and the higher their performance will be’ (ibid., p133). He concludes that an integrated choice / force model is an improvement over past conceptualisations because it helps to explain why individuals with the same goal, ability and environmental constraints will exert different levels of effort – it may be because they have different views about the importance or the magnitude of the reward. The notion of expectancy as a motivational driver emphasises the value of what a person thinks they may achieve in the future from particular behaviours. Differentiating ‘force’ and ‘choice’ dynamics has shown the complexity of this internal calculation. Given that people are not assumed to be ‘rational maximisers of personal utility’ (Shamir, 1991, p39) and that they do not and cannot make decisions based solely on objective assessment of value, other subtle drivers may influence motivation. One such driver is perceived fairness, or equity, which is discussed next. Equity Theory Inequity is experienced when a person perceives that the ratio of outcomes, or benefits, to inputs, such as effort, that he or she experiences is unequal to that of a comparable other (Lawler, 1968b). The value of a reward from performance input will therefore be assessed by people at two levels, first in terms of how fair the reward is considered to be in relation to the performance demands, effort, contribution and outcome. The higher the perceived performance inputs, the higher will be the expected rewards. The second level is the fairness of this reward in relation to the reward received by other comparable people. Inputs include such factors as work effort, qualifications and experience. Outputs include pay, other benefits, status and ‘intrinsic interest in the job’ (ibid., p597). Motivation to be involved in an activity will be affected by the anticipated balance of investment and gain in relation to others’ investment / gain balance who are involved in similar activities. Equity theory suggests that a person will be motivated to reduce inequity or to establish equity and this may be achieved by reducing inputs or seeking enhanced outputs (Bolino and Turnley, 2008). Equity theory has been shown to be a ‘good predictor of attitude change’ (Lawler, 1968b, p597), which indicates its impact on deeper aspects of the inner self. Van Dierendonck et al. (1996) report research on more extreme emotional effects relating to equity, showing emotional ‘burnout’ being closely related to inter-personal and organisational inequity.


There have been criticisms of equity theory, especially in relation to the assumption within the theory of the ways in which people evaluate different inputs and outputs, but it ‘continues to be used in research examining job attitudes and employee behaviour’ (Bolino and Turnley, 2008, p31). Summary of Self and Motivation This section has discussed inner process motivational dynamics associated with the self. For clarity, different processes have been noted individually. However, as noted, as an integrated system, components of self and in particular engagement dynamics do not behave as independent drivers, but, rather, integrate to form a more generalised inner motivational sense (Shamir, 1991). In this summary section, different process drivers are inter-related. In seeking to understand what drives the maintenance and enhancement of the self (Snyder and Williams, 1982), literature has highlighted general drivers that will interact and produce an overall sense of motivation. People on the one hand seek consistency of self and to build self-esteem (Gecas, 1982), and on the other hand seek growth through the achievement of goals (Locke and Latham, 1990), as self-initiating and self-generating systems (Gecas, 1982). Goals need to be clearly defined and valued (Kleinbeck and Fuhrmann, 2000; Palmer, 2008), and motivation for achievement is affected by the degree of feedback that is provided (Locke and Latham, 1990), as well as an inner sense of need for achievement (McClelland, 1987). A person with a high need for achievement is more likely to be motivated by a goal that is of moderate difficulty. Motivation to achieve may be assessed not just by its utility, but also by the equity, or fairness of the achievement in relation to what has been expended in achieving this outcome (Bolino and Turnley, 2008). A key factor in a person’s inner ‘calculation’ of equity is the degree of efficacy they believe they have (Bandura, 1982). Where this is high in relation to an activity, a person may be more motivated to seek to achieve the goal but expect a higher reward, or outcome than someone with lower self-efficacy. Motivation may be optimal where the goal has a degree of challenge (Locke and Latham, 1990). Expectation of the outcome of an activity will also affect motivational drive. This will be low where expectation of success is low, or if the expected value (valance) is low (Vroom, 2005). This will depend partly on the control that a person has over the activity (Giles, 1977). Where they have autonomy, where they can attribute outcome of the activity to self, have high self-efficacy and value the outcome, motivation to engage would be expected to be high.


This main section on self and motivation to engage has recognised many different interacting factors that influence the drive people have toward maintenance and enhancement of self. It has taken the perspective of self as an ‘initiating’ system, that is, that people have an internal drive towards this maintenance and enhancement process, and that they seek ‘mastery’ over their environment (Gecas, 1982). These notions are clarified in greater depth within the domain of ‘Self-Determination Theory’. Self-Determination Theory is explored in the next section. 2.4.6

Self-Determination Theory

As noted, for example, Deci et al., (1994, p120), from a self-determination theory (SDT) perspective, ‘… human beings [are] proactive organisms whose natural or intrinsic functioning can be either facilitated or impeded by the social context’ and Ryan (1995) emphasises the dynamic ‘innate integrative or actualising tendencies’ that people have to fulfil essential psychological needs. SDT emphasises the importance of fundamental needs or factors in people’s regulation and initiation of behaviours (Sheldon and Filak, 2008). Early research emphasised the importance of autonomy in self-determination (eg., Deci and Ryan, 1985).

Autonomy and control were

introduced above. By autonomy, Deci and Ryan (1985, p111) refer to ‘choice with respect to the initiation and regulation of one’s own behaviour’. Those who are highly autonomy oriented ‘seek out opportunities for self-determination and choice’ and ‘seek out jobs that allow greater initiative’ (op. cit.). Moller et al. (2006, p1034) show the importance of autonomous regulation and choice in enhancing energy, vitality and persistence in activities, compared to controlled, or externally pressured choice having the effect of diminishing these: ‘… [C]hoices that are accompanied by demands or obligations involve a very different phenomenological experience from those that simply offer opportunities’. Carver and Baird (1998) found that goals pursued on the basis of autonomous motives were positively related to self-actualisation, but this relationship was negative when goals were pursued for externally controlled motives. Fullagar and Mills (2008, p537) note that autonomy is an important element in intrinsic motivation because it provides the sense of control to engage in activities ‘… that are concordant with one’s integrated sense of self’. It is therefore argued that achievement from autonomous activity can enhance the sense of self, but where there are external demands, this can diminish the sense of self.


Following Deci and Ryan’s (1985) research, Ryan (1995), for example, linked intrinsic motivation, internalisation and emotional integration to competence and relatedness in addition to autonomy. Ryan (1995, p410) associates competence with ‘efficacy’, which was discussed above, and relatedness with ‘connection with others’. The importance of these three needs, or factors, are evident both in broad ongoing situations (eg., Grouzet et al., 2004) and in relation to experience in the moment, as conceptualised within the notion of ‘flow’ (eg., Kowal and Fortier, 1999). Flow is discussed in section 2.4.7. Deci et al. (1994) also note the importance of certain contextual factors that promote, or motivate, internalisation.

These are, first, providing a

meaningful rationale, acknowledging feelings and second, conveying choice. Vansteenkiste et al. (2006) emphasise the importance of experienced meaningfulness in facilitating the process of motivating the internalisation of learning and engagement in activities.

By meaningful,

Vansteenkiste et al. (2006) relate to clarity of understanding, relevance, and being of value. Thomas (2000) notes the importance of self-management, or autonomous choices in activities, towards a meaningful purpose, for the person involved, in contributing significantly to their intrinsic motivation. In summary, SDT builds on the notion that people are inherently motivated to engage in activities that enhance and maintain their self and that this is most effective where they are able to exercise autonomous choice, rather than being controlled from some external source, and where they have the competence, or efficacy, can relate to others and can experience internal meaningfulness and purpose. The discussion on self has recognised a complex interaction of external and internal dynamics. However, a further complexity must be addressed. This is the apparent paradox presented in the view that self as a self-perpetuating system on the one hand is predisposed to maintain a sense of stability, but on the other hand is predisposed towards enhancement and adaptation (Snyder and Williams, 1982). Addressing this issue, in the next section, provides insight into the inner tensions that exist in the drive towards engagement and the inner experience of meaningfulness. 2.4.7

Dynamic Stability of Self

The proposition that people seek to both maintain and enhance self, given in the section above on ‘Self-Theory’ (Snyder and Williams, 1982), presents a paradox or tension, as people seek to establish and maintain congruency with their phenomenal self, whilst at the same time seek to


grow and establish an ‘integrated sense of self’ (Fullagar and Mills, 2008, p537). The self is ‘internally consistent’ ... ‘dynamic but must maintain a degree of stability; that is, it is unified and differentiated at the same time’ (Epstein, 1973, p407). This section discusses this tension within the proposition that people are in a constant state of what may be termed ‘dynamic stability’. The notion that people’s lives become meaningful through making choices that matter to them (Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009) suggests that experiential meaningfulness, in the moment, is not in a static state, but a ‘state’ of movement, or ‘tension’ (a ‘state’ of movement is recognised as a contradiction in terms but is used to recognise the paradox of being in the moment with the process of continuous movement). ‘The good life is a process, not a state of being’ (Rogers, 1961, p186). The possibility of living within an experience at any one time, but also of continuous movement may be paradoxical but it emphasises the nature of ongoing meaningfulness; it is experienced in the moment, but is the experience that results from dynamic change in different internal states. Rogers (1961), in his positive psychotherapeutic view of the potential and growth of people, notes the importance of freedom and fluidity in the moment.

The following

illustrates his position: ‘What I will be in the next moment, and what I will do, grows out of that moment … the fluidity which is present in such existential living …

means absence of rigidity… it means instead a maximum

of adaptability, a structure in experience, a flowing, changing organisation of self and personality’. Rogers, 1961, p188-189 Frankl (2004, p105) contends that peoples’ search for meaning is ‘the primary motivation’ and is uniquely an individual phenomenon that can be fulfilled only by the individual. He notes that mental health is based not on balance or equilibrium but rather on ‘tensions’ between what has been achieved and what there is still to achieve in life – ‘what one is, and what one should become’ (ibid., p110). He notes that as soon as potentialities, defined moment by moment, are realised they no longer act as a driver to achieve meaning (this is similar to Maslow’s (1943) notion that satisfied needs no longer motivate behaviour). Rather, these actualised potentialities become the realities of self that create meaningful life. Therefore, to maintain meaning in our lives there has to be a continuous potentialities–realisation flow of ‘tension’ and growth into the future. Support for the notion that people seek to reconcile and stabilise tensions to establish a desired state (to maintain the phenomenal self) is given by Klein (1989) in his discussion of control


theory (noted in section Csikszentmihalyi (1990; 2003) notes the importance of ‘balance’, or establishing an ongoing sense of tension between the level of skill and the level of challenge in an activity in order for people to experience ‘flow’. He suggests that flow is the ‘optimal’ experience of being immersed in an activity, with total concentrated attention. It is characterised by the inner experience of contentment, fulfilment and meaningfulness (Csikszentmihalyi, 2003, p38). Overell (2008) argues that a persons experience of achieving their potential, which is the ongoing experience of flow, is ultimately about realisation of their identity, of making sense of self within life activities, that is, of making life meaningful. Csikszentmihalyi (1990; 2003) argues that flow is experienced where there is a sense that the level of skill and the level of challenge in any one moment are such that the person feels able to carry out the activity whilst also being fully engaged by the demands of it. As an activity progresses the level of these will alter, but flow, engagement and meaningfulness are maintained where they are dynamically kept in a state of balanced tension. Fullagar and Mills (2008, p537), referencing self-determination theory, emphasise the importance of autonomy in flow and in intrinsic motivation because it provides the sense of control to engage in activities ‘… that are concordant with one’s integrated sense of self’. Their findings indicate that the more autonomy a person has in activities characterised by intrinsic motivation, and congruency with self, and the higher the need for autonomy as an individual dispositional characteristic, the greater the flow experience, and the greater the engagement. As noted, meaningfulness occurs when ideology, or inner values and beliefs, are congruent with the nature of the engaging activity. As noted in chapter 1, in his later work, Maslow (1971) emphasised the importance of ‘Being values’ (‘B-values’), such as truth, goodness, aliveness, justice and meaningfulness as life values which develop a person’s potential in the ‘ongoing process of becoming’. This shows the link between self and meaningfulness, and, importantly, adds the notion of development towards potential, which in turn suggests that the dynamics of tensions, stabilities and adaptation facilitate the process of growth. This section has built on previous sections which noted the nature of self as a self-directing system, the impact on self from external and internal factors, including social issues and selfefficacy in forming self-identity or concept, and that meaningfulness is experienced where there


is congruency between the self and work activities and context, but that growth occurs where there is a sense of autonomous tension between what is and what could be, through the notion of skill, or efficacy, and challenge. In summary, this section has highlighted the integrated and dynamic nature of self as it develops fluidly through ongoing tensions between ‘what one is, and what one should become’ (Frankl, 2004, p110) in meaningful engagement. 2.5


This chapter has developed the discussion from chapter 1 in which In this chapter, the importance of engagement in the context of work were discussed.

Meaningfulness was

identified and proposed as a key factor of engagement. Work engagement was defined in relation to the willing employment, involvement and psychological presence of self (Kahn, 1990; Alfes et al., 2010). There is a great deal of anecdotal and research evidence on what it is that motivates people to engage in work. A historical summary was given. The alienating affect (Lefever and Lefever, 1977; Caldari, 2007) of work designed on scientific management principles (Taylor, 1947) was noted and increasing depth over time of insights into work factors and characteristics that may enhance motivation to engage were discussed. A primary thread in motivational dynamics relates to the satisfaction of needs. Increasing emphasis over time from more tangible to psychological needs was found. However, whilst understanding motivational issues continues to be a significant scholarly pursuit (Latham and Pinder, 2005), research into deeper psychological dynamics was noted as severely lacking (Steers et al., 2004), including, in particular, research into meaningfulness (Michaelson, 2005). Psychological meaningfulness has been found to have a central relationship to engagement (Kahn, 1990; May et al., 2004), but, whilst a close link between meaningfulness and engagement has been made in the literature, the deep psychological nature of this link has not been established; the nature of meaningfulness in relation to engagement is not clearly understood. In this chapter, psychological aspects of engagement were examined, in particular the factors of psychological meaningfulness, safety and availability (Kahn, 1990; May et al., 2004). Meaningfulness was reinforced as the strongest factor in relation to engagement.


examining meaningfulness in the literature, a broad perspective was taken because a focus on meaning in work alone was found to be too restrictive (Ros et al., 1999) as a basis of gaining sufficient insights to carry out the proposed research. Therefore aspects of meaning in the context of life, as well as meaning in the context of work were examined (Metz, 2002).


Distinguishing meaning of, and meaning in life and work was found to be an effective means of converging on those aspects of meaningfulness that provided insights for the focus of the current research. Meaning in work was explored through a discussion of factors that impact meaningfulness, with particular focus on intrinsic and extrinsic factors (Metz, 2002), noting that meaningfulness related essentially to intrinsic dynamics. Reference was made to the notion that it is the harnessing of self that is central to the experience of meaningfulness (Scroggins, 2008). With the identification of self as a key dynamic in the experience of meaningfulness (Shamir, 1991), this review then focused on developing insights into the notion of self as this relates to meaningfulness and engagement. The central concepts in relation to engagement, meaningfulness and self, and how they relate are represented in the following diagram, Figure 2.3.


Authenticity Values Self-Esteem Self-Worth

Self-Identity Self-Efficacy Self-Attribution Self-Expression

Purpose Worthwhileness Knowledge Autonomy

Transcendence Integration Connection Challenge




Figure 2.3 Research Concept Model The diagram represents these notions by placing self (red / blue rectangle) embedded within external or activity context. This emphasises that meaningfulness at work is a function of the interaction of the self and context (Scroggins, 2008). Whilst self may be viewed as a structure, that is, as a being within a social context (Gecas, 1982; Stryker, 2008), or as process, that is, as a dynamic, fluid internal phenomenon (Gecas, 1982), the emphasis of the current research is on the inner conceptual processes of self, or the ‘phenomenal self’ (Snyder and Williams, 1982). The experience of meaningfulness is therefore not dependent essentially on external factors but on internal processes. Internalisation of external experience is 101

subject to perceptual processes, acting to filter sensory inputs. This phenomenon is represented on the diagram by the grey border around the ‘self’ rectangle. Also represented by this grey border is the process of outputs through behaviours, filtered by internalised social conditioning and situational influences. Recognition of perceptual filtering emphasises the point noted above that it is not the external circumstances, but internalised interpretations that are critical in determining inner experience (Frankl, 2004). The literature reveals many different factors that relate to the phenomenal self and experience of meaningfulness. These are represented on the diagram by boxes in the ‘self’ rectangle. The most frequently or strongly referenced factors are noted. Whilst all factors noted are the internal sense of experience, it is recognised that they vary with respect to the locus of attention. Some may be viewed as focused more towards the inner self, with emphasis on inner dynamics of the phenomenal self. Others may be viewed as focused more towards activity context, whilst still being internal experience. Those factors more deeply relating to the inner, phenomenal self are noted to the left of the diagram and those more deeply relating to the external context are noted to the right. Each box is characterised by containing factors which are similar in nature. Four boxes, or categories of self are noted. The left hand box shows those factors strongly represented from the literature review that relate to the deeper phenomenal self. People have a deep drive to be authentic that is, true to internally constructed self (Shamir, 1991; Metz, 2002; Ardichvili and Kuchinke, 2009), which must take account of fundamental values (Ros et al., 1999; Nohria et al., 2008), or ideology (Carlisle and Manning, 1994) and may be more possible when individual and organisational or activity values are congruent (Boggs et al., 2003; Holbeche and Springett, 2004; Beagrie, 2005; Driver, 2005). The drive to maintain a positive conception of self, or self-esteem has been noted as a central, universal human motive (Gecas, 1982; Shamir, 1991) and this may be most effectively achieved when involved in something that enhances self-worth (Shamir, 1991; Hughes, 2006) through a contribution, or giving of self, to some external need in the present or seeking to establish a legacy that they may leave behind. In summary, having a positive and true inner sense of self is possible where inner values are upheld and create a sense that self is authentic and of worth. This constitutes a deep inner sense of the phenomenal self. In the second box, factors are noted that also relate strongly to the phenomenal self, but have an external, contextual element. A key aspect of self-concept is self-identity (Shamir, 1991), which


relates to the deeper sense of authenticity (noted above) but emphasises the part of the selfconcept that has social reference (Gecas, 1982; Ardichvili and Kuchinke, 2009). A person’s involvement in an activity will be driven partly by the perceived association and reinforcement with his or her identity (Ellemers et al., 2004), or the most desirable identity within a particular situation (Gecas, 1982). A person’s sense of self-identity will critically depend on his or her selfefficacy, that is, self-referent thought around the sense of having the resources, including confidence, to achieve goals (Bandura, 1982; Gecas, 1982; Hughes, 2006). The achievement of goals, however, will have an enhancing effect on self only to the degree to which a person can attribute outcomes to their own actions, rather than to some other person or other external factor (Farr, 1977; Gecas, 1982). The sense of self-attribution is, in effect, what a person internalises about the impact of their actions. However, people do not just seek to satisfy needs and achieve goals, but are also self-expressive of feelings, attitudes and ideas, which in turn also impacts their self-worth and self-esteem (Shamir, 1991; May et al., 2004). The next set of factors, in the third box, again relates to the inner sense of self but move even further towards the external activity as the focus within which they may be fulfilled. Deep involvement will always relate to purpose, which is about having a reason or ideal to aim for (Chalofsky, 2003a), seeking to successfully achieve a goal (Baumeister, 1991) or to have a mission (Holbeche and Springett, 2004). Purpose provides a forward-looking motivational drive that can make the activity meaningful, in a manner which is not possible where the activity has no clear purpose. Having a sense of purpose was represented in the literature more than any other factor and may be the key dynamic in relation to self and meaningfulness. Involvement in activities that are purposeful will create a sense of worthwhileness where they closely link to a person’s inner values (May et al., 2004; Zigaemi et al., 2007). Worthwhileness relates to the deeper sense of self-worth (noted above) but incorporates connection to an external activity that has significance. In order to be able to experience any sense of worthwhileness, it is necessary for a person to have knowledge, or feedback, about the affect they have in relation to an activity, which may be through the activity itself, intrinsically, as it is being carried out, or may be instrumental through some other means of communication. The importance of knowledge of results, and in particular intrinsic knowledge of results, of work tasks has been emphasised in relation to motivational dynamics (Hackman and Oldham, 1980; Locke and Latham, 1990). For activities which have intrinsic feedback, knowledge of involvement and the possibility of selfattribution (noted above) will be immediate and direct, and can be self-reinforcing (Metz, 2002), which may not be available from feedback which is extrinsic to the activity. A sense of personal


causation and engagement can be experienced in intrinsically motivating activities (Deci and Vansteenkiste, 2004) but this relies critically on the level of autonomy that a person has (Vansteenkiste et al., 2006; Fullagar and Mills, 2008). Autonomy, or internal locus of control, in which flexibility is at the discretion of the person, is key for self-determination (Deci and Ryan, 1985) and experiencing internal motivation for engagement (Giles, 1977), and these in turn facilitate a more integrated sense of self (Fullagar and Mills, 2008). Of the factors noted in the boxes, those in the right hand box relate most strongly to external or contextual activity, whilst still being inner experiences. Meaningfulness may be experienced most deeply when the inner self is engaged in some external cause rather than being self-focused (Metz, 2002; Overell, 2008; Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009). Being part of something that is beyond self is the notion of transcendence and may lead to a more meaningful experience (Sheep, 2006; Houston and Cartwright, 2007), involving more fundamental meanings and values. The possibility of integrating the inner sense of self, and also with something greater than self, helps to produce a more coherent or holistic sense of self and the deep experiential sense of meaningfulness (Driver, 2005; Hughes, 2006; Sheep, 2006; Fullagar and Mills, 2008). This can be further enhanced when there is connection, or affective relationships, to help provide a sense of ‘unification’ with other people (Ryan, 1995; Debats, 1999; Holbeche and Springett, 2004; Houston and Cartwright, 2007). A factor that relates strongly to external activity, but has a deep impact on the sense of self and meaningfulness is challenge. Challenge relates to the difficulty of an activity or goal, (Locke and Latham, 1990), which implicitely relates to competence, and can clearly provide stimulation, which in turn can engage people through the provision of variety and growth (Hackman and Oldham, 1980), especially where expectancy of success and selfefficacy (noted above) are also high (Locke and Latham, 1990). However challenge has a deeper influence when linked to self-efficacy. The experience of ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; 2003), which is the meaningful employment and absorption of self in an activity in the present moment, is optimal when the level of skill and of challenge are in balance or tension. This sense of tension is noted in relation to dynamic stability in section 2.4.7. In summary, connecting in a holistic and integrated way with an activity that is beyond self can create a deep sense of meaning, and engagement can be enhanced where there is challenge, matched by self-efficacy in the moment. All of the factors discussed have been shown in the literature to be significant components of self and meaningfulness, which in turn can enhance discretionary engagement. However the


relative importance of each, and those that are of central importance, are not clear and exploring the key factors is central to the current research. In relation to self as a process (Gecas, 1982), the literature emphasises the systemic nature of self, which is not static but continuously changing and developing, unfolding the sense of being and the ongoing process of becoming (Rogers, 1961; Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Carlisle and Manning, 1994; Chalofsky, 2003a; Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009). The notion of self as a selfperpetuating system, or ‘originating agent’ (Gecas, 1982), which drives towards both maintenance, which Shamir (1991) discusses as self-consistency, and enhancement (Snyder and Williams, 1982), is shown on the diagram by the curved arrows, representing continuous movement or interaction within self and between the self and activity context. This shows self as a continuous dynamic and fluid phenomenon. However the drive to achieve both maintenance, or stability, and enhancement, which implies change, development or growth, is paradoxical and creates a tension (Snyder and Williams, 1982). This tension is noted on the diagram as ‘dynamic stability’, where meaningfulness is experienced through self-maintenance and enhancement behaviours as self interacts within an external context. Csikszentmihalyi (1990; 2003) indicates that this dynamic stability and ongoing tension, that is constantly seeking maintenance and enhancement, contributes to a sense of experiential meaningfulness. Exploring the tension between the maintenance of the current integrated stable sense of self, and the enhancing, changing, growing and developing self, was a central part of the current research. The issues and factors discussed in relation to this diagram form a ‘concept model’, and from this concept model, the research question became: ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’ The methodology developed to address this question is presented in the next chapter.


Chapter 3 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY “There are no facts, only interpretations” Nietzsche 3.1


Chapters 1 and 2 have shown, through the literature, that work engagement is closely linked to work performance and well-being. Meaningfulness was identified as a key factor in engagement and disengagement, and the phenomenological self was identified as a central dynamic in the experience of meaningfulness and engagement experiences. A concept model of current theory summarised the relationship between these constructs. Gaps in the theory were noted, in particular in relation to the role of meaningfulness, and the research question was defined: ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’ This chapter discusses the methodology adopted for the research. I discuss philosophical and theoretical underpinnings, emphasising the importance of a rigorous research paradigm with coherent and consistent theory to address the research question and phenomena being explored. I justify in detail a constructivist approach, set within an interpretivist, phenomenological paradigm, based on a relativist philosophical perspective, and the need to elicit rich data from human respondents. With the exploratory, inductive nature of the research, and the need for an iterative approach, I argue for the application of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) as a research framework and Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) as an underpinning theoretical basis for eliciting constructs. I conclude the chapter with a discussion of quality and ethical issues, emphasising the interests of respondents and the integrity of the research process. The particular methods and techniques I used to elicit data are discussed in chapter 4. 3.2


A paradigm, as a fundamental set of beliefs, first principles, or worldview (Denzin and Lincoln, 106

2005), establishes an underpinning perspective from which the research question and phenomena are explored. Clarifying the paradigm early in the research process ensured that methodology, methods and data interpretation are be mutually consistent and congruent with the research question and phenomena being explored (Bryman, 2008). ‘Questions of method are secondary to questions of paradigm, which we define as the basic belief system or worldview that guides the investigator, not only in choices of method but in ontologically and epistemologically fundamental ways’ (Christians, 2005, p158).


Edmondson and McManus (2007) emphasise the importance of methodological fit, through ‘congruent’, ‘integrated’ and ‘mutually reinforcing’ research elements, as a key criterion for the production of high quality research. There is no single ‘correct’ or universally agreed paradigm (Crotty, 1998) and different paradigms were possible for the current research endeavour. In this section I discuss each aspect of the paradigm I adopted, embedded within the broad considerations of ontological and epistemological philosophy, and the theoretical perspective which underpins the methodology. In support of the paradigm adopted, key perspectives that could have been, but were not, adopted for the research are also noted. In the literature on research methodology, terms that represent underlying philosophies, perspectives, approaches and methodologies are not used consistently. For example, Crotty (1998) suggests that ‘Objectivism’ is an epistemology and ‘Positivism’ is a ‘theoretical perspective’ whereas Alvesson and Sköldberg (2009) discuss ‘Objectivism’ from an ontological perspective and ‘Positivism’ as an epistemology. Crotty (1998) considers ‘Phenomenology’ from an interpretivist theoretical perspective whilst Patton (2002) considers it in terms of methodology, and Alvesson and Sköldberg (2009) discuss ‘Phenomenology’ from an epistemological perspective. ‘There is no definitive way to categorise the various philosophical and theoretical perspectives that have influenced and distinguish types of qualitative inquiry’ (Patton, 2002).

In the

following discussion, I aim to use terms consistently, in particular to support an ontological perspective that clarifies the underlying philosophical position on the nature of reality, and an epistemological perspective that clarifies the position adopted about how people construct knowledge. For clarity, I discuss research-related aspects of the nature of reality and of knowledge (ontology


and epistemology) separately. Whilst Crotty (1998, p10) notes that in practice they inform each other and ‘tend to emerge together’, discussing ontology and epistemology separately is consistent with Bhaskar’s (2008, p36) arguement that their integration has been the result of what he terms the ‘epistemic fallacy’ and contends that ‘being’ cannot always be reduced to, or analysed in terms of propositions about ‘knowledge’ (although he does argue from a realist perspective), and that they should therefore be distinguished. I start with a broad discussion about the nature of reality (ontology) adopted for the research and progress into perspectives on the nature of knowledge (epistemology). 3.2.1

Perspective on Reality

The fundamental ontological assumptions that underpinned the research are summarised at Figure 3.1.

Social and natural reality exists externally, ‘out there’ and is awaiting discovery (Gill & Johnson, 2010 p201)

Truth and reality are individually defined (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002 p32)


REALISM CRITICAL REALISM Reality exists externally, but its (scientific) study must include socially constructed realities (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005 p13)

Reality is created experientially, in the mind (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000 p47)



Actual independent external existence of things (Bryman, 2008 p696)

Reality consists only of ‘ideas’, in the mind (Crotty, 1998 p64)

Figure 3.1 Ontological Position The diagram shows the two principal ontological extremes of ‘Relativism’ and ‘Realism’, with ‘Critical Realism’ as a variant on ‘Realism’, and broad ‘Subjective’ versus ‘Objective’ assumptions about the nature of reality, with ‘Idealism’ as an extreme subjective position. The circles on the two-way arrows indicate the position I adopted. Ontological perspectives I did not consider to be appropriate for this research are crossed through.

108 Relativism or Realism? The key distinctions between a relativist and realist paradigm relating to the current research are noted at Figure 3.2. RELATIVISM


Internal perspective

External perspective

Subjective, perceptions

Objective, tangible things

Individual experiences

Logical, causal relationships

Individual truth; constructed

Factual truth; scientific laws

Interpretation of meanings

Measurement of objects

Figure 3.2 Key Research Distinctions between Relativism and Realism Traditionally, realists hold that ‘truth’ is ‘out there’ awaiting discovery, externally and independent of people’s consciousness (Gill and Johnson, 2010); that causal relationships can be understood through direct observation and measurement, and that they can be defined rationally and objectively (Bhaskar, 2008), to produce immutable scientific ‘laws’ (Zohar and Marshall, 2004). Because the phenomena being explored in the research are not external, objective, tangible things, but internal psychological experiences, realism was not considered appropriate as the underpinning philosophical perspective. Later developments in scientific thought sought to mitigate extremes of objectivist scientific analytical traditions by recognising the social construction of people’s reality (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005), and the impact of human phenomena (Bhaskar and Lawson, 1998). Bhaskar (2008, p13) distinguishes the sensed experiences of the ‘empirical’, the independent events of the ‘actual’ and the inner mechanisms of the ‘real’ and ‘Critical Realists’ maintain that phenomena should be explored not just at empirical and actual levels but at the deeper, real level (Alvesson and Sköldberg, 2009). Because the research focus was complex internal dynamics, critical realism could have been an appropriate ontological paradigm for the research. However, because of its emphasis on causal relationships (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005), involving underlying ‘structures’ (the interaction of


objects) and ‘mechanisms’ (dynamics that affect these interactions) (Alvesson and Sköldberg, 2009), and because of its rejection of not just the collective, holistic level of analysis but also the reductionist, individual level, (Bhaskar, 2008), it too was not considered appropriate as the philosophical underpinning. A relativist perspective was congruent with the focus of the research because it holds that reality is vested within the individual person (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002). This is not to deny the actual independent external existence of objective things (Bryman, 2008), which is accepted as entirely possible, and it is not to suggest that reality consists only of ideas in the mind, which is the ‘Philosophical Idealists’ perspective (Crotty, 1998). The perspective adopted holds, however, that external things are sensed and internalised through perceptual filtering, which creates (only) a representation of reality (Hamlyn, 2005), and it is this subjective reality created experientially in the mind (Alvesson and Deetz, 2000) that is the key focus for the research. This is consistent with the positioning of the self adopted for the research and discussed in section 2.4. Relativism maintains that a person’s sense, or perspective, of reality is vested in their individual, psychological experience, that is, it is ‘relative’ to their knowledge and meanings (Crotty, 1998), forming internal conceptions or ‘constructs’ (Kelly, 1955; 1963). As this relates to how people know about reality, I explore it further in the discussions on epistemology (section 3.2.2), and on Personal Construct Psychology (section 3.3.4) where individual views on reality due to variation in construct systems are discussed. In summary, I adopted a relativist perspective for the research because it is congruent with the research question and nature of the phenomena being explored. This ontological perspective is also congruent with my own convictions about the nature of reality. In the next section I consider the nature of knowledge and build a coherent paradigm for the current research by arguing an epistemological stance which is consistent with the ontological position, recognising that epistemological assumptions fundamentally underpin research strategy and methodology (Remenyi et al., 1998). 3.2.2

Perspective on Knowledge

A person’s epistemological perspective, how they know about reality, will be intimately related to their ontology to form their philosophical paradigm (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002) and can vary


widely between people (Crotty, 1998). The perspective I adopted in the reserarch is summarised at Figure 3.3, and in the following discussion. Again, the positions that I did not consider appropriate for the research are crossed through.

Knower imposes meaning on the known (deMarrais & Lapan, 2004 p175)

Meaning resides in things themselves (Crotty, 1998 p5)



‘Knowledge is a compilation of humanmade constructions’ (Raskin, 2002 p4)

‘Objective accounts of the real world can be given’ (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005 p27)



How individuals make sense of the world, from their point of view (Bryman, 2008 p15, 16)

PHENOMENOLOGY RADICAL CONSTRUCTIVISM Private, unique and ‘isolated’ individual reality (Raskin, 2002 p10)

LOGICALEMPIRICISM / POST-POSITIVISM Value neutrality, but only partially objective accounts are possible because all methods are flawed (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005 p27, 143)

LOGICAL POSITIVISM Strong scientific, empirical basis for all investigation, including social science (Crotty, 1998 p27)

Figure 3.3 Epistemological Position Positivism and Objectivism Congruent with a realist ontology, ‘Objectivism’ holds that meaning exists within things themselves irrespective of human consciousness (Crotty, 1998), and underpins ‘Positivism’, following the distinction made by Descartes (1596 - 1650) between the ‘knowable’ objective realm, and the directly inaccessible human subjective realm (Guba and Lincoln, 2005). Positivism is included in this discussion because the research is in the domain of psychology, and psychological research has historically often adopted a positivist approach as it sought acceptance as a science (Johnson and Cassell, 2001). Positivism, derived from the term ‘posit’, meaning ‘what can be known’, or as a ‘fact’, was introduced by eighteenth century psychologists, including Hume (1711 - 1776), to establish greater rigour and respectability over the previous metaphysical and theological underpinnings of knowledge (Johnson and Cassell, 2001) and was popularised by Comte (1798 - 1857) (Crotty, 1998). As a basis for scientific method (Remenyi et al., 1998) it emphasises causal laws (Bhaskar, 2008), deductive logic, quantification and


generalisation (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002).

Measurement, aggregation and probabilistic

statistical inferences remain dominant in much psychology research (Smith et al., 2009). An extreme positivist perspective, ‘Logical Positivism’ evolved from the early twentieth century ‘Vienna Circle’ of mathematicians and natural scientists, emphasising the need for scientific ‘verification’ (Fotion, 2005). Because the current research focused on exploration of rich phenomena, which are not clearly understood in the literature, and cannot therefore be objectified and measured, a positivist, or logical positivist perspective was not appropriate. The influence of the extreme of logical positivism has been fleeting (Patton, 2002). Comte himself viewed positivism as a philosophy, not a demand for scientific certainty and quantification of all phenomena (Crotty, 1998). It has been superseded by a more moderate epistemological stance, ‘Logical Empiricism’, or ‘Post-positivism’. Post-positivists remain rooted in empirical methods but reject the application of rigorous positivist principles to the social sciences (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002), building partly on challenges of Heisenberg’s (1901 – 1976) ‘uncertainty principle’ and recognising Popper’s (1902 – 1994) challenge to scientific laws through the ‘falsification principle’ (Crotty, 1998). Postpositivists suggested that even natural science, in addition to social science, is characterised by uncertainty, judgement and discretion. An epistemological position based on post-positivism could have been closely aligned to the current research, however post-positivist empiricism underpins nomothetic psychological research in which generalisations are made from probabilistic quantitative methodologies, and because the research sought understanding of meanings of individually constructed realities, a post-positivist perspective was not considered appropriate. Further concerns reinforced the rejection of a broad positivist perspective. Lincoln and Guba (1985, p28) summarise key assumptions of positivism which, they argue, are increasingly difficult to maintain, including ‘the ontological reality of a single tangible reality’, the assumption that it is possible to separate ‘the observer from the observed’, ‘the temporal and contextual independence of observations’, and ‘value freedom’ in methodological approach and research analyses.


I now discuss the epistemological perspective that I adopted for the research. Constructivism, Subjectivism and Phenomenology I have already argued that the phenomena being explored are internally constructed, and not externally defined, rejecting related epistemological perspectives. Given that ‘… observed reality is not all there is … the researcher can reach behind it and reveal more fundamental layers,’ (Alvesson and Sköldberg, 2009, p18), I argue the application of a constructivist, phenomenological perspective as a basis for the research. As shown in Figure 3.3, and introduced in chapter 2, I align my arguments with the philosophical principles that there is no set universal truth that can be known (Guba and Lincoln, 2005), that meaning is imposed subjectively, reality is constructed internally and is the result of interpretation, and that each individual person makes sense of their own phenomenological experience. A key focus of the research was to seek understanding of internalised realities as experienced by people.

This is the perspective of Phenomenology, which subsumes constructivism.

Phenomenology is the study of how people ‘make sense of experience and transform experience in consciousness’ (Patton, 2002, p104). Husserl (1859 - 1938) established the founding principles of phenomenology, and Heidegger (1889 - 1976) developed from Husserl’s focus on reflexive selfanalysis of perceptions, emphasising the contextual interpretive nature of understanding (Smith et al., 2009). It rejects extremes of subjectivism and objectivism and emphasises the relationship and intimacy between the subject and the object, through the process of ‘intentionality’, that is, it reaches into, or tends to, the intimacies of the meaning associated with the interaction of the object in the context of the subject’s experience (Crotty, 1998, p44).

It emphasises the

relationship between the subject and object, the person and the world, that is, the ‘lifeworld’ (Alvesson and Sköldberg, 2009, p76), and in particular on ‘lived experience’. As illustrated at Figures 3.2 and 3.3, the research is based on the philosophical position that both subjective and objective reality exist but that it focuses on the meanings of the knower (deMarrais and Lapan, 2004) rather than meanings that may be assumed to reside in the objects themselves. There are variants of phenomenological research. Willig (2008), for example, notes three stages of one approach, which was broadly adopted in the current research, first, ‘epoche’, requiring the


suspension of presuppositions and assumptions, second, ‘phenomenological reduction’, providing a full examination of the constituents of the experience, and third, ‘imaginative variation’, in which themes are identified and, through integrative analysis, the essence of the phenomenon is elicited. Willig (2008) recognises that in psychology research, as with the current research, the possibility of suspending presuppositions and assumptions is unrealistic, rather, in the interpretative process, the researcher’s beliefs should be ‘bracketed’, or set aside, during early analysis and then recognised as an integral part of the interpretive analytical process. For ‘Constructivists’, what is ‘real’ is not just what can be observed, but anything that can have an effect, including ideas and values. However, this is not about objectively predictable causal relationships, as with positivism, but rather is about emergent tendencies or patterns that may vary in different contexts. The phenomena explored in the research were of this nature. In particular, the research recognised that, whilst the reported inner experience of engagement may be common, what influences this experience for different people, and what they consider engagement to be, may vary. The research did not, therefore seek to establish set, objective factors and conditions that would always predict engagement, but rather to develop insights into the inner nature of engagement and disengagement, and from these to establish the types of contextual factors that might influence people’s experience of engagement. Constructivism contrasts fundamentally with positivism. However constructivists do not reject the objective, but rather, consistent with phenomenology, discussed above, integrate the objective with the subjective. A perspective that rejects the objective is ‘Subjectivism’ (not Constructivism). Subjectivism aligns with a philosophical idealist ontology and, recognising that the research phenomena, including engagement, meaningfulness and self, are internal realities that are constructed through social and other external interactions, but are resolved internally through negotiated integration with existing constructs, the research was not vested in an extreme subjectivist perspective, but in constructivism. An extreme ‘Radical Constructivist’ view was not appropriate because this perspective, which rejects realism outright, emphasises the private, unique and ‘isolated’ nature of an individually constructed reality as a closed system that cannot directly access external reality (Raskin, 2002). A ‘Social Constructionist’ view was also not appropriate because this gives primacy to relational, linguistic, social dynamics in the development of the individual peerson (Raskin, 2002). Constructivism was therefore positioned as the unique experience of individual meaning-making


(Crotty, 1998) and was adopted for the research. The epistemological perspective which recognises that knowledge about the world is constructed, that individuals differ in their constructions and that an individual is capable of adopting different constructs, has been termed ‘constructive alternativism’ in PCP (Kelly, 1955). As noted in chapter 2, PCP was adopted as a key underpinning theory for the research and is discussed in detail in section 3.3.4. Constructive alternativism assumes that people construct their own meaning, as with other forms of constructivism, but bnecause a single, ‘absolute construction of the universe is not feasible’ (Kelly, 1963, p15), different interpretations, or ‘alternatives’, are made by different people, and individuals can select from a range of constructs or develop existing constructs through learning. Kelly (1955) emphasised that people should be recognised as ‘scientists’ in that they have the capacity to understand, evaluate, anticipate and control their own construction of reality. He notes that people are able not just to react to the environment but to represent it creatively. Constructs integrate to form ‘construct systems’, through which people view and interpret the world. For example, the way in which a person views work, family or politics will depend on the parts of their construct system associated with each of these domains. Whilst the research was rooted in the individual as the unit of analysis, and whilst it did not aim to establish probabilistic generalisations, it nevertheless sought to elicit models or patterns from the data. Phenomenology recognises the unique individuality of lived experience, however the aim of the research was to develop understanding of shared, universal meanings or ‘essences’ (deMarrais, 2004). ‘Phenomenological research is the study of essences’ (van Manen, 1990, p10). ‘Essences’, or ‘universals’, are general conceptual representations, or ‘abstract objects’, for example the concept of ‘humankind’, as opposed to human beings themselves (Crotty, 1998, p11), or the concept of ‘table’ as opposed to tables themselves (Alvesson and Sköldberg, 2009, p77).

Notwithstanding the argument that universals can be understood only through the

language that is used to externalise them (Easterby-Smith et al., 2002), and that internal reality is understood primarily as an interpretation (Chiari and Nuzzo, 2003), for the research, it was recognised that universals, as models or patterns of respondents’ constructions, may be understood along with the uniqueness of individual lived experience. Universal meanings of individual experiences can be elicited and understood inductively through the study of particular instances (deMarrais, 2004). In the current research, instances were studied through the ‘Critical Incident Technique’ (Flanagan, 1954). This is discussed in section




For research in general, the theoretical perspective defines the assumptions that underpin the methodology (Crotty, 1998). The theoretical perspective adopted for the research is summarised at Figure 3.4, again with the positions that I considered inappropriate crossed through. Edmondson and McManus (2007) argue that the design of research depends critically on the state of theory at the time of the research, and in particular that nascent theory research, that is, research in a domain that has little or no clear theoretical underpinning, as with the current research, would benefit from a qualitative, exploratory, theory-building, inductive paradigm. The current research focused on qualitative data and was exploratory in nature. Butterfield et al. (2004, p163) emphasise the appropriateness of qualitative research ‘when empirical research in an area is at an early stage and when the phenomenon in question is perceptual and complex in nature (e.g., Strauss & Corbin, 1994)’. Consistent with the philosophical position, the research adopted an idiographic approach, focusing in depth on individual respondent meanings, rather than the broad generalisability of the nomothetic approach. Development of explanations and theories from empirical data (Gill & Johnson, 2010 p56)



Testing of existing concepts and theory through empirical research (Gill & Johnson, 2010 p46)


Extensive study of large amounts of data to discover general laws (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009 p55)

GROUNDED THEORY Theory development ‘grounded’ wholly or essentially in empirical data (Seale et al, 2004 p80) Intensive study of unique phenomena (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009 p55)









Seeking understanding of people’s meanings at an individual level (Crotty, 1998 p69)

Figure 3.4 Theoretical Perspective Because the research phenomena were internal, they could not be measured directly and could 116

be understood only through interpretation. As Denzin and Lincoln (2005, p3) note ‘… qualitative researchers study things in their natural settings, attempting to make sense of, or interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings that people bring to them’. This commitment to naturalistic, interpretative enquiry underpinned the research design. 3.3.1

The Application of Interpretivism

The introduction of interpretivism is linked to Weber (1864 - 1924) who, along with Durkheim (1858 - 1917) believed that society should be studied more rigorously in order to understand industrialisation and capitalism (Christians, 2005), but recognised, as noted above, that positivist, explanatory (‘Erklären’) methods, examining causal relationships, were inappropriate (Crotty, 1998). Weber’s emphasis was on understanding meanings (‘Verstehen’) and values empathetically from the perspective of the individual, which implicitly involved interpretation (Bryman, 2008). This describes the nature of the current research, which sought understanding of inner meanings through interpretation. Interpretation is inevitably influenced by the interpreter’s perspective; ‘[a]ll interpretation occurs within a tradition’ (Patton, 2002, p115). I therefore sought to ensure that respondents’ realities were paramount and interpreted in relation to their individual contexts (Patton, 2002). Activities discussed in chapter 4 show how this was achieved. This is consistent with the philosophical perspective of phenomenology, discussed above, and underpins the particular approach taken within interpretivism, that is, ‘Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis’. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is an approach in research which seeks to understand the meanings that a person has in relation to their personal experience.


experience is defined as a comprehensive or significant unit made up of elements of life which are connected by common meaning (Smith et al., 2009).

IPA is distinguished within the

phenomenology by its emphasis on the dynamic that exists in relation to the respondent’s interpretation and communication of their experience, and the researcher’s interpretation of this interpretation (Willig, 2008).


IPA is rooted in idiographic, rather than nomothetic, inquiry and is therefore consistent with the current research, with its emphasis on the individual. Whilst I designed the research for the possibility of transferability of research findings, I recognised that the idiographic, qualitative approach did not allow generalisability, which is normally possible only through nomothetic measurement and statistical inference. IPA is underpinned by hermeneutics (Smith et al., 2009) which emphasises understanding from the other’s viewpoint, and was developed on the basis of arguments from the philosophers Heidegger (1889 - 1976), who emphasised the importance of taking account of the impact of pre-conception in the interpretative process, and Gadamer (1900 - 2002), who emphasised the dynamic, interactive nature of sense-making within the process of understanding (Smith et al., 2009).

Thiselton (2009) highlights the alignment of ‘philosophical hermeneutics’ with

understanding meanings (‘Verstehen’), and contrasts this with more traditional hermeneutics which emphasises explanation (‘Erklären’). The ‘hermeneutic circle’, or ‘spiral’ denotes the iterative and developmental process of understanding, building from ‘pre-understanding’ to the analysis of parts and wholes of a system in turn (Thiselton, 2009). It alludes to the importance of understanding parts in order to understand the nature of the whole, but also the importance of understanding the whole as a contextual perspective of the part. IPA is consistent with ‘symbolic interactionism’ (Smith et al., 2009), which was discussed in section 2.4.2, in relation to the notion of the self, and which emphasises the contextual dynamics within which the self and understanding develop through the process of interpretation. Smith et al. (2009) suggest that, because IPA seeks to understand meanings, an empathetic approach to data collection and analysis is required but they also recognise the importance of ‘suspicious’ questioning, that is, a more critical questioning approach. They recognise that this implicitly involves the application of an outside theoretical perspective and they note the centreground positioning of IPA in which empathy and suspicion are accepted as long as the analysis elicits respondents’ own meanings of an experience. IPA was adapted as the research progressed but was applied in all research phases. In summary, I recognised that in seeking to understand the realities of respondents’ experience from their perspective, I had, as far as possible, to:


o Be both empathetic and critical, o Bracket my own experience (Willig, 2008) in order to focus essentially on the meanings of respondents, o Recognise that my interpretation was subject to my perceptual processes, o Recognise that I was interpreting their interpretation of their perceived realities. In order to do this effectively over the course of the research, I adopted an iterative approach. 3.3.2

Iterative Approach

Edmondson and McManus (2007) emphasise that qualitative, nascent research benefits from a mindset which is open to questioning, re-thinking and revising as it progresses, and Eisenhardt (1989, p539), argues for openness to adjustments in data collection: ‘… adjustments can include the addition of data sources … These alterations create an important question: Is it legitimate to alter and even add data collection methods during a study? For theorybuilding research, the answer is “yes,”…’ An iterative approach allows the flexibility to adapt data collection approaches in order to address issues arising from the findings as the research progresses. Iteration in research involves data collection, analysis and elicitation of themes, which then informs further data collection. The flow of activities I carried out was summarised at Figure 1.1, chapter 1 and are discussed in chapter 4. Following the review of literature, research processes were designed initially to develop understanding of the phenomena through data collected, which then, along with the enfolding of literature, underpinned the design of further, more formal research activities, which in turn elicited richer data. As already noted, I recognised from initial analyses that the nature of disengagement appeared different to that which was initially understood from the literature, and so I returned to the literature to add deeper insights into this construct. Iteration in research is consistent with the inductive perspective, which is discussed next. 3.3.3

Inductive Approach


Inductive research seeks to build theory from data. It ‘may be defined most simply as a process of “making sense” of field data’ (Lincoln and Guba, 1985, p202). It can be contrasted fundamentally with deductive research, which seeks to assess the consistency of data to pre-defined theoretical premises. The key distinctions between an inductive and deductive approach in relation to the research are summarised at Figure 3.5. Because the phenomena being explored in this research were characterised by uncertainty and variability, I avoided an approach based fundamentally on deduction in favour of induction. However, the iterative nature of the research involved an interplay between the development of inductive insights from data and deductive insights from theory. The possibility of moving between inductive and deductive analysis is supported by Bryman (2008, p12), who recognises that there is often a need in theory building research for ‘a weaving back and forth between data and theory’, and by Edmondson and McManus (2007) who emphasise the value of inductive and deductive iteration, moving flexibly in the development of understanding as research progresses. INDUCTIVE


Unexplained phenomena

Defined phenomena


Existing framework

Build theory

Test existing theory

Rooted in data

Rooted in existing theory

Iterative, flexible

Systematic process

Consistent with Constructivism

Consistent with Positivism

Figure 3.5 Research-Related Inductive and Deductive Approaches This contrasts with the ‘Grounded Theory’ approach, which is noted here because it could have provided the basis for the research. The grounded theory approach, introduced by Glaser and Strauss (1997), is designed to build theory based on data, eliminating the influence of existing knowledge (Charmaz, 2005). Later, Glaser and Strauss took divergent positions, with Glaser remaining closely aligned to a purist Grounded Theory approach and Strauss recognising the inevitable impact of pre-existing knowledge (Bryman, 2008). Whilst a ‘Glaserian’ approach would not have been possible in the current research because it was underpinned by existing literature, a ‘Straussian’ approach could have been applied. However, even this grounded theory approach is rooted in a set of procedures for the collection and analysis of data (Bryman, 2008)


and the research required a more fluid, iterative approach, as noted in section 3.3.2. Further, I considered grounded theory to be inappropriate because it was fundamentally incompatible with the philosophy of PCP, which recognises that a researcher will always bring to bear his or her constructs into the process of eliciting, analysing and interpreting data. As, in summary, the research involved flexibilities in methodology (Pathirage et al., 2008), including an initial exploration of literature and sensitising of concepts, followed by iterative and emergent understanding of phenomena through inductive data analysis and enfolding of a theoretical framework, the research approach adopted may best be described as ‘Analytic Induction’ (Patton, 2002). Having noted IPA as the framework within which the research was carried out, the next section focuses on the particular theoretical underpinning applied, that is, PCP (Fransella, 2003a). I have already introduced PCP, but I discuss it in depth in the next section because PCP was central to the rigour with which data were collected and analysed. 3.3.4

Personal Construct Psychology

As noted in section, people’s internalised meanings of the world are in the form of constructs. The process of internalising involves perceptual filtering to form a representation, which is uniquely individual. It is only by accessing a person’s constructs that it is possible to gain insight into their personal reality. Kelly (1955) distinguished constructs from concepts. A concept, he argued, is an abstraction of the ‘nature of the thing with which it is concerned’ (Kelly, 1963, p106). It is rooted in the thing itself as a single commonly understood category, for example, concepts of work, family or politics. However this conceptual category does not say anything about a person’s associated internalised meaning. Constructs link to form construct systems. Construct systems are ‘templates’ or patterns that are used to interpret the world. Particular construct systems are used to make sense of specific ‘realms’, or ‘universes of discourse’, such as, for example, family. Constructs and construct systems have ‘ranges of convenience’. These are the limits within which a particular construct or construct system may give meaning to a realm. For example, the construct system associated with inter-personal relationship may have a wide range of convenience, applying to different realms including family, work, and other social contexts.


Construct systems are dynamic, adapting through negotiation between existing constructs and new experiences. Those that develop to give meaning for a particular range of convenience may be entirely ineffective in providing meaning in other realms, for example, constructs associated with inter-personal dynamics in a particular closed institution may not help at all, and may actually be dysfunctional, in other social contexts, and so has a narrow range of convenience. The ‘focus of convenience’ of a construct system is where the constructs appear to make most sense of that reality. Construct systems comprise ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ constructs. Core constructs are central to a person’s sense of reality, for example, a belief or value. ‘Core constructs are … those constructs in terms of which identity is established, the self is pictured and understood’ (Bannister, 2003, p71). Peripheral constructs are more superficial and, whilst they are integral to a construct system, they do not have a key role in defining the way a realm is construed. For example, within the realm of family relationships, ‘trust’ may be a core construct, whereas the timing of meals may be peripheral. Construct systems include networks or tree-like formations of super-ordinate and subordinate constructs. As super-ordinate constructs are higher levels of abstraction than, and subsume, subordinate constructs, they create a broader perspective of meaning.

The super-ordinate

construct of inter-personal relationships may subsume the subordinate construct of trust. Constructs and construct systems develop dynamically as they are ‘tried out’ and their validity is tested over time (Kelly, 1963). Constructs that make sense of the world are reinforced, but where the fit is not good, people may adapt their construct system through modification or incorporation of new constructs. ‘We assume that all of our present interpretations of the universe are subject to revision or replacement’ (ibid., p15). Where a person fails to adapt, they may be enslaved to this construction of reality, experience internal conflict, or become ‘hostile’ as they try to force their experience of the world to fit into their constructions (Raskin, 2002). Constructs are characterised by degrees of permeability (Kelly, 1955). Permeability refers to the degree to which a construct may add new events or experiences. For example, a super-ordinate inter-personal relationship construct, with its associated subordinate constructs, would be permeable if, on entering a new culture, it embraced new meanings associated with interpersonal dynamics. This may alter the super-ordinate construct, but not necessarily. Because a


permeable construct can embrace greater variety, it may be more stable and predictively useful to an individual than an impermeable one. The scope within which construct systems are applied is the ‘universe of discourse’, and is defined by ‘elements’. Elements are examples of the things, events or activities that represent constructs (Fransella, 2003a, p456). In the research, the elements were the different inner experiences of engagement and disengagement. Construct systems are used not just to seek to give meaning to current situations but to predict, or forecast events. As Kelly (1963) notes, people’s perceptions are influenced by what they expect, and this adds a degree of complexity to the system, but as situations are predicted and evaluated, and construct systems adapt to fit (new) realities, so their dynamic and integrated depth develops. Kelly emphasised the importance of time as the dynamic around an event, with antecedents and consequences, within which meaning displays itself (Fransella, 2003b). In the research context, the nature of engagement and meaningfulness is understood to have temporal dynamics. In particular, whilst satisfaction is about something that has occurred in the past, motivation is about driving towards something that will occur in the future, and engagement is viewed from the literature as the ongoing dynamic of satisfaction and motivation experienced in the present moment. From this perspective, the application of PCP as a model, which recognises past and future oriented perspectives, helped to contribute depth and richness to the research data. I have noted the importance of giving primacy to respondents’ expression of their reality. PCP explicitly adopts this stance and ‘is an extremely useful framework for making more visible what lies ‘below the surface’ ’ (Cornelius, 2003, p349).

As noted, Kelly (1955) emphasised that a person’s

meanings about their reality can be understood only through seeking insights directly from them, not through someone else’s observation or judgement. Recognising the difficulty of accessing a person’s inner constructs, and that care was needed to avoid reducing a persons reality to commonly understood concepts, Kelly argued that individual constructions can be accessed by asking a person how they describe a concept and what their contrast description is. Constructs, in Kelly’s terms, are therefore always in a ‘dichotomous’, or ‘bi-polar’ form. The ‘emergent’ pole is ‘that which embraces most of the immediately perceived context’


(Kelly, 1963, p138), and the contrast forms the other pole, the ‘implicit’ pole, which clarifies the particular perspective, or boundaries that that person has of the construct. So, for example, with the concept of ‘justice’, a person may define the emergent pole as ‘providing equity’, and the implicit pole as ‘leads to inequity’. This provides clarity about the way in which this person understands justice, or their construct, and this would be different to a construct which is defined by an implicit pole of, for example, ‘leads to punishment’ or ‘leads to disorder’. Superordinate constructs may be accessed in interviews through ‘laddering’ questioning, asking ‘why’ type questions. Subordinate constructs may be accessed through ‘pyramiding’, asking ‘how’ type questions. In chapter 1 I noted that it was not the aim of the research to produce yet another list of characteristics that define effective leadership, or management. Likewise … ‘… Kelly did not propose a detailed list of human needs, motives, conflicts or ideals that presumably hold for many people, but instead focused on the general processes by which people made sense of, and navigated the social world.’ (Fransella and Neimeyer, 2003, p27) In the current research, then, I planned to elicit data that would develop insights into general processes by which people make sense of and navigate a particular aspect of their world of work. More specifically, following discussion in the literature review, the research focussed on the nature of ‘self’, as it is experienced at work. For Kelly (1955), constructs constitute the self and he notes the self as a phenomenon that may be examined. This is supported by Gecas (1982) and Snyder and Williams (1982), noted in chapter 2, who argue that the self-concept, or phenomenal self is accessible and may be researched. In summary, in this section I have argued for the application of PCP as a congruent underpinning theory on which the research methodology was based and linked this to the IPA framework and the philosophy and paradigm adopted. I conclude the chapter with a discussion about quality and ethics, which have a particular role in social science research, and are especially important in research into internal human phenomena, as with the current study.




Marshall and Rossman (2006) emphasise the importance of adhering to the principles, rules or processes attached to a particular philosophy or methodology in order to produce ‘trustworthy’ research.

Guba and Lincoln (2005) argue that high quality research first requires a clear

paradigm and Patton (2002) emphasises that different criteria should be used to judge research depending on the particular paradigm adopted. Quality principles associated with two key paradigms are noted at Figure 3.6, following Marshall and Rossman (2006), contrasting the interpretivist approach taken in the current research with a positivist approach. INTERPRETIVIST




Transferability of findings

Generalisability of findings




Objectivity Figure 3.6 Quality Criteria in Different Paradigms

In summary, as Figure 3.6 shows, appropriate criteria for positivist research include the need for objectivity in the collection of appropriate, valid data, measured accurately to produce reliable, ‘factual’ information that is consistently generalisable. However, these are not appropriate criteria for the current research, although an open approach to quality was maintained, as suggested by Seale (1999, p471): ‘The constructivist critique of criteriology has led us to see that “quality” is a somewhat elusive phenomenon that cannot be prespecified by methodological rules, though their reconstitution as “guidelines”, to be followed with intelligence and knowledge of the particular research context, may assist us in moving towards good quality work’. Guba and Lincoln (2005) agree that a more recent broadening and blurring of paradigmatic


genres in qualitative research requires greater flexibilities in defining what constitutes quality in qualitative research. Tracy (2010) offers a broad scope of criteria that may be used across a wide variety of qualitative paradigms and methodologies as a basis for achieving high quality research, including the need for a worthy topic, rich rigour, sincerity, credibility, resonance, significant contribution, ethics, and meaningful coherence. With this caveat, I employed the key interpretivist criteria noted at Figure 3.6 (Marshall and Rossman, 2006) as a general framework on which the quality of the research was judged. The application of each of the criteria is summarised next. 3.4.1


Credibility is analogous to internal validity in positivist research. Credibility is demonstrated generally through the appropriate selection of participants, understanding of, and sensitivities to contextual factors and issues, and high ethical, moral and inter-personal standards. The selection of the research organisation and respondents was purposive in order to provide the best opportunities to explore engagement and meaningfulness issues and, because the nature of the topic was potentially sensitive, care was taken to ensure the application of the highest inter-personal standards. During the analysis of data, key interpretations were fed back to respondents, and opportunities were provided for further input, to ensure that they accurately reflected respondents’ meanings. 3.4.2


Transferability is analogous to generalisability (or external validity) in positivist research and relates to the applicability of findings to other settings. It is judged on the clarity, openness and fullness with which research is reported, and the similarity of the research to the context to which it is being applied. The current research is reported in detail and, in particular, this clarifies the iterative developmental processes followed so that the focus, scope and contextual research factors may be fully understood and the study may be repeated and results considered in relation to other contexts.




Dependability is analogous to reliability in positivist research. It relates to the trustworthiness of findings in relation to the conditions and assumptions made by the researcher, based on the effectiveness of methods and analyses in representing the reliability of factors researched. Details which underpinned the rigour with which data were collected and analysed are discussed in the next chapter so that dependability can be assessed effectively. I include an ‘audit trail’ from raw data to interpreted findings, with contextual details, to allow the reader to judge dependability. 3.4.4


Confirmability is analogous to objectivity in positivist research and is the ability of others to be able to support or confirm the researcher’s findings. Implicitly this tests the logic and support for the assertions, interpretations, and inferences made by the researcher to produce the findings. Additionally, Seale (1999, p469) emphasises ‘fairness, sophistication, mutual understanding and empowerment’, and Patton (2002) notes the importance of integrity in relation to understanding a researcher’s own and other’s values in order to establish the genuineness and sincerity with which research is undertaken. Transparency and integrity were sought at all stages in the research. With qualitative research then, exactness in terms of seeking factual ‘truth’ is not possible or expected and so is not judged on this basis. Given that the research was iterative, interpretivist, and emphasised inductively deepening understanding (‘Verstehen’) and contribution to dialogue (Patton, 2002), strict mechanistic processes (‘criteriology’) (Marshall and Rossman, 2006) were not followed, but, using theoretically grounded, authentic processes, the research was designed to be credible, dependable and confirmable. It was therefore robust in the context of the paradigm adopted. The importance and application of clear ethical standards follows, in the final section of this chapter.




Ethics, or ‘moral philosophy’ attempts to codify moral behaviour – behaviour based on customs and conventions which make social life possible (Norman, 2005).

Ethical practices are

important in social science research because, as Tisdale (2004) emphasises, researchers relate closely to the phenomena being researched (people) and have the power to harm. Whilst conclusions and implications of research are grounded largely in the researcher’s moral (and political) beliefs (Silverman, 2006), there is no single universally agreed ethical code. ‘There is no international agreement or regulations of ethical standards in research’, however, the ethical perspective taken should be consistent with the ontological and epistemological paradigm (Ryen, 2007, p219). Judgements therefore must be made in the design and implementation of research, often spontaneously in the moment as research activities unfold.

Principles underpinning these

judgements must therefore be clear. The stance I adopted in the research is summarised against different theoretical perspectives, noted in the next section. What links these perspectives was the aim to establish a ‘proactive’ ethical stance, maintaining high standards of moral behaviour, rather than a ‘reactive’ stance, addressing the minimum standards of compliance (Cornelius et al., 2007). 3.5.1

Ethical Perspectives

There are different delineations of ethical theories (Tisdale, 2004) and the categorisation noted by May (1980) is used in the following discussion as a framework for clarifying key ethical considerations underpinning the current research activities.

May identifies five key ethical

perspectives relating to social science research: teleology, utilitarianism, deontology, covenantal and critical philosophy. Teleology ‘Teleological’ ethics relates actions to ends. It emphasises the good associated with an outcome, and actions relating to that outcome (means) are assessed in relation to the degree to which they are instrumental in bringing about that good, however it does not provide justification for the


use of any means in achieving that (good) outcome. Whilst through the current research I sought to contribute to theory and practice in ways that could improve not just work performance but also employee well-being, I did not hold this as any justification for research practices that could be viewed as unethical or harmful to participants. I sought to avoid deceitful or underhand techniques. For example, in research interviews, I took particular care to probe deeper self-related issues only if this genuinely contributed insights that related to the engagement / disengagement focus of the discussion. I held details that were revealed by respondents with respect and without judgement or criticism. When analysing interviews, I actively sought to represent meanings intended by respondents, by, for example, avoiding categorising comments against themes that would favour a particular research finding when evidence suggested it belonged elsewhere. Utilitarianism ‘Utilitarianism’ is based on notions proposed by Mill (1806 – 1873) who, whilst positivist in approach, argued that liberty and autonomy, requiring neutrality, are key for human development and happiness (Christians, 2005). It is a type of teleological ethics (Tisdale, 2004) in that it seeks the greatest overall good, and involves a sort of cost-benefit analysis, seeking the highest good for the greatest number of people, however, ‘[e]lemental principles of moral conduct – integrity, honesty, confidentiality and respect for persons – should never be reduced to mere factors in a cost / benefit equation’ (May, 1980, p363). In the research process I actively sought to ensure full openness, from initial discussions with the CEO of the research organisation, to reporting of findings. For example, I did not use any covert means to obtain data, I openly discussed with respondents the nature of the research and how data would be used and I obtained informed consent for all research activities. Confidentialities were assured and, before the research began, whilst agreeing to feed back general findings to senior managers and respondents, I gained agreement that no details would be given that related to individual respondents. This extended to subtle hints or indications that could indicate particular attitudes or beliefs. Deontology


‘Deontology’ is the ethical position that holds actions to be right or wrong in themselves, and therefore rests on a moral code. Kant (1724 - 1804) sought to vest moral values in human reason, rather than religion, and sought to establish universal principles (Crisp, 2005). However deontology is not intended to be absolutist and Crisp (2005) discusses (exceptional) circumstances in which principles may be broken. Likewise, Ryen (2007) argues that harmless deception which disappears by itself or is removed afterwards may be acceptable, although Patton (2002) counsels against even subtle manipulations, noting that participants will often recognise a ruse or scam, however justified by the researcher, which could seriously jeopardise the research and will in any case almost certainly undermine trust, integrity and openness. I sought to maintain an authentic respect for respondents in the research, and all those in the research organisation, for example, by not seeking information in interviews that could give me an inter-personal or power advantage. As noted, I remained open, however I conceded that it was necessary to withhold some details before interviews in order not to compromise responses, for example that issues relating to meaningfulness were being explored or that some penetrating self-related questions may be asked.

However, I informed respondents that this was the

approach I was taking. Respondents were free to withdraw at any time from any aspect of the interview. Covenantal ‘Covenantal’ ethics concentrates on mutual, reciprocal obligations associated with promises, exchanges, expectations and indebtedness by virtue of relationships and emphasises issues such as loyalty, gratitude, devotion and generosity (May, 1980). In the research I made no promises to senior managers of the research organisation about benefits that may accrue to them through the research, nor to respondents, other than those openly discussed before the research began, including, for example, giving feedback of general findings only. The only unexpected benefit to respondents was the gift of a pen given at the end of the interview. I recognised that I may discover information about a respondent that he or she may not have wished to divulge or that they did not even previously know about themselves. In these cases, respondents’ trust, confidences, sensitivities, reputation and dignity were actively protected.

130 Critical Philosophy The final theoretical ethical framework that I used to guide the research was ‘Critical philosophy’ (May, 1980). Critical philosophy emphasises the importance of not just respecting the position of research participants and their causes, but proactively acting on their behalf. This is based on the assumption that the balance of power in the researcher–researched relationship is biased towards the researcher. May (1980, p365) notes the argument by some authors (eg., Schensul, 1973, 1978) that participants may even be involved as collaborators in the research process and activities. For the current research, this raised issues relating to integrity. For example, where concerns between departments or individuals were revealed, such as communication or relationship problems, I did not use these to influence opinion or behaviours of managers or others within the organisation at any time. This discussion has included some example applications, however the following points summarise the standards I applied, following key principles noted by Patton (2002), Silverman (2006), Marshall and Rossman (2006), and Ryen (2007), and they formed a code of practice for the research activity. The research sought to ensure that: o Respondents were not exploited in any way, through, for example, invasive questioning, and were treated with empathy and understanding. o There was never any deception, and instances where I withheld information were openly reported to respondents. o Dishonesty through omission or commission was avoided for all aspects of the research. o There were no hidden agendas, dishonest questioning or covert observations of behaviours. o No employees were coerced in any way to be involved in any research activities or to answer any particular questions. Employees were invited to be involved and were explicitly informed that they could openly and freely withdraw at any time, and that any data relating to them would not then be used. o Care was taken to ensure that respondents fully understood their role in the research, exactly what they were consenting to, and to keep all data and knowledge anonymous throughout the whole process.


o Whilst building empathy, trust and rapport was sought with respondents, professional distance was maintained. The role of the researcher was clearly established as unbiased and external with no role or position in relation to the organisation. o Respect for diversity and difference, including religious, cultural, personal values, beliefs and assumptions, was maintained for all respondents throughout the research programme. o Findings were reported accurately and honestly, so that the highest level of integrity in reporting what the data genuinely revealed was sought. o Research details were submitted to, and approved by the University Ethics committee. In short, the research sought to give ‘voice’ to participants so that they were able to share their views openly and feely (Cornelius et al., 2010). 3.6


The research was designed on the basis of methodological principles that sought most effectively to address the nature of the phenomena at the centre of the research, which were engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness, as presented in the research question: ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’. Figures 3.1, 3.3 and 3.4 summarised the ontological, epistemological and theoretical perspectives. The research was set in a relativist ontological paradigm, recognising that whilst objective reality may actually exist, individually defined experiential reality was of key importance.


epistemological position was taken characterised by internally constructed, interpreted knowledge of reality with a focus on phenomenological dynamics, rather than on an external, objective, positivist, or post-positivist paradigm. It followed that a qualitative, interpretivist theoretical perspective formed the basis for the research design, and the theoretical framework and underpinning of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis and Personal Construct Psychology were discussed. Given the lack of current understanding of the phenomena, an analytic inductive approach was adopted, but based on a broad initial theoretical concept model derived from literature and developed iteratively. The research was designed to establish and maintain the highest quality and ethical standards. Based on these philosophical and theoretical underpinnings, in the next chapter I discuss specific


activities carried out to collect and analyse data, and how the iterative design emerged in practice.


Chapter 4 RESEARCH ACTIVITIES “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers� Plato 4.1


This chapter discusses the methods and techniques I used in the research, noting how each one contributed evidence, and how together this evidence addressed the research question. I show how they fit with the research philosophy and paradigm, presented in chapters 2 and 3. This chapter has three main parts. The first, sections 4.2 and 4.3, summarises the methods employed. I argue why they were appropriate and why other potential methods were rejected. I discuss the organisation in which the research was carried out, and the respondents involved. The second part of the chapter, section 4.4, discusses the programme of activities employed for the collection of data. I note each phase of the research and include evaluations, showing how these contributed to the design of later phases. In the third part, section 4.5, I discuss the approaches taken to analyse the data. I include some example findings in this chapter, primarily to support the iterative and developmental processes as the research unfolded. The detail is reserved for chapter 5. The next section discusses the interview method applied. I note the techniques used for the elicitation of constructs, including Repertory Grid and other approaches, which triangulate perspectives from several lenses on the phenomena that were explored. 4.2


The interview approach was selected because it was ideal for exploring the research phenomena and eliciting rich data from respondents (deMarrais, 2004). Other potential methods were rejected, for example, observation, which, as a general method, can be effective in social sciences where experimentation is not possible or where activity in a natural setting is being explored (Remenyi et al., 1998). There are many different approaches in observational study, from 134

participant to covert observation, however, with the former the observer can influence the activity being explored, and the latter involves ethical dilemmas (Bryman, 2008). Both focus on behaviours and do not allow direct exploration of internal, psychological dynamics. Because the current research sought to explore internal phenomena, observation was rejected as a primary method of data collection. The questionnaire is another common method in social science research. It can help to access psychological phenomena in a large number of respondents.

However, this method was

inconsistent with the theoretical underpinning of the current research. In general, the design of questionnaire content depends implicitly on the researcher’s constructs about what may be relevant, which was contrary to the inductive development of constructs from respondents in the research. Further the questionnaire method does not permit the elicitation of rich data, and does not allow synchronous flexibilities in data collection. For these reasons, the questionnaire was also rejected for the research. The interview was chosen as the primary method because it would allow effective access to inner constructs, and flexibilities to include specific techniques for more detailed exploration. Semistructured, rather than structured or unstructured, interviewing was used.

The structured

interview approach would have been restrictive because, whilst it maintains systematic consistency, it is not easy to adapt as the interview progresses (Bryman, 2008) and this was important as individual realities were explored. The structuring of an interview schedule also relies on pre-existing knowledge, and, as with the questionnaire method, it builds from the researcher’s constructs rather than from the constructs of respondents.

The use of the

structured interview was therefore rejected. An unstructured interview approach would have allowed a free flow of discussion, but could clearly lose direction and focus, and would be inefficient in eliciting focused data required to address the research question. The semi-structured interview approach adopted in the research provided a framework for interviews, kept focus on respondents’ constructs, and allowed flexibilities to address specific, individual or key issues. Follow-up questions and probes facilitated the elicitation of depth and breadth where these illuminated the issues being explored (Rubin and Rubin, 2005). The interview approach was also appropriate for me, as the only interviewer, because, whilst not claiming deep expertise, I have experience in professional (non-directive) counselling and coaching, providing some essential interviewing skills and insights.


The approach taken in the interviews followed the broad process described by deMarrais (2004) in her discussion of phenomenological qualitative interviewing. Rapport was established by creating a relaxed environment, assuring confidentialities and building a spirit of openness and trust through mutual sharing of aims and any concerns.

I asked friendly, easy and non-

confrontational questions first, followed by open questions with probing ‘laddering’ and ‘pyramiding’ (noted in section 3.3.4) to elicit more detail where necessary. Because respondents’ experience was central, and because this could have led to personal or emotional issues, an empathetic approach was maintained, allowing time for respondents to elucidate their ‘stories’, with minimal interruption from myself as the interviewer. This approach was consistent with the underpinning theoretical perspective of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), discussed in chapter 3, in which openness to the respondents ‘story’ is paramount (Willig, 2008). Interviews concluded with an explanation of the interview process and next steps, and a token gift of a pen, engraved for the occasion, was given to each respondent. Verbatim transcriptions allowed in-depth analysis of interview detail. To elicit broad insights into respondent meanings, early interviews in the research programme were simply conversational (Patton, 2002).

Later interviews were also based on a semi-

structured conversational approach but included more formal systematic techniques. Specific design details for particular phases of the interview programme are discussed in section 4.4. Having established, in chapter 3, that eliciting constructs was central for this research, different methods for accessing constructs were considered. 4.2.1

Accessing Personal Constructs

A frequently used technique to explore personal constructs is Repertory Grid (Denicolo, 2003). However, Denicolo (2003) draws on Kelly’s theory to argue for a greater openness to applying different methods depending on the specific construct elicitation requirements. She cites Kelly’s proposition that a practitioner should first internalise the theoretical principles and practical issues of Personal Construct Psychology (PCP), then reform or extend them for a particular application, and discard aspects that do not fit. The theoretical principles of PCP were discussed in chapter 3.


Fransella et al. (2004) are also critical of using the grid method without understanding the assumptions and nature of the underlying theory. ‘Without the use of personal construct theory, the technique tends to become rigid’ (ibid., p38). Denicolo and Pope (2001, p93) argue that Kelly ‘…encouraged us to look at his theory … and to modify and discard aspects of it which do not prove useful to us in our endeavours’. Denicolo (2003) criticises practitioners who unthinkingly apply the grid method simply because it appears to provide more rigorous, statistical, reductionist elicitation without consideration of other techniques, citing Bannister (1985, pxii, Denicolo, 2003, p124) ‘… grid method is a Frankenstein’s monster which has rushed away on a statistical and experimental rampage of its own, leaving construct theory neglected, stranded high and dry, far behind.’ Careful consideration was therefore given to elicitation techniques expected to be of greatest benefit in different research phases. In the initial stages, I rejected the application of any technique that may have been mechanistic or convergent in favour of more open, divergent techniques (Denicolo, 2003). Whilst I used Repertory Grid later in the research, I rejected its early use, first because of the initial lack of clarity around the research phenomena, and second because a flexible, exploratory approach gave more potential for patterns to emerge from data, without the impact of presuppositions. The following section notes alternative techniques. Those that were rejected for the research are noted briefly and those applied in the research are summarised in more detail, concluding with a discussion of Repertory Grid. Alternative Techniques for Eliciting Constructs There is a wide range of techniques that may be used for the elicitation of constructs. Denicolo and Pope (2001, p95-96) argue that they can help to provide ‘… the antidote ... to the misrepresentation or over-simplistic representation of reductionists’ methods’. Some techniques that are often used, but were rejected, are noted first. They illustrate indirect and creative approaches for eliciting constructs but were rejected either because they were developed for therapeutic purposes, because I considered that they were not credible for this research and the respondents involved or because I had limited or no experience in their application. One such technique is ‘Self-Characterisation Sketches’, which Kelly himself considered to be especially effective (Denicolo, 2003), and Butt (2003) emphasises that it can be a credible approach in phenomenological study. Another technique is the ‘Bow-ties’ approach, which can be especially effective for eliciting constructs relating to iterative, relationship dynamics. Inter-


personal relationships were not central in the research. The ‘snakes and rivers’ method can elicit deeply held constructs, but was rejected because its focus is on constructs relating to deeply embedded past developmental experiences. Approaches considered in the research include indirect techniques such as the use of pictures, drawings or photographs (Fransella et al., 2004) because they have the benefit of bypassing verbal constraints and conscious evaluation, and opening deeper representations. In the research interviews, this general approach was applied by asking respondents to represent the experience they were describing as a shape or object. This also mirrored the approach described by Denicolo (2003) who suggests the use of metaphors and artefacts to trigger insights into meanings attributed to experiences. A technique that more directly focuses on the experiences being discussed is ‘Illuminative Incident Analysis’ in which significant past activities or events are used as a framework for open discussion. They can be especially helpful in surfacing feelings (Denicolo, 2003). A similar approach, the ‘Critical Incident Technique’, was applied centrally in the interviews. Specifically, respondents were asked to recall activities in which they experienced different degrees of engagement and disengagement. The Critical Incident Technique (CIT) was formalised first by Flanagan (1954) as a means of gathering information by asking respondents to ‘re-live’ a significant event. In the current research, respondents were requested to recall engagement-related experiences that were as recent as possible, or had had a major impact, so that they were of greatest relevance and could be recalled accurately. Flanigan (1954) notes that accuracy may be assessed through the degree of precision the respondent is able to recall. Swan and Rao (1975) note the benefits associated with CIT as an open approach to eliciting details. Butterfield et al. (2005), in a review of the application of CIT over 50 years, demonstrated its use in diverse situations including psychological research and, notably, by Herzberg in his groundbreaking research into motivational factors. Recent literature (eg., Koch et al., 2009), indicates its growing application in qualitative research and Butterfield et al. (2005) cite research supporting the robustness of CIT, noting the growing acceptance of retrospective self-reports as the basis for analysis of events and its use within an interpretivist, phenomenological paradigm. In summary, early research interviews were conversational, focussing on engagement-related


experiences, and using indirect construct elicitation techniques, which allowed respondents the freedom to develop insights into their meanings.

Later interviews used more structured

techniques, including the Repertory Grid, as discussed in the next section. The Repertory Grid Repertory Grid is a systematic technique for eliciting constructs. ‘It is personal construct theory in action’ (Fransella et al., 2004, p1). Its particular strength is its sensitivity to and direct elicitation of people’s constructions of reality. It allows the clear definition of bi-polar constructs within a particular universe of discourse, and therefore clarifies that part of a person’s construct system, or implicit theory about the structure and content of the realm being explored. The following discussion explains the Repertory Grid technique through a summary of the approach taken in the current research. In Repertory Grid interviews generally, elements (discussed in chapter 3) can be defined by the researcher, by the respondent or by both together so that they span the universe of discourse of the domain of interest and are meaningful to the respondent. In the current research, whilst I defined the scope of the elements required from respondents, the respondents themselves freely defined the specific engagement and disengagement elements from their own work experiences. Eliciting elements from respondents is normally favoured because this can, in itself, reveal ways in which respondents view their world. Respondents were asked to recall seven work experiences, or ‘critical incidents’ that ranged from highly engaging to highly disengaging. They were also asked to note two further events, one a hypothetical work event which was characterised as optimally engaging, and the other a hypothetical event characterised as most disengaging.

The seven experiences and two

hypothetical events formed the elements for the grid. The number and nature of elements were manageable in the context of the interviews and represented the range of activities effectively for this universe of discourse (Jankowicz, 2004). As with elements, constructs can be supplied by the researcher, which can be useful where respondents are unable to clearly describe constructs or where the researcher seeks to explore respondents’ use of particular constructs. However, it is normally preferable for constructs to be defined by the respondent because these most effectively represent the actual construct system


of the person, rather than that of the researcher (Jankowicz, 2004). In the current research, all constructs were elicited from respondents. Constructs were elicited using the randomised ‘triadic’ ‘difference’ method (Fransella et al., 2004). Taking three elements, the respondent was asked to say what they felt was a significant way in which two of the elements were similar but different to the third. The similarity between two of them produced the ‘emergent’ pole of a construct and the contrast of the other one produced the ‘implicit’, or contrast pole, providing clarification of the meaning associated with the emergent pole. Construct poles were noted on a grid form. An alternative method of eliciting the implicit pole is to simply ask respondents for the contrast to the emergent pole, and this approach can avoid the possibility with the ‘difference’ method that respondents ‘give the pole of another construct instead of the contrast to the elicited pole.’ (Fransella et al., 2004, p28), possibly producing ‘bent’, or confounded constructs. However, the triadic method, with discussion to clarify constructs, was found to produce effective polarity of a single construct. Triadic combinations of elements were used until the respondent indicated that he or she could think of no further constructs relating to the universe of discourse. At that point, using the ‘full-context’ method, respondents were asked if they could think of any other constructs that related to the engagement / disengagement elements that had not yet been noted (Jankowicz, 2004). Some respondents added further constructs. Given that the words used to describe a construct are not the construct itself, but a representation of it, and recognising the complex nature of construct systems, constructs were interpreted through the whole conversation, not just the labels used on grid forms. This emphasised the importance of effective listening, exploration and clarification during construct elicitation and of verbatim transcription of interviews for interpretation. After each construct was elicited, respondents were asked to rate each element in relation to the two construct poles. Whereas different rating scales can be used in Repertory Grid research, in the current research a five-point scale was used because it was considered to provide appropriate granularity, and is consistent with common practice (Jankowicz, 2004). Respondents were asked to rate the degree to which they associated each of the elements with each construct pole, giving a numeric indication of order in which each experience (element) related to each pole, from ‘1’, the emergent pole, to ‘5’, the implicit pole. The analysis of these ratings therefore provided an


indication of the way in which different engagement and disengagement experiences were construed. Triangulation Triangulation was used to support the dependability of findings. The technique of triangulation derives from quantitative methodologies (Seale, 1999). Through an analogy with navigation, Seale (1999) notes its use to determine an ‘exact’ position. This is consistent with a positivist paradigm. Because qualitative research, as with the current research, does not seek to establish a single ‘truth’, triangulation in qualitative research may be used not to seek to converge on a single point, but to reveal ‘multiple constructed realities’ (Seale, 1999, p474), or to draw from different sources or perspectives to establish a more holistic, complete insight into, or ‘thicker’ understanding of, phenomena (Jick, 1979). Patton (2002, p556) notes different types of triangulation that can contribute to quality in qualitative research, including ‘Method triangulation’: the use of different methods to collect data about the same phenomenon, to check consistency of data, ‘Triangulation of sources’: the process of collecting data about a phenomenon from different sources, and perhaps over different time frames to check consistency of sources, and ‘Theory / perspective triangulation’: the application of different theories or perspectives in the interpretation of data. In the current research, different triangulation approaches were used, for example, by eliciting data through the application of different methods and techniques, by collecting data from different groups of respondents, and by filtering data through theoretical perspectives elicited from literature as well as building theory inductively from the data. These are explained further in the following sections. 4.3


Research was carried out in a single organisation. This had the benefit of keeping many variables in the research domain constant, including the industry, sector, organisational culture, strategy and structure, which would not have been possible if respondents from many different organisations or sectors were involved, which would add complexity of potential variables and influencing factors.


The research organisation was a ‘Housing Association’, providing a community housing service. As an organisation in the Third Sector, its activities overlapped the private and public sectors. The name of the housing association is kept anonymous and a pseudonym is used – The River Housing Association (RHA). RHA was formed over 50 years ago (Anon, 2010b). It is located and serves a wide geographic area in the East of England, UK. At the time of the research, it managed over 3000 properties, from ‘general needs housing’ to ‘very sheltered housing’, for people with learning difficulties or requiring refuge.

It works closely with many different agencies and organisations, which

together provide a complete social housing service. RHA is funded primarily from the UK Government ‘Homes and Communities Agency’, and whilst its constitution prevents it making a profit, it may make a surplus for reinvestment in Association properties. It has a turnover of approximately £30m. RHA as an organisation is regulated by the ‘Tenants Services Authority’, and its services are regulated by the UK Government’s ‘Supporting People’ programme and ‘Care Quality Commission’. At the time of the research, RHA had over 400 employees, and had been growing year-on-year since its inception. An organisation chart is at Annex A, which I designed from departmental diagrams provided by RHA. The organisation chart is a web design to show the reporting lines and numbers of employees in key functions and levels more clearly than their diagrams. RHA is overseen by a board of 15 volunteers. It is managed by a chief executive (CEO) and three directors, supported by eight senior managers, forming the ‘Executive Group’.

It has a

hierarchical structure with clear reporting lines and well-established systems and processes, reflecting the strong regulatory context within which it operates. From my discussions and observations, RHA has an effective service style and culture for both external and internal stakeholders. The organisation emphasises continuous improvement, led by the CEO who constantly seeks to enhance and grow the organisation in service-provision scope and quality. There appears to be a close team-working approach and informality that allows open discussion and development between the senior managers and executives. Detailed aspects of the serviceorientation are summarised in an internal Association document (Anon, 2010a). I approached this organisation for the research because, as it is in the Third Sector, it operates


like a private sector organisation, with commercial efficiencies, but also like a charity, with strong service values. This industry positioning creates a strong context for employees to engage in the activities of the organisation. Before discussing the specific details of the research at RHA, I took time to build relationships with key staff, including the Directors and the HR manager along with the CEO and other employees, through meetings, presentations and informal discussions, in order to develop mutual trust, openness and understanding. It was agreed that confidentiality for respondents would be maintained and that no identifiable information would be fed back to managers or to anyone else. Feedback concerning broad issues relating to employees’ general engagement, communication, team working and other people-related matters would be available to management. I had potential access to all employees for the research, including board members. Involvement by individual employees in the research was entirely voluntary. 4.3.1


The research philosophy and paradigm removed the possibility of a statistically representative, probability-based random sampling approach. Rather, it would require subjective judgement (Remenyi et al., 1998), and a purposive sampling approach that would enable me to focus on the most ‘information rich’ respondents (Patton, 2002). Given that the research was exploratory and required flexibility, I did not define the exact number of respondents at the outset. There are ‘no rules for sample size in qualitative enquiry’ (Patton, 2002, p244) and ‘[s]amples in qualitative studies are usually not wholly prespecified, but can evolve once fieldwork begins’ (Miles and Huberman, 1994, p27). Rather, I planned to carry out the research in phases, at each stage developing more depth of insight into the phenomena and richness in evidence. The programme of interviews that unfolded is discussed in section 4.4. The plan to elicit rich qualitative data would normally involve a small number of respondents (eg., Miles and Huberman, 1994). There is an ongoing general debate about an appropriate number of respondents for such research (eg., Grant, K. A., 2012), but I was convinced by Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) arguments that the number in a purposive sample should be


determined by informational considerations. ‘[S]ampling is terminated when no new information is forthcoming from newly sampled units: thus redundancy is the primary criterion’ (ibid., p202). Mason (2010) argues that determining when this ‘saturation’ level has been achieved is problematic and whilst claiming that the principle of saturation should guide decisions around sample size, offers no clear guidance about how this can be achieved effectively. In the current research I recognised that new data could always reveal further insights. However, I stopped the data collection at the point where: o I could see patterns emerge, o The patterns were no longer contradicted by new data, o There were no further significantly different ideas presented. This was after I had completed four phases of interviews. This and other aspects of the research programme are discussed in the next section.



The research programme is summarised at Figure 4.1, which is reproduced from Figure 1.1. The four phases of interviews are shown under the ‘Activities’ header. The pilot was with one respondent. Phases 1 to 4 involved 5, 11, 12 and 12 respondents respectively.





Organisational Spirituality

Initial Review

Work Engagement

Broad Review

Initial Question

Work Engagement & Meaningfulness

Focused Review

Research Question




Concept Model Research Theory Review

Research Paradigm o o o o o

Relativist Constructivist Interpretivist Qualitative Inductive

Theoretical Perspective

o Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis o Personal Construct Psychology


Conversational o Pilot o Across organisation (Phase 1) o Executive Group (Phase 2)

Review Update Interviews Work Engagement Disengagement & Meaningfulness

Repertory Grid Concept Mapping o Executive Group (Phase 3) o Middle Management (Phase 4)

Engagement and disengagement distinctions? Self-factors?

Engagement and Disengagement



Limitations Future research

o Distinct constructs o Continua o Sub-constructs

o Theory o Practice o Methodology

Figure 4.1 Research Journey When planning the pilot interview, I contacted the respondent directly, but was open to him declining involvement. For all organisation-based interviews, an initial contact was made with employees through an open invitation from the CEO or HR manager to volunteer for involvement in the research. Volunteers were then contacted by me with an e-mail letter explaining the background to the research and the interview process. An example of a letter (for phase 1 interviews) is at Annex B. Other interview respondents (including the pilot respondent) received a similar letter but with different administrative details. All respondents were asked to prepare for their interview by recalling engaging and disengaging work activities or events, that were preferably recent and at RHA, and that they would be prepared to discuss. I commenced all interviews with a general explanation of the research and interview process, including confidentiality agreements, signing a consent form (an example is at Annex C) and a request for the interview to be audio recorded. All interviewees signed the form and agreed to the recording. Recalling the primary research question, ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’, because the aim of the research was to explore respondents’ experience of meaningfulness, I did not reveal the focus on meaningfulness, nor


discuss, mention or provide a definition of this construct to respondents. Rather, the focus was described as engaging and disengaging experiences which, in order to ensure that respondents related as closely as possible to the same type of experiences, I discussed openly and provided definitions. For the pilot, and phase 1 and 2 interviews, the general format of the interview was the same and is noted at Annex D. The format of the other interviews is noted at Annex I and in section 4.4.4. 4.4.1

Pilot Interview: Process and Evaluation

The pilot interview was with a professional colleague and friend, who did not work for RHA. It was held in a private room in the respondent’s home and lasted 1.25 hours. The interview was conducted with the professional ‘distance’ and interpersonal rapport that would be expected in primary interviews. Immediately following the interview, the respondent was asked for feedback and, whilst there were no substantial issues, comments served to reinforce or improve the approach for later interviews. A written report containing detailed findings from the interview and evaluations of the approach was produced, and is reproduced at Annex G. A draft was sent to the respondent after the interview, requesting his comments on the degree to which it represented his views on the issues discussed, not necessarily the actual discussion in the interview. This ensured that the final concepts from the whole elicitation process were as close as possible to those that the respondent actually held, not necessarily what he said in the interview, and it made these reporting, feedback and commenting activities an integral part of the research process. The respondent made very few changes and the final report was sent back to him. In summary, the interview was largely consistent with what was planned and expected, although more time would have been valuable. The evaluation supported the application of CIT and of exploration based on the theoretical underpinning of PCP to elicit themes relating to inner experiences. The concepts elicited were found to relate to the nature of meaningfulness within an engagement context, and this in itself provided further support for the techniques used, but they were general in nature and were closely associated with factors noted in motivational theories, suggesting that


further probing would be required to explore deeper constructs. In addition, my reflections suggested the need in later interviews for closer control of timings, a more effective balance between informality, to develop rapport and openness, and formality, to maintain professional distance, and greater rigour to ensure that I did not interpret anything other than that intended by the respondent nor influence respondents in their response to questions. 4.4.2

Across-Organisation Interviews: Phase 1

The first phase of interviews involved five respondents from RHA. In addition to primary data collection, they permitted an assessment of the methodology, the ability of respondents to discuss engagement issues within this organisation’s context, and provided broad insights into the organisation and its staff. Respondents were selected from across the organisation, representative of the different levels, departments and activities across the organisation, excluding the Executive Group because this group was to be included in a later interview phase. The respondents are shown on the organisation chart at Annex A and in the table at Figure 4.2, and included a Housing Administrator, a Human Resources Assistant, a Support Services Supervisor, a Development Officer and the Head of a Department. Interviews were carried out in a private office and were of 55 to 65 minutes duration, with a mean of 62 minutes. Following introductory comments, signing the consent form and informal conversation to establish rapport, respondents were asked to describe their work responsibilities and activities. Questions then focused essentially on aspects of their work that they most and least enjoyed. This helped to sensitise them to their work-related issues and activities, and began to give me a view about their engagement experiences.

Using details they brought to the interview,

respondents were asked to describe a high engagement, a low engagement and an ideally engaging activity. Often in this discussion, contrasts were explored in order to establish the bipolar nature of the construct and gain richer insights into their meanings. Respondents were also asked if they could represent the experience they were describing as a shape or an object, and again this approach elicited further insights into their constructs. Probing using laddering and pyramiding questioning techniques added further detail.


AO 1

Hsg Admin


40 – 49

TIME IN RHA 1 – 3 years

AO 2

HR Assistant


20 – 29

4 – 10 years

AO 3

Dev Officer


30 – 39

1 – 3 years

AO 4

Supt Sve Sup


50 – 59

Over 10 yrs

AO 5

Head of Dept


30 – 39

Over 10 yrs





Figure 4.2 Across Organisation Respondents in Phase 1 Interviews Towards the end of the interview, respondents were asked to list the key factors that they had elicited and each was written on a separate card. These were then ordered by importance for engagement by respondents and this detail was recorded. The interview concluded with a short explanation about the process of the interview and what would happen next. Respondents were asked if they would be prepared to meet again if necessary. They all agreed. Interviews were transcribed verbatim for analysis. Following each interview, a summary of the interview (700 to 1000 words) was sent to each respondent for their agreement or comments. As with the pilot interview, the note was intended essentially to summarise the participant’s meanings in relation to engagement experiences and so they were asked to assess the degree to which it was a reflection of these meanings, not necessarily the actual interview. In response to this request, very few changes were made by respondents; no changes to lists or ordering of factors were made. An anonymised example of a summary report is at Annex H. Evaluation of Phase 1 Interview Process Essentially, the interview process appeared to be effective for eliciting relevant rich data. Establishing initial rapport helped to develop trust. Having been assured that they could freely decline discussion of any issue, all five respondents discussed both positive and negative engagement-related experiences and issues openly.

There was little difference between

respondents in relation to their participation in the interviews, except that those people in managerial positions appeared to be more able to talk about deeper self-related issues than 148

operational employees, although, as noted below in this section, for all respondents, discussion about deeper self-related issues was not easy and required probing. There were two key outcomes from the evaluation of this phase of interviews. The first related to the focus of the interview topics. At the time of these interviews, I understood from the literature that engagement was a single construct with different factors influencing the degree of engagement experienced on an engagement – disengagement continuum. I therefore focused primarily on activities that varied in relation to the notion of ‘engagement’. However, it became evident that the focus on engagement as a single construct did not provide a balanced exploration of the whole range of experiences within this domain. In particular, I started to see that some factors that affected positive engagement, and even different degrees of positive engagement, appeared in some ways to be different in nature to factors that related to disengagement. There was little evidence to argue any definitive effect here, but the indication began to raise questions, and these were explored in further interviews, from phase 2 (section 4.4.3). The second of the two key outcomes from this phase of interviews highlighted that some factors that were noted as central in the literature were reported very infrequently by interview respondents. These included, for example, ‘autonomy’ (eg., Hackman and Oldham, 1980; Deci and Ryan, 1985; Holbeche and Springett, 2004) and ‘purpose’ (eg., Metz, 2002; Chalofsky, 2003a; May et al., 2004). Whilst speculative, it appeared that this could have been because respondents were more able to discuss behaviours than abstract factors, in the context of the engagementrelated activities selected. For example, respondents were able to identify deeper ‘self-related’ issues only after considerable probing or through the use of more creative techniques. This is where I asked them to relate their experience to a shape or object and during their explanation, they were able to access and report these deeper issues. This indicated the importance of deeper key constructs, that were not easily accessed or elicited, in engagement experiences. The need to include approaches that elicited deeper insights was therefore identified as a key development for later interviews. In summary, the evaluation of phase 1 interviews supported the basic interview approach, and elicited factors that were broadly supportive of the literature. However some factors that were central in the literature, and some factors that related to self-related issues, were not reported,


and the possibility of different types of factors being in operation in relation to engagement versus disengagement was indicated. For later interviews, therefore, more attention was paid to accessing richer data relating to respondents’ inner experiences, and a more balanced focus was needed in order to explore the possible differences between engagement and disengagement. 4.4.3

Executive Group Interviews: Phase 2

I selected the Executive Group purposively (Patton, 2002), because, following phase 1, this group were expected to be most able to connect with and respond to the research phenomena, and discuss deeper factors. A single group was selected to keep other variables broadly constant including level, location and industry experience. They were generally committed to the vision and values of the organisation and engaged with the services provided. They were supportive of the research project. The group contained 13 members, shown on the organisation chart at Annex A, and in the table at Figure 4.3. It included the PA to the CEO who, whilst strictly not designated as an ‘executive’, had extensive senior experience and was considered by the group to be a member. Of this group, 11 members were interviewed in phase 2, excluding EG12 and EG13 because they were not available at the time. The phase 2 interview group therefore comprised the CEO, three directors and seven senior managers. They were balanced by gender, and all were aged between 30 and 59 and had been employed at RHA for at least 4 years. The interviews were carried out in a private office, and lasted between 55 and 85 minutes, with a mean of 70 minutes.

EG 1

Senior Mgr


50 – 59

TIME IN RHA 4 – 10 years

EG 2

Senior Mgr


30 – 39

4 – 10 years

EG 3

Senior Mgr


40 – 49

Over 10 yrs

EG 4

Senior Mgr


40 – 49

Over 10 yrs

EG 5

Senior Mgr


30 – 39

4 – 10 years

EG 6



40 – 49

4 – 10 years

EG 7

Senior Mgr


40 – 49

4 – 10 years

EG 8

Senior Mgr


30 – 39

4 – 10 years

EG 9



50 – 59

Over 10 yrs






EG 10



40 – 49

Over 10 yrs

EG 11



50 – 59

Over 10 yrs

EG 12



50 – 59

Over 10 yrs

EG 13

Senior Mgr


30 – 39

1 – 3 years

Figure 4.3 Executive Group Respondents in Phases 2 and 3 Interviews The same general approach as in phase 1 was used, except that more attention was paid to techniques that probed and explored depth of constructs and engagement versus disengagement experiences. Evaluation of Phase 2 Interview Process As in phase 1, phase 2 interviews were effective to the extent that reported engagement-related activities formed credible incidents within which constructs could be explored, and respondents were able to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings. Deeper insights were gained by probing through laddering and pyramiding techniques, and with the use of the metaphorical shape or object association. More focus was given to self-related issues and to eliciting data that could identify differences between engagement and disengagement. However, even with probing questioning, as I analysed phase 2 interviews, I still had some challenges. I could not be entirely confident that sufficient depth had been gained to clearly identify the bipolar nature of constructs. I decided therefore, consistent with Kelly’s (1963) distinction between a construct and a concept, discussed in section 3.3.4, to more conservatively consider findings here as ‘concepts’ rather than ‘constructs’ and to develop more structured approaches, including Repertory Grid, for later interviews to elicit deeper construct-related data. Repertory Grid was also used in phase 3 interviews because it provided a more systematic approach for the further exploration of any fundamental differences between engagement and disengagement. The greater depth of probing carried out in phase 2 interviews helped to identify differences, however, phase 2 interviews also revealed other differences in the factors that affected different engagement-related experiences. In particular, it appeared that for engagement experiences (not disengagement experiences) some


factors positively drove engagement, and other factors did not positively drive engagement but were necessary to facilitate the possibility of engagement. This is reminiscent of Herzberg’s twofactor motivator-hygiene theory (Herzberg et al., 1959), although the factors appeared to be fundamentally different to the factor categories identified by Herzberg. In particular, in the current research, factors including, for example, ‘Equity’ and ‘Autonomy’ appeared to be important facilitators, whereas factors including, for example, ‘Challenge’ and ‘Personal growth’ appeared to be important to positively drive engagement. These were tentative indications from phase 1 and 2 findings, and this is explored further in chapter 5, but are noted here because these indications supported the need for even deeper exploration, and in particular the decision to employ Repertory Grid in later interviews. The position after phase 2 interviews can therefore be summarised as follows: It appeared that factors discussed in relation to engagement had some differences to those discussed in relation to disengagement.

This indicated that the nature of engagement, as

absorption or involvement in an activity, could be fundamentally different to the nature of disengagement, involving the sense of needing to actively withdraw. In particular, it appeared that, for engagement, the most important factors tended to link to enhancement or growth in relation to work characteristics, whereas for disengagement, the most important factors seemed to relate to the inner self. Further, it appeared that positive engagement itself may involve two different factors, those that positively drove engagement and those that acted as facilitators of engagement. Evidence to support these assertions is provided in chapter 5. The literature that I had reviewed to this point had not revealed these issues. Rather, as noted, the literature assumed engagement and disengagement as two extremes of a single construct, which is illustrated by Kahn (1990, p700) who notes: ‘I describe pure forms of personal engagement and disengagement separately; these represent the endpoints of a continuum’. The finding that engagement and disengagement may be different in nature, and engagement itself may involve different types of factors, then, added impetus to the need for the next phase of interviews. However, before embarking on more interviews, I reviewed literature again to explore in greater depth, first, factors that impact engagement, and second, the nature of disengagement. A summary of this exploration was integrated into the literature review to produce the discussion in chapter 2. Whilst this further review did reveal further insights, it did


not identify fundamental differences in factors relating to the facilitation or driving of engagement, or between engagement and disengagement. I progressed to the next phase of interviews, then, with the aim of empirically exploring these factors in greater depth. 4.4.4

Executive Group Interviews: Phase 3

In the next phase of interviews I re-interviewed the Executive Group. Having already carried out conversational interviews with this group, I could develop deeper and more focused issues quickly in this phase (format at Annex I). Phase 3 interviews were carried out with twelve interviewees, involving all those who had taken part in phase 2 except for one manager (EG5) who was on extended leave, and including two further managers who were not available for the phase 2 interviews (EG12 and EG13). Phase 3 interviews were again in a private office, and lasted between 60 and 110 minutes, with a mean of 80 minutes. All phase 2 respondents willingly agreed to be interviewed again. Following initial contact from the CEO, I sent an e-mail explaining phase 3 to them. This is reproduced at Annex J. For respondents I had already interviewed, the summary report of the phase 2 interview was again sent to them (example at Annex H). In preparation for the phase 3 interview, as noted above, respondents were asked to write down on a form (reproduced at Annex K) seven real work experiences, preferably recent and at RHA, ranging from highly engaging to highly disengaging, and two hypothetical experiences, one highly engaging and the other highly disengaging. Respondents could select any experiences, including those they used in phase 2 if appropriate. Definitions of engagement and disengagement were included on the form. These were adapted from the literature and from previous interviews: High engagement is the experience of willingly employing and expressing yourself, feeling fully attentive, absorbed or involved in a work activity. High disengagement is the experience of withdrawing yourself emotionally and attitudinally, feeling detached, distracted or uninvolved in a work activity. Phase 3 Interview Process


As with previous interviews, at the start of each interview, its purpose and the approach was explained and any questions answered. Throughout the interview, respondents were reminded of the work engagement – disengagement context of the interview as the ‘universe of discourse’ for construct elicitation. Definitions of engagement and disengagement were placed on the desk in front of respondents as a constant reminder. Interviews followed a systematic approach characterised by the following process, in two distinct stages. i

Repertory Grid

In the first stage, the engagement and disengagement experiences identified by respondents, including the hypothetical examples, were transcribed by respondents onto labels, and by me on to a Repertory Grid as elements. The Grid is reproduced at Annex L. The relative degree of engagement or disengagement for each experience was not revealed to me until after constructs were elicited. Constructs were elicited following the process noted in section, using a randomised triadic approach. ii

Concept Card Mapping

In the second stage of the interview, concepts relating to engagement dynamics were mapped against engagement / disengagement experiences. The 16 concepts relating to ‘self’, drawn from the literature and noted in the concept model, in chapter 2, were used for this exercise. These are reproduced at Figure 4.4. This approach was based on the Q-sort methodology (Thomas and Watson, 2002; Watts and Stenner, 2005) and was included in the interview to help explore differences between engagement and disengagement and to help overcome the difficulty respondents had in identifying and discussing self-related issues. Q-sorting is the process of subjectively ranking statements within a particular topic against a particular attitude, preference or opinion in order to elicit patterns of meanings. It is an inductive technique, with no pre-defined categorisations, which therefore captures people’s own constructions, and is normally analysed using factors analysis and correlation across several participants. A Q-set should include sufficient statements to cover the broad range of possible responses to the topic, possibly up to 50 or more. The current research applied the fundamental principles of Q-sort, but differed in some respects. Only 16 statements were used and whilst the topic remained in the domain of engagement, rankings were made against each respondent’s


individually defined activity. Factor analysis or other statistical techniques were not used but patterns were elicited by broad frequency of placements. Whilst Q-sort elicits factors to reveal patterns, the concept mapping elicited degrees to which each pre-defined concept related to each activity. I had considered exploring these concepts by adding them to the Repertory Grid in the first stage of the interview, as the emergent pole of ‘supplied’ constructs, but I rejected this because it would have made the Repertory Grid elicitation process very long, and, because of the difficulty that respondents had had in discussing these types of constructs in previous interviews, I expected that they would not easily, unsolicited, be able to add an implicit pole. Authenticity
















Figure 4.4 Concepts used in Concept Mapping Exercise Each of the 16 concepts was printed onto a card with a short definition. These are shown at Annex M. Respondents were asked to select their highest real engagement and highest real disengagement experiences from those used as elements on the Repertory Grid. These two experiences were used in turn as a basis for assessing the degree of impact that each of the experiences had had on each of the concepts, positively or negatively, for them. A photograph of a completed concept mapping exercise is at Figure 4.5. The process, which was refined in the initial interviews, required each of the two experience labels to be placed in turn on the desk in front of the respondent (shown at the top of the photograph, Figure 4.5).

The order presented was randomised and balanced between

respondents. Respondents were asked to describe their selected experiences so that the nature of the experience and why it was so engaging or disengaging was clear to me, and to help them to ‘relive’ the experience. Their direct, experiential descriptions, without detailed causal explanations,


or generalisations, helped to overcome any bias, justification or explanation associated with reported recollections (van Manen, 1990). A vertical scale was placed to the side and below the experience label. Respondents were given the shuffled pack of concept cards and asked to place each one on the desk so that the nearer the card was placed to the experience label, the greater was the impact of that experience on that concept. Respondents could ask for an explanation of a concept if required and they could discard any concepts that they felt did not apply to an experience. In the event, few further explanations were necessary and no respondents discarded any concept cards.

Figure 4.5 Photograph of a Completed Concept Mapping Exercise


After the cards had been placed, respondents were asked to explain their ordering to ensure that they had understood each concept, and the instructions correctly, and to provide insights about the way they construed their experiences using these concepts.

The final mapping was

photographed before the process was repeated with the second experience card. The concept mapping exercise therefore provided a view from respondents about the relative impact of high engagement and high disengagement experiences on different inner experiences. Interviews concluded with an explanation of the approach taken, if requested by the respondent, and clarification that the next step would be to analyse the data and report back general findings, but, as before, not to report any findings that would contravene confidentiality agreements. Evaluation of Phase 3 Interview Process Interviewing the same group of respondents for a second time was effective in developing greater depth and exploring the issues that arose as the research progressed. Respondents were not only willing to be involved again but were positively interested to follow the development of the research process. The pre-interview e-mail (Annex J), and, in particular, re-sending the report of their phase 2 interview (example at Annex H), appeared to facilitate a fast transition back into effective rapport and conversation about engagement issues. For the two respondents who were part of this group but not involved in the phase 2 interviews, I spent more time covering those key conversational issues that I included with the others in phase 2. Asking respondents to prepare for these interviews by noting engagement and disengagement activities on a pre-designed form encouraged compliance and consistency. The process of eliciting constructs using triads was effective, although the number of constructs varied between respondents, from 7 (EG2) to 12 (EG4). Following the triadic elicitation, when respondents were asked if they were able to think of any further constructs, 8 of the 11 respondents added constructs, but for most this was just one further construct. The most added was three, by one respondent. This is consistent with the literature, which notes the variability in the number of constructs that may be elicited by respondents (Jankowicz, 2004), each individual viewing aspects of their world with different granularity.


Whilst it was possible to discuss constructs and elements during the interview, it became clear that additional detail may have been elicited if Repertory Grid analyses, such as cluster analysis, could have been discussed. This was introduced in the next phase of interviews, phase 4. As noted, I had introduced the Repertory Grid exercise because I believed it would be an effective way in which to elicit richer insights into factors impacting engagement and disengagement experiences and in particular to explore factors relating to self. Whilst I found that engagement and disengagement activities were distinguished clearly through the constructs elicited, I did not find that deeper self-related constructs were elicited freely through triadic elicitation alone, without further probing. The concept mapping exercise was found to be effective for eliciting experiences in relation to engagement and disengagement activities against self-related concepts that respondents otherwise found difficult to discuss. Respondents were able to place concept cards and establish a pattern of mapping that they were comfortable with quickly and easily. Probing them to explain their mapping helped to clarify meanings, and again I noted the ease with which they were able to do this.

At this stage in the interview process, having interviewed (most)

respondents once already and having carried out the Repertory Grid exercise, I was able to evaluate the consistency of respondents’ mapping with their other responses and found that, for all respondents, no inconsistencies were noted. Whilst the interviews were designed around the Repertory Grid and concept mapping exercises, the inclusion of conversational questioning, laddering and other techniques used to develop clarity and depth were effective for eliciting rich meaning. However, after the interviews, I recognised that even with the depth of questioning included, I wished that I had spent even more time probing some respondents and their constructs. This was taken forward to the next, and last phase of interviews, in which more time was given to probing constructs. In summary, the systematic techniques of Repertory Grid and concept mapping added effectively to the depth of insight into respondents constructs relating to engagement and disengagement, building on the first interviews with them, but there were some aspects that required deeper probing and fed into the design of the final phase.



Middle Management Interviews: Phase 4

This phase of research interviews was designed to explore engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness in depth by addressing the issues identified from previous phases and drawing on the most effective aspects of previous interview formats, incorporating conversational questioning, Repertory Grid, concept mapping and the more frequent application of techniques including laddering and metaphors. As before, I contacted those employees who volunteered for involvement, following initial contact from the CEO, with an e-mail and requests similar to those in phase 3. Interviews were carried out with 12 middle managers, shown on the organisation chart at Annex A, and in the table at Figure 4.6. They all reported to one of the senior managers in the Executive Group and had responsibility for the operational activities of a team or function. All RHA departments and main functions were represented. The group comprised two levels of seniority, those in ‘officer’ or ‘supervisor’ positions and those more senior respondents in ‘head of service’ or ‘manager’ positions. There were six respondents at each level.

MM 1




TIME IN RHA 4 – 10 years

MM 2



40 – 49

4 – 10 years

MM 3



40 – 49

4 – 10 years

MM 4



30 – 39

4 – 10 years

MM 5

Head of Sve


40 – 49

4 – 10 years

MM 6



50 – 59

1 – 3 years

MM 7



30 – 39

Over 10 yrs

MM 8

Head of Sve


50 – 59

4 – 10 years

MM 9

Head of Sve


30 – 39

1 – 3 years

MM 10



30 – 39

4 – 10 years

MM 11

Head of Sve


30 – 39

4 – 10 years

MM 12

Head of Sve


30 – 39

Over 10 yrs





Figure 4.6 Middle Management Respondents in Phase 4 Interviews


The respondent group was largely representative of the whole population of employees at these levels. All respondents were aged 30 plus with most in the 30 – 39 age group, and so generally younger than the Executive Group. Like the Executive Group, nearly all respondents had at least 4 years experience in RHA. As I had not met these respondents before, I spent time explaining the research, completing a consent form and generally building rapport. We discussed the respondent’s job and what they most and least enjoyed. In the second part of the interview, they completed a Repertory Grid, using the respondent’s pre-prepared engagement and disengagement experiences, and carried out the concept mapping exercise. Unlike previous interviews, when completing the Repertory Grid, the Rep 5 computer programme (Gaines and Shaw, 2009) was used. As respondents carried out each stage of the process on paper, I transferred details simultaneously onto the computer programme. Rep 5 automatically selected triads, and respondents rated the construct poles against elements as before. Again respondents were asked for any additional constructs, which were added and rated. When all constructs had been elicited, Rep 5 produced a summary cluster analysis diagram of the Repertory Grid and we used this to examine constructs, and discuss patterns, in greater depth. Phase 4 interviews lasted between 70 and 115 minutes, with a mean of 96 minutes. Evaluation of Phase 4 Interview Process The interviews carried out in this final phase proved to be effective in eliciting rich data relating to engagement and disengagement experiences. Combining conversational interviewing with other techniques provided the opportunity to discuss greater depth of meanings around a structured format. Respondents were asked, and agreed, to allocate up to two hours for the interview and whilst few needed this, it provided for flexibilities and deeper exploration as required. The conversational process early in the interview sometimes provided only general background insights, but on other occasions was the trigger for early in-depth discussion about engagement constructs, and included laddering and metaphor techniques to explore meanings. In these


cases, I was able to build on the key factors that arose later in the interview. I was initially concerned about the Repertory Grid process, and in particular the parallel use of paper and computer-based analysis. However, with prior practice of this process, I found this to be very effective for allowing respondents to work with ideas associated with the Grid, in what was a new exercise for all of them, whilst I entered information into the computer. Of particular benefit in the use of Rep 5, was the ability to display cluster analysis diagrams immediately after the elicitation process. Explaining the diagrams to respondents firstly ensured that I understood their meanings, secondly provided the opportunity for further depth of discussion, and thirdly provided the opportunity for respondents to add any further detail about their construing. This proved to be a very effective aspect of this process. Respondents again found the concept mapping exercise relatively easy. In fact, for all interviews, because I had experienced the difficulty that previous respondents had had in talking about deeper self-related issues, I had expected that they would struggle with this exercise, but this was not the case. As before, respondents were able to place concept cards quickly, and through this process indicate how the different experiences had impacted self-related factors.


respondents talked freely about their experiences and were not reluctant to discuss their feelings openly. Having discussed the programme of research activities in detail, in the next section I summarise how data from each technique were analysed. 4.5


Having discussed the methods and techniques applied, and summarised the chronological journey of activities carried out to collect the data, in this final part I consider the ways in which the data were analysed, for each of the main techniques. Findings from each technique and from integrated analysis are discussed in detail in chapter 5.


Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

The techniques for data elicitation evolved in detail through the four phases of the research


interviews, however they were all analysed using the IPA method (Smith et al., 2009), which was explained in chapter 3. The general approach for analysis of interviews was as follows. For each interview, I listened to the recording and read each transcript several times, often at the same time, in order to immerse myself in the data and elicit the meanings that were intended by the respondent as accurately as possible. The transcript of each interview was tabulated on a ‘Microsoft Excel’ spreadsheet. An example page of IPA analysis from one of the interviews is shown at Annex E. The original text was reproduced in a central column. Whilst listening to, and reading the transcript, exploratory interpretative comments relating to the respondent’s inner meanings were noted, to the right of the text. This was followed by noting emergent themes, from the original transcript and the exploratory comments, on the left. An interview typically transposed into more than 30 IPA pages. Depth of meaning was interpreted not primarily by the number of times that a concept was used or an idea described (eg., Fishbein, 1963), but by the importance of a theme expressed by the respondent. I consciously sought to ‘bracket’ my own understandings (Willig, 2008), and ensure that the respondents experience remained paramount. 4.5.2

Thematic Analysis

The IPA method, involving iterative hermeneutic analysis between the whole and detailed elements, allowed increasingly thick insights (Smith et al., 2009). Initially, individual themes were analysed.

This had the advantage of remaining close to

respondents’ meanings. In later analyses, these were combined to create integrated themes. This process facilitated further analyses and triangulation against other data collection methods. It was also justified because it helped to categorise meanings. Whilst respondents used different words to describe factors that influenced their experiences, it became clear that, for some themes, they were referring to the same essential factor, or were factors that were closely related. For example, the themes ‘Self-worth’ and ‘Self-esteem’, the themes ‘Achievement’ and ‘Tangible outcome’, and the themes ‘Contribution’ and ‘Making an impact’ were each used by some different respondents to indicate the same main factors. Also, whilst the term ‘Intrinsic interest’


was used to indicate general work characteristics, other terms were used to indicate specific work characteristics, for example, ‘Task identity’, ‘Feedback’ and ‘Challenge’. Combining themes therefore provided a more integrated analysis of meanings attributed by respondents to activities and events. Integrated theme combinations are shown at Figure 4.7. The original themes noted in italics represent those that related to disengagement, but not to engagement. In order to interpret meanings intended by respondents, when combining individual themes to create integrated themes, I returned to, and analysed interview data in further depth. It may appear that some individual themes should be in a different integrated theme category. However it is allocated as shown because this most effectively reflected the central meaning that the respondent had at the time it was reported. Seven integrated themes were identified. These allowed all the key original themes to be combined. Very minor original themes were excluded. The integrated theme categories were defined inductively, however they also reflected key factors from the literature, discussed in chapter 2, as follows: o ‘Work characteristics’ combined job content and context factors included in the Job Characteristics Model (Hackman and Oldham, 1980) and related extant theory. o ‘Self-concept’ combined those themes which reflect the sense of the phenomenal self (Snyder and Williams, 1982; Shamir, 1991). o ‘Connection’ is the sense of being part of something with other people, or a sense of belonging (Debats, 1999; Ryan and Deci, 2001; Houston and Cartwright, 2007). o ‘Self-determination’ linked themes relating to the sense of control or self-regulation, and being able to attribute actions to self (Klein, 1989; Deci and Vansteenkiste, 2004). o ‘Growth’ combined those themes which relate to self-enhancement (Gecas, 1982; Vansteenkiste et al., 2006). o ‘Purpose’ integrated themes which reflected involvement in something sensed as worthwhile or significant (Metz, 2002; May et al., 2004). o ‘Values’ combined themes including moral or ethical beliefs and personal standards (Ros et al., 1999; Holbeche and Springett, 2004).



Work Characteristics

Knowledge / Feedback,



Self-Concept Connection

Self-Determination Growth Purpose


Closure / Completeness, Fit with job, Systematic Approach, Holistic, Safe environment, Task Identity, Synergies, Challenge, Consistency, Stability, Routine administration, Variety, Intrinsic Interest, Structure, Bigger picture. Self-Worth, Self-Esteem, Self-Identity, Self-Efficacy, Recognition, Being valued. Connection / Relationships, Empathy, Integration, Involvement, Self-Expression, Appreciation, Closed / private. Conflict, Excluded. Self-Attribution, Autonomy, Responsibility, Influence, Too little to do, Support. Achievement, Growth, Withdrawing. Purpose / Worthwhileness, Direction, Transcendence / Contribution, Legacy, Making an Impact. Making no Difference. Authenticity / Integrity, Values, Service Delivery, Fairness, Quality Standards, Morality, Equity.

Figure 4.7 Integrated and Original Themes Both individual themes and integrated themes were analysed under three engagement levels, or conditions. Engagement Conditions Three engagement conditions were introduced because of the distinction that appeared, as the research progressed, between engagement and disengagement. To reiterate, it appeared that disengagement was not ‘opposite’ to engagement but may be a different construct, so that engagement may be experienced as high to low, and disengagement may be experienced as a different state. The first condition, ‘engagement’, was defined, as noted in section 4.4.4, as the positive experience of ‘willingly employing and expressing yourself, feeling fully attentive, absorbed or involved in a work activity’. The second was ‘lack of engagement’, which was defined as the experience of not being willing to employ or express self and not being attentive, absorbed or involved in a


work activity. The third was disengagement, again defined, as noted in section 4.4.4, as the negative experience of ‘withdrawing yourself emotionally and attitudinally, feeling detached, distracted or uninvolved in a work activity’. An example of individual themes listed under each of the three conditions from one of the interviews (including IPA line numbers) is shown at Annex F. There was insufficient evidence to claim that disengagement could also be experienced on a high to low continuum, but this possibility is explored in the discussion in chapter 6. It is important to be clear about the meaning attributed to the three engagement conditions. These are inner experiences occurring at the time of an activity. Positive engagement is the experience of being drawn towards an activity. Lack of engagement may be experienced as a sense of neutrality, being neither drawn towards nor repelled from an activity. Disengagement is the experience of being emotionally repelled. Behaviourally, people who are engaged may be expected to continue or increase involvement, people who lack engagement may be ambivalent about remaining in the activity, and people who are disengaged would be expected to actively wish to withdraw. Internal disengagement is therefore experienced only by remaining in a disengaging activity. If a person removes him or her self, they are, by definition, no longer disengaged by it. Individual and integrated themes were represented graphically in relation to the three engagement conditions, and these are shown in chapter 5, where they are discussed and illustrated with interview quotations. 4.5.3

Repertory Grid Analysis

The activity elements, constructs, grids and cluster analyses data produced from Repertory Grids were analysed in several different ways. Repertory Grid data were initially analysed for each respondent individually, and then integrated. Data were first inspected to gain insights into focus, scope and patterns, and an overview of the ways in which each respondent experienced and construed work activities with respect to engagement and disengagement. Detailed analyses then followed. Most respondents came to their interview with seven real and two hypothetical activity elements, as requested, but some had just one hypothetical element, and two respondents had none at all.


As hypothetical elements were intended to help respondents think about extremes of engagement and disengagement experiences, and as in most cases hypothetical elements had some aspects of real events associated with them, including extreme real, rather than hypothetical, elements was considered equally effective. A close examination of the elements revealed patterns relating to the ways in which different types of activity related to engagement and disengagement experiences, such as, for example, its uniqueness versus routine, or its degree of practicality versus cognitive content. Through detailed analysis of constructs, particular care was taken to interpret meanings intended by respondents, as with thematic analysis. Because constructs were elicited and defined by each respondent individually, it was not possible to directly compare construct titles between respondents. Rather, meanings were interpreted individually in the first instance and integrated patterns were then identified based on meanings, not terminology. An examination of constructs, as individual ‘units of meaning’ (Jankowicz, 2004), was carried out after general relationships were explored. It became evident early in the analysis process that the Repertory Grid constructs closely related to the integrated themes applied in the thematic analysis. This indicated a consistency between thematic analysis and Repertory Grid analyses and provided a framework for the exploration of broad patterns, giving an initial overview of the territory of meanings within this engagement universe of discourse. Given that constructs are bipolar, they implicitly include meanings associated across the range of engagement experience elements, whereas factors elicited from thematic analysis were in the form of concepts, with a more singular focus (Kelly, 1955). It was therefore not possible to directly compare the details of thematic and Repertory Grid data. However, comparisons of meanings could be made. Cluster analysis was used to examine relationships and patterns between elements and constructs in Repertory Grids. In particular it indicated the similarity and differences between constructs and elements, and patterns of clusters or uniqueness of constructs or elements indicated meanings associated with activity construing. ‘Rep 5’ software was used to process Repertory Grid data for all respondents, which automatically produced summary analyses and diagrams. Cluster analysis was used to analyse each individual Repertory Grid, showing patterns of


meanings for each respondent. Cluster analysis was also used to explore patterns from integrated Repertory Grid data. Integrated cluster analyses were carried out for all Executive Group respondents, all Middle Management respondents and the Executive Group and Middle Managers combined. Whilst respondents produced their own activity elements, Repertory Grids were integrated by ordering elements from highest to lowest levels of engagement. Examples of cluster analyses from individual respondents and from integrated Repertory Grids are reproduced and discussed in chapter 5. 4.5.4

Concept Card Mapping Analysis

Data from this exercise were analysed initially through individual inspection and then by combining all respondents’ data to produce graphs of ‘ratings’ of each concept against the high engagement and the high disengagement activities. This indicated the degree to which each concept was judged to be important in relation to the respective activity. Patterns of ratings indicated associations between concepts and provided richer insights into meanings associated with different activities. 4.5.5


The fourth technique applied for the elicitation of constructs was the exploration of metaphors. As noted, respondents were asked to describe a metaphor as a laddering technique to access deeper constructions and this was effective especially where they were not able to discuss further detail about an activity. Whilst most respondents exclaimed about the request to think about a shape or object, for example, ‘…Oh good grief [laughter], alright, let me think … I am essentially a practical person…’ (EG10), all but one respondent was able to follow through with a response, often followed by some ‘disclaimer’ about it not making sense. What was noticeable was how easily and quickly respondents appeared to be able to report a shape or object after they had initially reacted to the request. In order to gain clear meaning, metaphors were analysed in the context of the discussion and activity to which they referred. The actual shape or object was not central to this analysis although some meaning was elicited from these. More importantly, the explanation given about the shape or object formed the focus of the analysis and illuminated how respondents construed this activity.



Integrated Analysis

The final analytical approach was to integrate data from the different techniques, creating a more holistic and focused summary of key findings. This was carried out in two ways. First, for individual respondents, findings across all data collection activities were combined into a single summary report, providing an integrated view of that person’s engagement and disengagement experiences. An example of a summary report for one respondent is reproduced in chapter 5. Second, findings across all respondents were combined to produce integrated patterns of responses. 4.6


This chapter has described in detail the practical activities that were carried out in the research programme. The theoretical underpinning associated with the methods used was discussed in chapter 3, and in this chapter, practical justification was noted. Consistent with the research paradigm, the research programme evolved as it progressed, incorporating increasingly effective approaches with which to elicit data, and progressively focussing on emerging salient issues. The development in interview methods and techniques was based on evaluations at each stage in the research, essentially at the conclusion of each phase of interviews. Throughout the whole programme, the fundamental principles associated with the philosophy, paradigm and theoretical underpinning were maintained, which allowed data to be integrated through analysis. Finally, approaches taken for the analysis of data against each technique were noted. Findings from this analysis are discussed in detail in the next chapter.


Chapter 5 RESEARCH FINDINGS “A man [sic] should look for what is and not for what he thinks should be” Einstein 5.1


This chapter presents findings from the data analyses. In chapters 3 and 4 I showed how the research required an exploratory, iterative, inductive approach and that this involved refinements to the methods and techniques as it progressed (Eisenhardt, 1989). Because the underpinning philosophy and paradigm remained unchanged, analyses could integrate data from each phase of the interview programme. ‘[I]nductive logic can be challenged on the ground that any given set of facts is always open to multiple interpretation’ (Lincoln and Guba, 1985, p207), however, within the framework of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and underpinning theory of Personal Construct Psychology (PCP), interpretation is inevitable and integral in the analytical process. I commence with findings from the pilot interview, which are not claimed as primary evidence but are included to show how they contributed at the start of the research journey. The main part of this chapter discusses findings ordered by technique, or ‘lens’ through which data were analysed, for example, thematic coding and Repertory Grid.

This is in contrast to the

chronological format used in chapter 4, but more effectively builds insights into triangulated meanings. Thematic analysis is presented first because it provides a comprehensive view of meanings, and identifies the most important factors relating to work engagement and disengagement. This is followed by findings from Repertory Grid analysis, summarising more systematically elicited constructs. The third lens is concept mapping, showing how respondents rated the concepts from the concept model (chapter 2) against their most engaging and most disengaging experiences. The final analytical lens through which findings are discussed is metaphors. Here, the shapes or objects which respondents associated with engaging and disengaging experiences 169

are summarised. The final main part of this chapter notes the use of individual respondent’s integrated analysis, and introduces an example from one respondent. It concludes with a summary of findings from all techniques ordered by the three main engagement-related conditions, ‘engagement’, ‘lack of engagement’ and ‘disengagement’. Findings are discussed in depth in chapter 6. 5.2


Factors elicited from the pilot interview relating to engagement experiences are summarised at Figure 5.1. It notes those factors listed by the respondent and those which I added from thematic analysis, in order of importance (1 high, 5 low), with ‘importance’ reflecting the respondents ordering and my interpretation of strength of meaning, as noted in section 4.5.1, and discussed further in section 5.3.1. IMPORTANCE, 1 HIGH 1 2 3 4 5

RESPONDENT LISTED Challenge Growing Capability Targets Results Relationship Feel Included Approval Feedback Freedom

RESEARCHER ELICITED Future Oriented Order Achievement Recognition Visible Autonomy Intrinsic Pleasure Sense of Self

Figure 5.1 Concepts Elicited from Pilot Interview The most important factor noted in relation to highly engaging activities was ‘Challenge’. ‘Part of the reason for accepting this job was in order to test myself’. The ability to grow as a person was also central. I noted how the respondent focused on building for the future, or moving forward, and this was reinforced by the second ranked factors of ‘capability’, ‘targets’ and ‘results’, which emphasised the importance of order and achievement. ‘Part of my enjoyment has been meeting these … 170

targets. If I didn’t achieve the principal target … I would be extremely disappointed with myself … thoroughly cheesed off with myself’. This was supported by his description of a metaphor relating to high engagement: ‘a sphere or cylinder’, which he noted was bounded ‘but it can grow’. The most important factors therefore related to building the self, or as noted in chapter 2, to ‘selfenhancement’ (Snyder and Williams, 1982). The next most important factors related essentially to ‘self-maintenance’ (Snyder and Williams, 1982), or to factors that provided a secure context. The respondent enjoyed the intrinsic nature of the things that engaged him. He needed ‘feedback’, reporting that he was ‘Self-deprecating in order to produce a positive reaction’, and ‘autonomy’ (‘Another thing this relates to is freedom. I don’t really want people to tell me how to do it. I want to do it in my way’), and he valued approval, indicating the importance of ‘Getting an unqualified certificate from the independent examiner’. The respondent did not talk about ‘self’ directly, but it became evident that he associated his selfidentity and worth with those activities that he also described as engaging. In particular, where he used terms such as ‘included’, ‘involved’, ‘recognised’, and wanted to be ‘demonstrably seen as part of the entity’, he emphasised himself as a living, self-perpetuating system (eg., Gecas, 1982), and the importance of being part of something bigger (Holbeche and Springett, 2004). In summary, whilst not primary evidence, the factors elicited in the pilot interview were largely consistent with those noted in the engagement and motivation literature, discussed in chapter 2, and the data indicated that self-enhancement and self-maintenance factors were important drivers for engagement, with enhancement factors of key importance. 5.3


The analysis of primary interview data through thematic coding is discussed first because this lens provides broad insights into respondents’ meanings.

Detailed individual themes are

summarised, followed by integrated themes, which produce a more manageable categorisation of meanings, and include quotations as examples of evidence. Those individual themes that were grouped to form the integrated themes were summarised at Figure 4.7. 5.3.1

Detailed Themes


As noted in chapter 4, themes were classified into one of three engagement conditions, and are summarised in diagrams. A total of 108 detailed themes were identified. o Engagement, containing 50 themes, Figure 5.2. o Lack of engagement, containing 35 themes, Figure 5.3. o Disengagement, containing 23 themes, Figure 5.4. In the figures, different colours represent individual respondents as shown in the following key. (EG1 is excluded because his interview did not record). KEY AO 1 AO 2 AO 3 AO 4 AO 5 AO EG MM

EG 2 EG 3 EG 4 EG 5 EG 6 EG 7

EG 8 EG 9 EG 10 EG 11 EG 12 EG 13

MM 1 MM 2 MM 3 MM 4 MM 5 MM 6

MM 7 MM 8 MM 9 MM 10 MM 11 MM 12

Across organisation respondents Executive group Middle management

Graph lines comprise small coloured squares, where each square represents an occurrence in which the associated theme was noted as important for a respondent. Care was taken not to simply count the number of times a term was used but to represent what may be termed ‘units of meaning’ (Jankowicz, 2004) reported in interviews, that is, when respondents made a particular and identifiable point relating to an experience theme. This required interpretation and care was taken to ‘bracket’ my own views and to build meaning inductively from data (interpretation was discussed in sections 2.4 and 3.3.1). That said, themes titles were found to fall effectively into established terms used for work experiences. The short vertical lines dissecting each graph line indicate a break between one interview phase and the next, so, for example, where a theme was reported at least once in every interview phase, four phases of interviews, therefore three lines, are shown. These are included for reference purposes only. The length of theme lines on graphs indicates the degree of importance attributed to that theme for all respondents. Whilst the lines are essentially the count of units of meaning, quantities are not indicated and lines should be read only as indications of strength of meaning. Themes have been ordered with the most important themes at the top of graphs. I use the term ‘importance’ to indicate significance of a theme in the context of the associated engagement, lack of engagement or disengagement activity. I am not making claims about causality, but explore


relationships and patterns.

ENGAGEMENT +Transcendence / Contribution +Connection / Relationships +Challenge +Purpose / Worthwhileness +Self-worth +Autonomy +Achievement +Values +Growth +Intrinsic interest +Self-attribution +Integration +Self-esteem +Self-identity +Responsibility +Self-efficacy +Recognition +Knowledge / Feedback +Making an impact +Authenticity +Closure / completeness +Direction +Tangible outcome +Self-expression +Quality standards +Variety +Task-identity +Holistic +Systematic approach +Fulfillment +Involvement +Flow +Organisation +Being valued +Meaningfulness +Hope +Fit with job +Stability +Synergies +Safe environment +Legacy +Fairness +Effort +Depth +Self-awareness +Appreciation +Personal stake +Empathy +Be the best +Flexibility

Figure 5.2 Engagement Themes Elicited from IPA Analysis The importance for respondents of any particular theme must be interpreted in relation to the engagement condition to which it refers. The way in which a particular graph should be interpreted is noted after each one. Themes are noted on graphs as factors which related to that engagement condition. Where the impact is positive, for example, engagement being positively impacted when there are opportunities to connect with others, for clarity, the theme is preceded by a ‘ + ’ symbol. Where the impact is negative, that is, where the theme label indicates a positive factor but is experienced negatively, for example, engagement being diminished or disengagement experienced when the opportunity to connect with others is lacking, the theme is 173

preceded by a ‘ - ’ symbol. Figure 5.2 indicates the degree of importance of different themes when respondents were positively engaged. For example, challenge is noted as one of the most important themes ‘What I get a big kick from is sorting out complex things in a multi, in an interdepartmental way’ (EG9). This indicates that challenge and engagement were positively related.

LACK OF ENGAGEMENT -Purpose / Worthwhileness -Contribution -Connection / Relationship Routine Administration -Autonomy -Self-worth -Involvement -Challenge -Authenticity -Integration -Recognition -Values -Intrinsic Interest -Fulfillment Pressure -Knowledge / Feedback -Quality standards -Influence -Contentment -Service Delivery -Self-esteem -Equity -Growth -Morality -Bigger picture -Structure -Self-attribution -Closed / Private -Empathy -Self-expression -Communication -Self-identity -Consistency Lack certainty -Achievement

Figure 5.3 Lack of Engagement Themes Elicited from IPA Analysis Figure 5.3 indicates the degree of importance of different themes when respondents were not absorbed or had little or no interest or will to be involved. For example, contribution is noted as one of the three most important themes, ‘You wouldn’t have, sort of like, any enthusiasm to do any work because you haven’t contributed to get anything back, does that make sense? … A bit empty’ (AO2). This means that not having the opportunity to contribute was a key factor for AO2 and other respondents who felt ‘neutral’, or had little or no drive to engage in an activity. This condition is discussed using the terms ‘lack of engagement’ or ‘diminished engagement’, as appropriate, for clarity.


DISENGAGEMENT -Self-worth -Self-efficacy -Connection / Relationship -Purpose / Worthwhileness -Self-identity -Authenticity / Integrity -Self-esteem -Autonomy / control Routine administration Making no difference -Integration -Intrinsic Interest Being compelled Conflict -Values -Challenge -Self-expression Withdrawing -Self-attribution Excluded -Support Too little to do -Growth

Figure 5.4 Disengagement Themes Elicited from IPA Analysis Figure 5.4 indicates the degree of importance of different themes when respondents felt disengaged.

For example, the graph indicates that the sense of ‘self-worth’ was impacted

negatively more than any other theme when respondents also experienced a sense of emotional detachment and drive to withdraw, ‘I felt that I’d given them a lot and then they came and said, “Well, you need us. If you don’t play ball … we’ll go” … I was upset because they’d had a huge bit of me and I think I’d been more than fair … devastated … they decided to try and take even more … which I found really tough … I gave a lot of myself and they played with that or something, you felt let down … it’s right in the heart’ (EG11). Some themes are shown as important in all three engagement experiences, for example, purpose / worthwhileness. This indicates that clear purpose or worthwhileness is important for building engagement when present, and can diminish engagement or disengage, when it is not clear or absent. These example findings have been noted to illustrate the interpretation of graphs. The following discussion summarises all key findings. Overview of Detailed Thematic Findings Overall, the graphs indicate that: o Respondents reported a high number of different aspects of their inner experiences in


relation to engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement, o The nature of themes varied between the three engagement conditions, o The most important factors were experienced by most respondents, indicating that these factors were common in relation to positive engagement, diminished engagement and disengagement experiences. Broad tentative findings from the analysis of each engagement condition are shown at Figure 5.5 and explained in the following discussion. The notions of ‘inner-self’ and ‘externally-focused’ relate to the notions of ‘phenomenal self’ and ‘external context’ noted on the concept model (chapter 2).











Figure 5.5 Findings from Detailed Thematic Analysis i


The top themes identified in relation to engagement (Figure 5.2), were found to group into two main categories. Whilst all themes describe self-related experiences, for example, challenge and achievement, as internal constructions, some were characterised as relating strongly to factors external to the self, and some were characterised as relating strongly on the inner-self. By an external focus I mean that the experience was triggered by, or vested strongly in an external factor, so challenge and achievement fall into this category. By inner-self focused I mean experiences that are vested more directly as a core construction of the self, so self-worth falls into this category.


Key themes with an external element are: o Transcendence / Contribution o Connection and Relationships o Challenge o Worthwhile purpose o Autonomy o Achievement Key themes characterised with a focus on the inner-self are: o Self-worth o Values o Self-attribution o Self-esteem o Self-identity o Self-efficacy Both of these categories are important in the positive experience of engagement, however those in the first category, distinguished by having a greater external focus, were noticeably more important overall than those that focused on the inner self. ii

Lack of Engagement and Engagement

The general pattern relating to engagement themes (Figure 5.2) is reflected in the themes relating to lack of engagement (Figure 5.3). This suggests that, in general, factors that relate to positive engagement when present, also relate to diminished engagement when absent, and that engagement and lack of engagement are therefore at the ends of the same construct continuum. This is illustrated by combining findings from engagement and lack of engagement experiences, Figures 5.2 and 5.3, to form Figure 5.6. Positive engagement themes are shown on the right and lack of engagement themes on the left. Themes are ordered with those most represented by both engagement and lack of engagement combined (the longest lines overall) at the top. For clarity, those themes which were reported just once by one respondent are excluded. (NB., Figure 5.6 is reproduced in a smaller scale than Figures 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4).




Transcendence / Contribution Connection / Relationships Purpose / Worthwhileness Challenge Self-worth Autonomy Achievement Values Intrinsic interest Integration Growth Self-attribution Self-esteem Recognition Self-identity Authenticity Responsibility Knowledge / Feedback Self-efficacy Routine Administration Quality standards Involvement Fulfillment Making an impact Closure / completeness Direction Tangible outcome Self-expression Variety Task-identity Holistic Systematic approach Pressure Flow Organisation Influence Contentment Service delivery Equity Being valued Empathy Meaningfulness Hope Fit with job Stability Synergies Safe environment Legacy Fairness Morality Bigger picture Structure Closed / private

Figure 5.6 Engagement and Lack of Engagement Themes Similar to the engagement experience, in experiences that lacked engagement, themes that have an external focus are of greater importance than themes that have an internal self-focus. In particular, external factors appear to be of greater importance in low engagement activities than high engagement activities, and inner-self factors appear to be of less importance in low engagement activities than high engagement activities. This is also illustrated at Figure 5.5. There are some factors that relate essentially either to engagement or to diminished engagement. Factors that relate closely to engagement but not to diminished engagement include: o Achievement o Growth


o Self-attribution o Self-esteem o Self-identity o Responsibility o Self-efficacy These factors are characterised first by self-enhancement, or the development of self, and secondly by the ability to attribute those developments to the self, rather than some other factor. There is just one factor that relates closely to diminished engagement, and, in this case, not at all to positive engagement. This is: o Routine administration This single theme appears to be an anomaly. development.

It does not represent enhancement or

It is essentially about actions rather than attitudes and may be represented

attitudinally as boredom, or a lack of intrinsic interest. In summary, it appears from these findings that engagement and diminished engagement are influenced by many of the same factors, supporting the view of a single engagement construct continuum. Externally–related factors appear to be more important, and inner-self factors less important, in diminished engagement activities than engaging activities.


related factors link more closely to engaging activities than to diminished engagement. iii


When discussing experiences that related to disengagement (Figure 5.4), respondents reported many of the same factors that they reported when discussing engagement or lack of engagement, albeit from a negative perspective and fewer factors were reported overall.

As with the

engagement continuum, the key themes noted in relation to disengagement may be categorised into externally focused factors and inner-self factors. It was noticeable that, whereas externally related factors were of greatest importance in relation to the engagement continuum, for disengagement, inner-self-related factors were of greatest


importance. In particular, the highest rated themes associated with disengagement included: o Self-worth o Self-efficacy o Self-identity o Self-esteem Also noticeable is that whilst key externally focused work characteristics related to the engagement continuum, they related very little or not at all to disengagement. These included the job content factors: o Challenge o Autonomy o Achievement o Responsibility o Recognition This indicates that these factors related to (degrees of) positive engagement when present, but when they were absent, they did not appear to greatly influence a sense of disengagement. This, as noted, is in contrast to self-related themes which appeared, for both engagement and disengagement, to be important, but of central importance in relation to a sense of disengagement. iv

Engagement, Lack of Engagement and Disengagement

Whereas some individual themes related in particular ways to the three different engagement conditions, there were some themes that were important to all three, to the broad engagement dynamic. These are, in approximate order of importance: o Connection / relationships o Purpose / worthwhileness o Self-worth o Autonomy o Values


o Intrinsic interest o Integration o Self-esteem o Authenticity As a group, they do not relate especially to factors with an external focus or to factors internal to self as with those relating to each engagement condition individually. However they may be characterised as factors that represent the experience of being closely involved with something that matters, or is meaningful, to the self. This is a tentative interpretation, but it appears that the positive opportunity for involvement in something that matters may influence the degree of engagement and the absence of this appears to produce disengagement. In summary, the analysis of themes elicited from individual respondent data indicates that: o Engagement and lack of engagement form a single construct continuum. o Disengagement is a different construct to that demonstrated by the engagement continuum. o Inner-self-related factors are important across all engagement conditions, however, ‌ o ‌ different degrees of positive engagement are characterised primarily by factors that have an external element, o ‌ and disengagement is characterised primarily by inner-self related factors. o High engagement is characterised by self-enhancement or development factors. o Involvement in something that is meaningful is the single most important dynamic across all engagement conditions. Having considered findings by focusing on individual themes, themes were then grouped in order to categorise meanings intended by respondents and to aid further analysis, as shown at Figure 4.7. 5.3.2

Integrated Thematic Analysis

Findings from integrated thematic analysis are summarised for each engagement condition at Figures 5.7, 5.8 and 5.9. A combined engagement / lack of engagement graph, forming an engagement continuum, is at Figure 5.10. Figure 5.10 is produced in a smaller scale than the


individual graphs.

Each theme is discussed in the sections following the figures and key

quotations are included as evidence. These are taken from a detailed summary of quotations, at Annex N. A justification and explanation for integrating individual themes was given in chapter 4. The following discussion considers each integrated theme in turn. For each theme, engagement and lack of engagement are discussed first, followed by disengagement.


183 Work Characteristics The most important theme in relation to the engagement continuum, that is, for both engagement and lack of engagement, is ‘Work characteristics’. This theme, including work content and context factors, is similar to those individual themes grouped as ‘external factors’. The importance of broad ‘intrinsic interest’ in building engagement was expressed by one respondent: ‘I mean, enjoying my work is when my alarm goes off in the morning and I can’t wait to get into work. I don’t lay back and think, “Oh my God, I’ve got to go to work.” I don’t see it as a chore; I see it as a pleasure’ (MM9) … and factors including, for example, ‘Challenge’ were of particular importance: ‘I like dealing with change, I suppose would be an activity, so change and challenge and looking to find a solution to things, so problem-solving I would say’ (EG10) ‘What I get a big kick from is sorting out complex things in a multi, in an interdepartmental way … I like to, I am kind of the organisations trouble-shooter’ (EG9) The most noticeable theme that related to diminished engagement was routine administration, for example: ‘… quite frustrated sometimes by policy and procedures’ (EG3) Work characteristics were found to be one of the least important categories overall in relation to disengagement although having to be involved in administrative activities was reported by several respondents as a disengaging factor, for example: ‘Well, when you get into some of the more trivial stuff you are actually then thinking well I could be doing other things rather than talking about the possibility of this which is completely off the wall and very remote and just taking up time … You know we don’t have an awful lot of spare time and I would rather be again doing some of the other stuff’ (EG6) ‘I hate getting bogged down with reports’ (MM6) … and lack of sufficient job content was reported as a disengaging factor:


‘… boredom … I would say that a disengaging activity would be to have little to do. I couldn’t bear to sit at my desk without stuff to do’ (MM2) In summary, many job-related factors were integrated in this theme and whilst it was the most important theme overall in relation to driving engagement and diminishing engagement, it did not contribute in any significant way to disengagement. Purpose The next most important integrated theme on the engagement continuum is purpose. Its importance is only a little less than that shown for work characteristics. As with work characteristics, purpose appears to be especially important in relation to building positive engagement. Purpose was shown to have an internal element, in that it was often driven by inner values, needs and other characteristics (‘Self-concept’ factors), and an external element, in that it often related to something that was outside of self, that is, a transcendent contribution, for example: ‘It would just honestly be just the fact that I was contributing. It would make me feel, like I say, worthwhile … if someone feels worthwhile and has got a sense of purpose then they’ve got a reason to get out of bed every day … I think if you haven’t got a sense of purpose, you wonder why you were actually put here, or why you get up every day’ (AO1) ‘I think it’s about knowing at the end of the working week that you’ve, actually feel like you’ve contributed and you’re making a difference’ (EG8) … and this was contrasted with diminished engagement when it was not possible to contribute, for example: ‘You wouldn’t have sort of like any enthusiasm to do any work because you haven’t contributed’ (AO2) … and a lack of purpose or direction could also diminish engagement, for example: ‘I wouldn’t want to complete something that wasn’t done to a high standard and didn't have a purpose’ (EG4) ‘… I just felt like I wasn’t making a difference and I wasn’t using my skill set … it wasn’t involved in the nitty gritty development, it was more in the policy side and you didn’t feel like you were having anything tangible as a result of it’ (EG8)


Purpose was also shown to be an important theme in relation to disengagement, for example: ‘… disengaging because it was one of the things where you are given something to do and you don’t really know where you’re going’ (MM10) ‘I think it’s definitely … it’s work where I can’t see, for a better word, a point in doing’ (MM4) In summary, this analysis indicates that the sense of purpose or contribution can enhance the engagement drive, can diminish engagement or can create a sense of disengagement. There was a broad scope of factors that were referred to in relation to purpose and many overlapped with other factors from other integrated themes, indicating that this theme may be a critical underpinning dynamic that could build or diminish engagement, or actively create disengagement in many different ways. Connection The integrated theme ‘Connection’ is important over the engagement continuum, but where it is not possible to build affective relationships, it is proportionately an important factor in diminishing engagement. This theme combined elicited constructs relating to involvement, connection with other people, and the importance of inter-personal relationships in the engagement experience. This was not just about working with other people, but rather reflected the importance of being able to connect closely at an emotional level, with a sense of trusting openness and loyal respect. Being together socially was important for some respondents, for example: ‘I kind of look forward to our annual staff conference because it is wonderful to see all of our staff come together under one roof and watching them all sort of mix and you know just generally be together’ (EG9) … and for others, good relationships had a positive engaging impact when they worked well, for example: ‘I feel that within the management team we’ve probably got very strong relationships so that we are always talking and working collaboratively and working erm to achieve the end result which is good service to our customers’ (EG4) … but could diminish engagement when dysfunctional, for example: 186

‘So they’re obstructive … in that I’m being blocked. That is obstruction by a person … that’s individuals’ attitudes and they’re being obstructive … that’s blocking for me. I’m being blocked personally …’ (MM5) Connection also appeared to be particularly important in relation to disengagement, indicating that whilst relating with others and being part of a team or project helped to build positive engagement, this factor also has a negative impact when people were not able to satisfy this need. Inter-personal relationships could be actively disengaging, for example, when two members of staff were pitched against each other: ‘He likes to make a competition. He thinks competition is healthy, but the way he does it is very destructive’ (EG7) … or when there was a sense of betrayal, for example: ‘I was upset because they’d had a huge bit of me and … they decided to try and take even more … which I found really tough … it’s right in the heart’ (EG11) In summary, this analysis indicates a number of different dynamics at work in relation to connection and relationships, for example, camaraderie, affirmation, conflict, or exclusion and these were shown to have a key impact on positive engagement, diminished engagement and disengagement. Self-Concept The next most important integrated theme in the experience of engagement was ‘Selfconcept’.

This term was used to describe the perceived sense of self, or the

phenomenological self, including self-identity, self-worth and self-esteem (Gecas, 1982; Snyder and Williams, 1982). As an integrated theme, this appears to be important across the engagement continuum but skewed more towards engagement than lack of engagement, indicating that the reinforcement of self-related factors is a positive influence on building engagement but when this is not present it does not appear to be the primary cause of diminished engagement. The importance of self-worth as a basis for feeling pride was expressed by one respondent:


‘… when everybody pulls together and plays their part, and we get the outcome, I feel really proud, because I think that’s umm, I feel proud of the team, and I feel proud of myself for pulling it together ... (AO5) … and for another it was about feeling valued: ‘I suppose I feel valued. So, that’s ... that for me is one of the most enjoyable, most engaging parts of the job’ (EG7) The contra position to this, diminished engagement, was expressed by few respondents, but one noted: ‘I think that would be awful to work for an organisation that you didn’t feel proud of, I think that would be … if I didn’t feel proud of our work, well I think I would feel a bit ashamed, I’d feel ashamed, because particularly in the role that I am in now … part of that is me’ (EG10) Whilst self-concept may not be a major factor in diminishing the engagement experience, it was shown to be by far the most important theme in relation to disengagement, for example: ‘… you’re not being given the opportunity, probably not being listened to … you’re not engaged and you’re not involved in the process … not responsible for it … you don’t feel someone do you … you’re not motivated your confidence goes as well, you don’t feel very confident … it’s really unpleasant isn’t it, yeh it’s not pleasant at all … you don’t feel trusted either’ (EG3) In summary, being able to bring self into an activity was shown to be very important for enhancing engagement and less important in relation to diminished engagement. However, most noticeable was the much higher importance of self-concept than any other factor in relation to disengagement. Self-Determination Self-determination brings together the central theme of ‘Autonomy’ with two other themes, ‘Self-attribution’ and ‘Responsibility’. They were combined to reflect the need by respondents to experience a degree of control within (not necessarily over) an activity. This is essentially the sense of discretion in the way things are done and it in turn leads to a sense of ownership, or having a ‘personal stake’ in an activity. ‘Self-determination’ was found to be important across the engagement continuum but was proportionately more important in positive engagement experiences.


The generally engaging affect of self-determination was illustrated by, for example: ‘Well, the thing is, you then, you look at yourself and you think, “Do you know what? I’m so pleased that I’ve done that on my own”’ (AO1) ‘I’m the one responsible for pulling that together … I’m just totally absorbed in that’ (EG5) Whilst not a key factor, lacking autonomy was found to diminish engagement, for example, ‘… the fact that I don’t have the control over my activity and the fact that, for instance, if I went to do a scheme visit I have to get permission and I find that really frustrating’ (MM6) However, the lack of autonomy or responsibility in an activity appeared to be a more central contributor to disengagement.

It could be all encompassing and deeply

disengaging, for example: ‘I think it can make you feel quite angry, if whatever has been decided has a direct impact on you or maybe at work if it’s the people you work with. If you haven’t been involved in that decision making it can make you feel quite cross and quite frustrated’ (MM11) In summary, key aspects of autonomy and responsibility, with self-attribution, were drivers of positive engagement and, whilst a lack of autonomy or responsibility could diminish engagement, this was not strong, whereas it was found to have a more profound disengaging impact. Growth The sense of growth and expectation of future growth was found to be a strong motivator for engagement. This integrated theme included ‘Achievement’ because respondents used both terms to demonstrate the same essential meaning, for example: ‘I like to get and feel a sense of achievement or to finish something off … I suppose there’s a kind of passion to get things right’ (EG4) … and this was often demonstrated by the need for a sense of closure, for example: ‘There’s a lot to achieve and a lot to complete … and it’s the completing and getting to the end of and achieving’ (EG2)


Growth was shown to be very much more important in engagement than in relation to lack of engagement. An example of lack of growth impacting engagement was: ‘… if I’m not being challenged or I don’t have stretch projects or things thrown at me which I haven’t done before, umm then you know, I don’t get any improvement or knowledge’ (EG8) However, whilst growth may act as a driver towards positive engagement, it was by far the least important factor and noted by very few respondents in relation to diminished engagement or disengagement. Values Whilst not one of the most important themes, values appeared to have a similar impact on both engagement and lack of engagement. There were many different perspectives on values, including personal, interpersonal, and social values.

The impact of personal values in driving a sense of engagement to

contribute was indicated by one respondent: ‘I manage domestic violence properties. You know, because that is a high motivating ... it’s a high value thing for me … there’s something about it that gives some value, because I can see the greatest effects to individuals’ (EG7) The underpinning impact of work values were demonstrated by, for example: ‘It’s hard to say what means more than something else, but certainly here values would be right up there, your inner standard or beliefs about what matters, that does matter, part of something yourself definitely. Being true to myself ... I think th[at] values is the more important thing’ (MM8) ‘… these people [clients] deserve respect and the utmost quality of customer care’ (EG11) … and the diminishing impact of not being able to live to these values was demonstrated, for example: ‘… I think if you just thought … that you are delivering rubbish and you can’t change it, that would be very sad wouldn’t it? It would be a miserable place to be I think … I can’t believe anyone would be happy with delivering rubbish … I think most people would find that pretty depressing and a bit fed up wouldn’t they I think’ (EG10) However, values had little impact on disengagement, although there were some examples: 190

‘I think it goes back to that hypothetical [example] where what that is is fundamentally in conflict with my values, and then I would get up and, if I could I’d get up and leave’ (MM12) … and this respondent noted the work situation that would, out of all possible situations, be most disengaging: ‘… where I'm forced to be involved in a project where I don’t find the outcome acceptable’ (MM12) The low association between values and disengagement was unexpected and this is explored further in chapter 6. In summary, values had a balanced impact between engagement and lack of engagement, indicating its importance across the engagement continuum, but was associated with disengagement by only a few respondents. 5.3.3

Conclusion to Thematic Analysis

Thematic analysis of individual respondent data indicated that whilst engagement, as an inner experience, was intimately associated with the self, factors which included an external element influenced degrees of engagement, between high positive engagement and lack of engagement, more than any other factors.

Factors that were internally self-focused

appeared to be most important in disengagement. The fundamental differences in the way different factors impacted (degrees of) engagement, and disengagement, indicate that they are different constructs. This was clearer in the integrated thematic analysis where work characteristics were most important in the engagement continuum and self-concept was most important for disengagement. It was also evident from this analysis that there were some particularly complex relationships between factors, and that the thematic analysis alone may not clearly identify and explain these. I have noted some in the sections above, as they became evident through the analysis. For example, some factors, such as purpose, related closely to all engagement conditions, whereas others, such as growth, related closely only to the positive engagement condition. Other evidence of complex relationships include, for example, the indication that some factors, such as self-efficacy and fairness, may not positively drive


engagement, but rather, have a facilitating effect, or underpin the possibility of engagement, whilst others, such as challenge, appear to positively drive engagement. These and other complexities are explored further through other techniques and in chapter 6. 5.4


Having analysed interview data thematically and identified an apparent distinction in the way in which different factors behaved in relation to engagement and disengagement, I turned to the Repertory Grid technique as a systematic means of exploring respondents’ construing of engagement and disengagement activities in more detail. In particular, having recognised the difficulty that respondents had in accessing and discussing selfrelated factors, unsolicited, I expected that this Personal Construct approach would aid this accessing and externalising process. This was not entirely as expected and this is discussed in the following sections. The Repertory Grid technique was discussed in detail in chapter 4. In the following sections, the range of elicited constructs is examined, followed by a discussion of patterns that emerged from the analyses of elements and constructs together. 5.4.1

Elicited Constructs

As noted in section 4.5.3, in principle it was not possible to directly compare construct categories with thematic analysis categories because constructs implicitly include the range of engagement experiences whereas themes were categorised against a particular engagement experience. To clarify, because constructs were elicited freely by respondents from triad of activities, which often included both engaging and disengaging activities it was not possible to attribute specific constructs to particular engagement experiences. Nevertheless, through the rating activity and related conversational questioning in interviews, it was possible to identify and compare meanings, and constructs which were deemed similar in meaning to themes were allocated to those categories. The number of constructs elicited from each respondent ranged from 4 to 12, with most producing between 9 and 11. A total of 219 constructs were elicited. The Executive


Group respondents produced more constructs than the Middle Management Group and this appeared to relate to the wider and longer experience of this group. Individual lists of constructs are at Annex O, colour coded to represent the category to which they were allocated. The number of constructs elicited in the Repertory Grid analysis in each category is represented at Figure 5.11, giving an indication of the degree of importance attributed to each construct category.

Work characteristics Growth Purpose Self-Determination Connection Self-concept Values

Figure 5.11 Repertory Grid Constructs The most frequently elicited constructs related to ‘Work characteristics’. This is not surprising as it is a broad category and because the elements from which constructs were abstracted were work activities. RHA as an organisation, and therefore the employees, focus on practical issues and solutions and it would be expected, therefore, that their mindset would draw them to practical work characteristics rather than intangible aspects of the work. Nearly all respondents elicited at least one construct in this category and it was dominant for two respondents (EG4 and MM10), who work primarily with practical projects. The next four categories had similar numbers of constructs. ‘Growth’ constructs were spread between most respondents but five elicited none in this category, meaning that it was more dominant for some respondents and of little or no importance for others. The same pattern was evident for the next category, ‘Purpose’, again indicating that this was dominant for some respondents but was not considered a key construct for others. Constructs relating to ‘Self-determination’ were more evenly spread, indicating a more general importance of having a degree of control or autonomy in relation to engagement and this pattern was similar to constructs relating to ‘Connection’, indicating again the more general importance of relationships or involvement across respondents.


The least frequent constructs related to ‘Self-concept’ and ‘Values’, and both these findings are surprising. It was expected that the application of this technique would elicit more depth of inner constructions, including self and values. This is discussed in chapter 6. In summary, it appears that this finding reflects the more tangible focus of RHA, as noted above. Just as employees found it easier to reveal, unsolicited, practical issues, so the lack of focus in those deeper, conceptual aspects, such as self and values, appeared to reflect the lower level of concern for such issues in their normal work activities, and the difficulty they had in surfacing these, again unsolicited. Where these issues were addressed directly through other techniques, they were shown to be of greater importance. 5.4.2

Activity Elements

The activity elements brought to the interviews by each respondent are listed at Annex P, ordered from high engagement to high disengagement. Concrete or specific activities are emboldened, and general or more abstract elements are in normal text. As noted in chapter 4, not all respondents came to interviews with the range of elements as requested, for example, hypothetical elements were not always ordered at extremes, but all activity elements were sufficiently aligned to the requirements for use in Repertory Grid elicitation. The activities varied widely, with Executive Group respondents selecting more strategic activities than Middle Managers, reflecting the nature of their work. It was also noticeable that the general nature of engagement and disengagement elements were distinct. Those associated with higher levels of positive engagement tended to be more concrete or specific, for example, ‘Let’s talk again event’ (EG1), and making a ‘Team film’ (MM4), and those associated with low engagement or disengagement were more general or abstract, for example, ‘HR ignored’ (EG2), and ‘Working attitudes’ (MM5). This is consistent with findings from the thematic analysis, discussed above, which suggested that external work-related characteristics were more closely associated with engagement, whereas factors relating more to the inner sense of self associated strongly with disengagement. This is explored further in chapter 6. Asking respondents to think about and bring to interviews ‘critical incidents’ (section as examples of engagement and disengagement activities for use as elements


worked well. I found that because they had had time to consider and note activities, they quickly began to ‘re-live’ them and, especially for those at the extremes of the engagement experience, they were able to recall not just behavioural but attitudinal detail very clearly. 5.4.3

Construing of Elements

Cluster analysis was used to examine relationships and patterns between elements and constructs in Repertory Grids. Cluster analysis diagrams, produced by the computer program, ‘Rep 5’, introduced in chapter 4, showed, for each respondent, ratings, elements, and constructs, with poles to the right and left of the grid matrix.

Examples are

reproduced in the following sections. The nine elements for each Grid are shown at the bottom of the diagrams, ordered by respondents from 1, most engaging, to 9, least engaging or most disengaging. The diagrams also show tree structures, or ‘dendrograms’, indicating clustering of elements and of constructs. General Patterns Element dendrograms indicate degrees of clustering, or similarity with which activities were construed.

Most respondent’s analyses indicate a clear distinction between

engagement and low engagement / disengagement elements, as shown, for example, for EG 2 (Figure 5.12), with ordered elements 1 – 4 and 5 – 9 distinctly clustered.

Figure 5.12 Cluster Analysis for EG2 This pattern was largely the same for all respondents but the degree of distinction varied.


For example, MM4 (Figure 5.13) had three strongly disengaging activities, which were clearly distinguished from the less closely clustered six most engaging activities.

Figure 5.13 Cluster Analysis for MM4 Also, for some respondents, the distinction was less marked, but was still clearly identifiable as a broad continuum, for example, EG4 (Figure 5.14).

Figure 5.14 Cluster Analysis for EG4 In addition to the broad clustering of element activities found in relation to the engagement condition, other patterns were evident. There was a wide variation in the degree of similarity, or closeness of clustering between different activity elements. The activities that were selected as elements varied widely but the degree of similarity or


difference between activities was not distinguished by any other characteristics than engagement condition, including, for example, operational or strategic, concrete or abstract, and real or hypothetical. If elements clustered according to engagement condition, and three conditions were identified from thematic analysis, it may be expected that Repertory Grid analysis would produce evidence of three clusters of elements. This is examined in relation to composite cluster analyses, in section 5.4.4. In summary, whilst the engagement condition differentiated activity elements into distinct groups, different engagement or disengagement conditions could be experienced from a wide variety of activities and different types of activity could be construed similarly. This is explored further through a more detailed analysis of patterns and relationships between constructs. Relationships Between Constructs Construct cluster analyses indicated patterns of constructs in relation to different engagement conditions. In addition to cluster analyses, matrices were formatted to show activities ordered from high engagement to high disengagement. Taking one example, Figures 5.15 and 5.16 show the cluster analysis diagram and order display for EG6. For EG6, the spread of ratings between engagement conditions was relatively even for some constructs, and skewed for others. For example, ‘Across disciplines-Core function’ shows a relatively even spread across the activity elements.

This indicates that his

engagement level did not depend on whether the activity related to different functions or just to his core function. The rating for the construct ‘Pointless-Clear value achievement’ is relatively skewed. This indicates that engagement level related strongly to the degree of pointlessness versus value achievement.


Figure 5.15 Cluster Analysis for EG6

Figure 5.16 Order Display for EG6 EG6 elicited constructs from all construct categories, as shown at Figure 5.17. Construct category



Prescribed-Flair Frustration-Focused Have to do it-Want to do it Work characteristics Process related-People related Across disciplines-Core function Growth Lack achievement-Achievement Exciting-Boring Purpose Bureaucracy-Customer benefit Connection Team work-Individual work Self-concept Recognised-Overlooked Values Pointless-Clear value achievement Figure 5.17 Constructs Elicited by EG6


Grid matrices for all respondents were examined to determine the spread of construct ratings across the activity elements. Those that were clearly skewed were compared with those that were evenly spread. Allocating constructs to one of these categories was much more straightforward than expected because rating distributions were found to fall strongly into one of the two categories. The highest proportion of evenly spread ratings related to construct categories ‘Connection’ and ‘Work characteristics’, indicating that these constructs could relate to any engagement level. More skewed, or less evenly spread ratings, were most prominent for ‘Self-concept’ and ‘Values’, indicating a closer association with either high or low engagement. Figure 5.18 shows all construct categories ordered from those containing most evenly distributed constructs across engagement levels to those that were most skewed. 1 Connection


Experienced across

2 Work characteristics

more concrete

engagement levels

3 Purpose


4 Self-determination 5 Growth


6 Self-concept

more abstract

Polarised engagement

7 Values



Figure 5.18 Construct Categories Ordered from Even to Skewed Construct Ratings Those construct categories that appear to be experienced across engagement levels, towards the top of the list, have also been identified previously as having an external focus and relate to more specific, concrete experiences, whereas those relating more closely to high engagement or low engagement / disengagement, towards the bottom of the list, have been characterised as being more internally focused and relate to more abstract, general experiences. In summary, this indicates that, for individual respondents, whilst thematic analysis found work characteristics to be of greater importance in relation to engagement than disengagement, work characteristics, as well as other external, more concrete constructs, including connection and purpose appear to improve engagement when present but diminish engagement or disengage when absent. 199

I have noted that

respondents found it easier to reveal and discuss concrete constructs, and the finding that abstract constructs appeared to relate more to polarised experiences may be because these deeper inner experiences become clearer as extremes are recounted. This apparent affect may therefore be an artefact of the method rather than of the variables themselves. 5.4.4

Integrated Analysis

Cluster analyses were used to explore patterns of constructs and elements between Grids. The Executive Group (EG), the Middle Management group (MM) and both groups together, that is, all Grids (Combined) produced three cluster analyses. Diagrams for each are reproduced at Annex 5.Q.i, ii and iii respectively. For each analysis, activity elements were ordered almost exactly from high engagement (activity element 1) to low engagement / disengagement (activity element 9). EG activities (Figure 5.19) cluster into two distinct groups, those associated with engagement (elements 1–5) and those associated with lack of engagement or disengagement (elements 6-9). Figure 5.19 EG Element Clusters

Like EG, MM cluster with two extremes, but also includes a separate cluster of two activities in a central position (Figure 5.20). Figure 5.20 MM Element Clusters

The combined analysis shows the same pattern as MM, with three clusters (Figure 5.21).

Figure 5.21 Composite Element Clusters

This supports the view that engagement may be viewed in three categories, engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement, although there is insufficient evidence to claim that these map exactly. A simple observation reveals that constructs cluster against individual respondents. This is evident from sections taken from cluster analyses diagrams, for example, for EG3 (Annex 200

Q.i and Figure 5.22), EG8 and EG11 (Annex Q.i and Figure 5.23), MM11 (Annex Q.ii and Figure 5.24) and MM2 (Annex Q.ii and Figure 5.25).

Figure 5.22 EG3 Construct Clusters

Figure 5.23 EG8 and EG11 Construct Clusters

Figure 5.24 MM11 Construct Clusters

Figure 5.25 MM2 Construct Clusters This clustering of constructs may indicate that individual respondents elicited constructs that were very similar, and so rated them similarly, or it may indicate that, whilst the constructs were different in nature, a respondent tended to view his or her world through similar construct systems. If this is the case then it provides evidence to support the view that people tend to have their own broad construction of the nature of reality which influences their perception of any particular life experience. This is consistent with the philosophy of PCP. Dendrograms show distinct clustering of construct meanings. The patterns of clustering


largely fits the categories identified from the thematic analysis, and applied to individual Repertory Grid analysis. For EG, for example, a cluster of 30 constructs includes many that relate to different aspects of empowerment, or self-determination, linking those associated with control, autonomy, involvement and aspects of reward (Annex Q.i and Figure 5.26). A cluster of 13 constructs relates to aspects of growth, including creativity, outcomes and delivery (Annex Q.i and Figure 5.27).

Figure 5.26 EG Construct Clusters Associated with Self-determination

Figure 5.27 EG Construct Clusters Associated with Growth For MM, a cluster of 18 constructs relate to aspects of purpose, linking those involving active engagement with people, and an inner sense of worth (Annex Q.ii and Figure 5.28), and a cluster of 15 constructs relate to self-determination, linking aspects of control, team 202

working and communication (Annex Q.ii and Figure 5.29). When combining all Grids in the composite cluster analysis, patterns of constructs include a cluster of 21 constructs relating closely to purpose and people, with values and the ability to have autonomy (Annex Q.iii and Figure 5.30), and another cluster of 21 constructs relate to growth, with constructs associated with stimulation, skills and development (Annex Q.iii and Figure 5.31).

Figure 5.28 MM Construct Clusters Associated with Purpose

Figure 5.29 MM Construct Clusters Associated with Growth


Figure 5.30 Composite Construct Clusters Associated with Purpose and People

Figure 5.31 Composite Construct Clusters Associated with Growth There are many other smaller construct clusters evident in the integrated cluster analyses and all seven construct categories, noted in section 5.4.1, are represented.


categories identified as characterising the largest clusters are growth, purpose and selfdetermination, as noted in the examples above, and, comparing this with the number of individual constructs (section 5.4.1), growth, purpose and self-determination were found to be three of the four most frequently elicited constructs, indicating the importance of these themes. The only higher construct category was work characteristics. This may be explained by recognising that whilst there were more work characteristics constructs elicited overall they were spread widely, as noted in section



Conclusion to Repertory Grid Findings

The Repertory Grid technique was applied in order to explore deep meanings, following conversational interviews from which three engagement conditions were identified – engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement - but rich depth, especially around conceptual, self-related issues, was lacking. The simple triadic elicitation technique alone did not lead to the elicitation of in-depth selfrelated factors, as expected. This may be because elements and constructs about work were produced and elicited from respondents, who appeared to have difficulty identifying and communicating deep self-factors unsolicited, which may relate to the nature of the organisation and their work. However, the full Repertory Grid analyses, including laddering to explore constructs, did indicate the distinct difference in the construing of engagement and disengagement activities. Integrated analyses indicated the possibility of three distinct activity clusters, which supports the possibility of three engagement conditions, engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement. In general, those activities that were rated as engaging were judged, by me, to be more concrete or specific in nature than those rated as disengaging, which were judged to be more abstract in nature. Whilst the focus of engagement is as an inner experience, those constructs which had an external focus appeared to relate more generally across the range of engagement conditions. Those constructs which had an inner-self focus appeared to be more polarised. Growth appeared to polarise towards engagement, self-concept towards disengagement and values polarised towards engagement or disengagement depending on the respondent. Further patterns were evident from clusters of constructs in integrated analyses. Several individual respondents tended to cluster, which may indicate that some individual respondents have broadly similar ways of construing engagement-related experiences. Clusters of constructs broadly related to key thematic categories, for example, selfdetermination, growth and purpose.


The difficulty respondents had in accessing and externalising self-related factors and constructs was a key driver for introducing the next approach taken in this research, that is, Concept Mapping in which concepts, relating to different aspects of self, were supplied to and mapped by respondents in relation to different engagement activities. 5.5


As discussed in chapter 4, the concept mapping exercise required respondents to indicate the degree to which different concepts were impacted in relation to a highly engaging experience, and a highly disengaging experience, through the placement of cards, each containing one of the 16 concepts from the concept model presented in chapter 2. The aim of this exercise was to help overcome the difficulty respondents had in identifying and communicating self-related constructs unsolicited. Findings are summarised at Figures 5.32 and 5.33, showing the placement of concepts for the high engagement activity and high disengagement activity respectively. The concepts are ordered on the horizontal axis as shown in the concept model, from those relating increasingly to the inner, phenomenological self towards the left, to those with more of an external focus towards the right. The vertical axis indicates the degree of impact that the activity had on each concept from low at the bottom to high at the top. Each dot represents the placement of a concept card by a respondent. The wide range of responses shown on the graphs indicates the broad impact that different respondents experienced for both activities. As with thematic coding analysis, whilst each dot represents the placing of a card, the graphs are intended to indicate an impression, not a quantity.

They should therefore be observed to identify density

associated with concepts, not absolute frequencies.


Engagement Concept Mapping, all respondents



















Figure 5.32 Concept Mapping for High Engagement Activity

Disengagement Concept Mapping, all respondents



















Figure 5.33 Concept Mapping for High Disengagement Activity Comparing Figures 5.32 and 5.33, there are some patterns that indicate similarity between the two different activities. Those patterns that appear to be similar are: o Authenticity o Self-expression o Worthwhileness


o Autonomy This indicates that these concepts related widely to different engagement levels. Those concepts that were rated generally higher for engagement than disengagement experiences were: o Values o Purpose o Knowledge o Transcendence o Integration o Connection o Challenge Those concepts that were rated generally higher for disengagement than engagement experiences were: o Self-esteem o Self-worth o Self-identity o Self-efficacy o Self-attribution Those concepts rated as having a higher impact on the engaging activity are characterised as having an external focus. Those concepts rated as having a higher impact on the disengaging activity are characterised as having an inner self-focus. To explore this further, those concepts that are specific external work-characteristics were compared to specific internal self-related factors, and summarised at Figures 5.34 and 5.35.


Engagement Concept Mapping















Figure 5.34 Work Characteristics and Self-related Factors: Engagement

Disengagement Concept Mapping















Figure 5.35 Work Characteristics and Self-related Factors: Disengagement Each graph has been overlaid with an ellipse to highlight the concentration of placement points. Work characteristics, to the right of the graphs, are shown to be higher on the engagement graph than the disengagement graph. Self-related factors are higher on the disengagement graph than the engagement graph. For the engaging experience, whilst work characteristics were rated higher, the spread of


self-related factors is balanced, tending towards the centre of the rating scale.


indicates that self-factors were not impacted greatly in engaging activities, but nor was the impact minimal. Self-factors were important but not central. For the disengaging experience, whilst self related factors were rated higher, the spread of work characteristics is balanced and is evenly spread, indicating that the impact of disengaging activities on work characteristics varies widely. In summary, the general findings from the concept mapping exercise are consistent with the thematic coding and Repertory Grid analysis, emphasising the general link between engagement and work characteristics and disengagement and self-concept. These findings are discussed in detail in chapter 6. 5.6


In chapter 4, I noted that during interviews, I asked respondents to describe a shape or object in relation to engaging or disengaging experiences. In order to avoid the possibility of them thinking too much about this, I asked them at any time in the interview when they appeared to be strongly re-living the experience. This was noted in section as an effective technique for eliciting constructs because, combined with laddering and pyramiding questioning, it effectively by-passes conscious thinking to access deeper constructions. Most respondents were hesitant about this question, appearing to feel uncomfortable about needing to get the ‘right’ answer or that it was too esoteric to be of value, but once reassured that there was no correct answer and that this was a viable technique, all but one respondent readily reported a shape or object. Again they were hesitant at attempting an explanation of the shape or object they noted, but as they became more relaxed, they appeared to enjoy exploring the metaphor and the meaning behind it. This technique was found to be very effective for accessing deep meanings. The shapes or objects that respondents reported varied widely. Engagement metaphors are listed at Figure 5.36 and disengagement metaphors at Figure 5.37, ordered into categories. The complete list of metaphors, embedded in quotations which explain the metaphor, is at Annex R.





Whole and continuous; here for a reason (AO1) Circle Complete, tidy; everything’s in there (EG2) Circle Smoothness, flexible; not blunt or sharp (EG5) Circle All inclusive; stimulating debate (EG10) Circle A journey, get to end successfully; happy face (MM3) Circle … Centre point – target … … or Square … a bit more structured and solid (EG3) Sphere Complete, comforting, flows; no jarring (EG7) Figure of Eight Brings things together to a central point; wholesome figure, open, transparent; nowhere to hide anything (EG4) Triangle Different aspects, put together; one direction (AO3) Star Happy journey; nice destination (AO2) 3D Hexagonal prism / Football Panels fitting together; synergy, depth, trust (EG6) Driving a fast car Masculine, challenging, control; spearheading (EG8) Missile … Massive impact; engaging … … or King Kong … entertaining (EG9) Sunny day Represents the activity; warm and bright (AO4) Ship Because activity on a harbour (MM6) Proforma letters Represents activity (MM7) A Colour … Lilac with white Rewarding, full of promise; life at its best around it (MM1) Figure 5.36 Engagement Metaphors Some metaphors represented the activity to which they referred directly, for example, ‘Sunny day’ (AO4), ‘Ship’ (MM6), and ‘Proforma letters’ (MM7). These were reported only in relation to engaging experiences. Metaphors relating to physical objects represented both engaging and disengaging experiences. Engaging metaphors were: ‘Football’ (EG6), ‘Driving a fast car’ (EG8), and ‘Missile’ / ‘King Kong’ (EG9). Disengaging metaphors were: ‘Thing knights kill people


with’ (AO1), ‘No-entry sign’ (MM3), ‘Football’ (MM5), and ‘under a Sheet’ / ‘in a Hole’ (MM9). METAPHOR


Star … … thing knights kill people with Triangle Triangle

Prickly … … Spiky; horrible incident (AO1) Uncomfortable; edgy (MM3) Spiky; 3 points, involves more than 1 person; unpleasant (MM11) A mess; no structure (AO5) Should not be doing this (MM3) Me being kicked; no ability to control; no trust (MM5) Covering up; hiding (MM9) Signifies anger; everything that’s not working right; dead end, full stop (MM1)

Scribble No-entry sign Football A sheet … A hole A Colour … Red

Figure 5.37 Disengagement Metaphors There are no discernable patterns in relation to the physical objects reported except that they had positive or negative attributes that represented the emotional response relating to the activity. However, it is noticeable, in the objects selected and the way in which they were reported, that the disengagement metaphors were more extreme or had deeper feelings associated with them. It appeared that respondents felt (the negative aspects of) disengagement more deeply than they felt (the positive aspects of) engagement. Other shapes or objects that were reported did not have an obvious direct physical association with the activity and were more abstract in nature. Two were 3-dimensional: a ‘Sphere’ (EG7), and a Hexagonal prism (EG6), although the prism evolved to a physical object as it was described by the respondent. Most abstract objects were 2-dimensional shapes and whilst two of these were shapes which had straight lines, seven had curved lines. All of those with curved lines were associated with engaging activities. Six of the seven shapes with curved lines were ‘Circles’, making this by far the most reported single shape. The explanation given by respondents for the circle varied but centred on its character relating to completeness, smoothness, wholeness and continuousness, which associated with the ‘flow’ and holistic nature of engagement experiences.


Some objects or shapes were reported in relation to both engaging and disengaging experiences, for example, a ‘Triangle’ (AO3, MM3, MM11), a ‘Football’ (EG6 and MM5) and a ‘Star’ (AO2 and AO1). One respondent offered not a shape or object but a colour in relation to the engaging and disengaging activities. For an engaging experience she described ‘Lilac with white around it’, and for a disengaging experience, ‘Red’ (MM1). She noted that she saw activities and people as colours and these helped her describe the experiences. In summary, metaphors added insight into respondents’ construing of engagement and disengagement experiences, and helped respondents to access and communicate meanings that might otherwise have been difficult. The use of this technique, and the metaphors elicited, are discussed in chapter 6 as findings are explored in depth. 5.7



Individual Respondent Findings

The analyses by technique helped to elicit patterns of factors relating to engagement and disengagement between respondents. Whilst this built from individual respondent data and provides evidence for the development of models or frameworks that may be transferred to other contexts, it lacked an idiographic perspective on the data, which is important for understanding core dynamics at an individual level. Analyses from different data collection techniques were combined and summarised in individual reports. An example of one report is at Annex S, which includes summaries of data and discussions of integrated analyses. This is discussed in chapter 6. 5.7.2

Findings by Engagement Condition

This section concludes the chapter by briefly summarising the key findings from all techniques in relation to the three engagement conditions, ‘engagement’, ‘lack of engagement’ and ‘disengagement.

213 Engagement i


Whilst not claimed as primary data, the pilot interview indicated the importance of selfenhancement in the process of engagement. This was supported by individual thematic analysis, which indicated that self-enhancement factors, including growth and achievement were important in relation to engagement but the lack of enhancement factors did not appear to be key factors when respondents were in activities in which they lacked engagement or were disengaged. ii


Thematic analysis and concept mapping indicated that self-related factors, including selfworth, self-esteem, self-identity and self-efficacy, which were integrated to form a ‘selfconcept’ theme, were important for engagement but were of less importance for engagement than factors that had an external focus. iii

External focus

Overall, those factors that were externally focused, including the ability to make a contribution, connection, challenge, purpose and achievement, were more important for creating engagement than those factors that were more internally, self-related. Of all the integrated themes, work characteristics, which included job content, context and other work factors, were the most important single category of factors overall.

This was

supported by the concept mapping findings which indicated that work-related factors were affected more than self-related factors in engaging activities. iv


Repertory Grid analysis indicated that engaging activities tended to be more concrete or specific in nature, and less abstract. This is consistent with the findings that engagement associated closely with externally focused factors including work characteristics, noted


above. Of all the metaphors described by respondents all those that related directly to the activity itself related to engagement, not lack of engagement or disengagement. v

Facilitators and Drivers

Some factors appeared to positively drive engagement, including those characterised as having an external focus, such as challenge, and some factors appeared not to positively drive engagement but to facilitate the possibility of engagement, including self-efficacy. Repertory Grid analysis indicated that constructs relating to growth appeared to polarise as positive drivers of engagement, and related very little to activities that lacked engagement or were disengaging. vi


The circle was described as relating to engagement more than any other shape or object, and explained in relation to its completeness, wholeness or smoothness. Other metaphors emphasise openness, flow, oneness and other positive aspects of engaging activities. Lack of Engagement The most noticeable finding in relation to the experience in which participants lacked engagement was that it appeared to involve very similar factors to those that related to engagement.

High and low engagement appeared to be ends of a single construct

continuum. i


However, whilst self-enhancement was a key characteristic of positive engagement, the lack of growth or related factors did not appear to actively diminish engagement. ii

External factors

Just as external factors, including work characteristics and, for example, connection, were important in building engagement, so the lack of these factors also appeared to have an


important role in diminishing engagement. Repertory Grid analysis indicated that the impact of external, work characteristics related generally to the broad scope of engagement experiences. iii


Whilst having a clear purpose helps to drive engagement, not having clear purpose appears to be a key factor in diminishing engagement and creating disengagement. Purpose, along with work characteristics, were the most important factors in the engagement continuum. iv


Consistency with personal values had a proportionately more important impact on diminishing engagement than on positively driving engagement. It appeared that when respondents were involved in an activity which was contrary to their values, this had a detrimental impact on their engagement level. v


Whilst self-concept factors were important for engagement, lack of these factors did not appear to be as important in relation to diminished engagement. It appeared that not being able to enhance, for example, self-worth or self-esteem did not actively diminish engagement. Disengagement Whilst high levels of engagement and low levels of engagement appear to form a single construct continuum, disengagement appears to be a separate construct. It appears that it is possible to experience both engagement, perhaps relating to a challenging job, and disengagement, perhaps relating to diminished self-worth, simultaneously. If this is the case, they are by definition different constructs. This is explored in chapter 6.




The most noticeable finding in relation to disengagement is the strong importance of selfconcept.

It appears that whilst self-concept is one of the important factors in the

engagement construct continuum, for disengagement it is central. Disengagement, as the active desire to withdraw from an activity, appears to be related more to self-worth, selfesteem, self-identity and related factors than any other theme. ii

Work characteristics

Whilst work characteristics appear to be key in the engagement continuum, they appear to be of much less importance in disengagement.

The presence of certain work

characteristics may enhance or diminish engagement but they seem to influence the level of disengagement much less. This is with the exception of routine administration related tasks, which appear to actively disengage. iii


Self-determination appears to be relatively more important in relation to disengagement than the engagement continuum.

Whilst autonomy and responsibility can affect

engagement level, the lack of control appears to be an important source of disengagement. iv


Similarly to the relationship between growth-related factors and lacking engagement, so growth relates very little to disengagement. It appears that not being able to grow has some negative impact but does not appear to be a key cause of disengagement. All Engagement Conditions There are some factors that are of key importance in relation to all engagement-related experiences. Combining thematic analysis and Repertory Grid analysis, these are: o Purpose


o Self-concept o Connection These three themes of factors appear more than any others to impact along the engagement continuum and disengagement experiences. This suggests that, more than any other constructs, they are of key importance in all engagement conditions. The degree to which they link with meaningfulness will therefore indicate the degree to which meaningfulness is important in all engagement conditions. Purpose has been found in the literature to be a central component, and perhaps the central component, of meaningfulness (eg., Maslow, 1971; Debats, 1999; Thomas, 2000; Metz, 2002; Chalofsky, 2003a; Holbeche and Springett, 2004; Kehr, 2004; May et al., 2004; Hughes, 2006; Zigaemi et al., 2007; Alfes et al., 2010; Grant, A. M., 2012). Aspects of self have also been recognised in the literature as central in underpinning the inner experience of meaningfulness as a positive dynamic (eg., Snyder and Williams, 1982; Kahn, 1990; Baumeister, 1991; Shamir, 1991; Debats, 1999; Gill, 1999; Ashmos and Duchon, 2000; Brown et al., 2001; Metz, 2002; Csikszentmihalyi, 2003; Frankl, 2004; Driver, 2005; Michaelson, 2005; Pรถhlmann et al., 2006; Francis and Hills, 2008; Overell, 2008; Scroggins, 2008) and a negative dynamic, for example through alienation (eg., Blauner, 1964; Lefever and Lefever, 1977; Erikson, 1986; Huczynski and Buchanan, 1991; Ardichvili and Kuchinke, 2009) and other negative aspects of work (eg., van Dierendonck et al., 2004; Hakanen and Schaufeli, 2012). Finally, connection is discussed in the literature as a major source of meaningfulness (Schneider and Alderfer, 1973; eg., Kahn, 1990; Ryan, 1995; Debats, 1999; Ryan and Deci, 2001; Holbeche and Springett, 2004; May et al., 2004; Houston and Cartwright, 2007). The strong association of purpose, self-concept and connection with meaningfulness, and the strong association of these three factors with all engagement conditions support the argument that meaningfulness is a central construct dynamic in engagement experiences.




Findings have been summarised and discussed to indicate key meanings from respondents relating to engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement experiences, where engagement and lack of engagement were ends of a spectrum and disengagement seemed to be experienced as a different construct. The findings show some consistent patterns across the different lenses of analysis. Some factors affected both engagement and disengagement experiences, positively or negatively, including factors relating to the ability to have affective relationships and inter-personal connection. However, of note is the evidence indicating the differences in nature between engagement as a continuum, and disengagement. Some factors related to engagement in ways that appeared to be fundamentally different to how they related to disengagement. Factors affecting engagement, from high positive engagement experiences to experiences which lacked engagement, were shown to relate to the work itself. However these factors relate considerably less to disengagement. Evidence suggests that the factors that impact the experience of disengagement relate most profoundly to the inner sense of self. Findings are explored in chapter 6, where concepts and principles from the literature are enfolded into the discussion to produce conclusions and recommendations, and contributions from the research.


Chapter 6 DISCUSSION “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference” Wiesel 6.1


I commenced the research with an unfocused ideological view that, contrary to the widelyheld belief that the dominance of scientific management would inevitably de-humanise work (Caldari, 2007), or that employees would resist change in the current turbulent, uncertain work environment (Reis and Peña, 2001), it must be possible to find more effective ways to simultaneously enhance both human well-being and work-performance. Claims that individual engagement has positive benefits on well-being and performance (eg., May et al., 2004; Rich et al., 2010), that meaningfulness was a key factor in engagement (eg., Humphrey et al., 2007; Alfes et al., 2010), but that meaningfulness was not clearly understood (Michaelson, 2005), provided the focus for the research, and scope for contribution. My research question became: ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’. This chapter discusses meanings and implications from findings, and integrates the literature, primarily from, but not restricted to, chapters 1 and 2. As discussed in section 3.4, the aim of the research was not to find generalisable conclusions, but to contribute to knowledge by identifying patterns and establishing insights which may be transferred adaptively, not formulaically, to other contexts. In the following sections, each part of the research question is addressed, considering in turn the nature of engagement, of disengagement and of meaningfulness. The relationship between them is explored as the discussion unfolds. The nature of engagement is discussed first, as a possible continuum, against each of the 220

integrated themes.

The nature of disengagement is then considered, initially by

considering themes that appeared to relate closely to both engagement and disengagement, and then considering themes that appeared to identify disengagement as a distinct construct. Further to the proposition that engagement and disengagement are distinct constructs, the concept model, shown at Figure 6.1, is reproduced as two diagrams, Figures 6.3 and 6.4 to represent this distinction. Finally, the nature of meaningfulness is explored in the context of both engagement and disengagement. 6.2


As noted in chapter 2, the literature does not offer a universally agreed definition of engagement (eg., Zigaemi et al., 2007; Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009; Rayton, 2012). Whilst this multiplicity of definitions compromised the possibility of a distinct research focus, a broad initial understanding of the territory was appropriate for the research, which was exploratory and which was designed to elicit idiographic, rather than nomothetic insights. To reiterate, recognising that inner experience itself cannot be accessed (Gecas, 1982), but that phenomenological universal essences, or patterns, can be identified (van Manen, 1990), the research explored internal, constructed, experiential reality. An early working definition, from the seminal work by Kahn (1990), emphasised the self, and offered a sufficiently broad guide to explore the phenomena. However, I now dispense with this single definition as a guiding focus as I explore patterns inductively from the findings, avoiding the temptation to reduce the nature of engagement to a distinct statement, but rather to build a picture of the richness of engagement. 6.2.2

Engagement Continuum

As noted in earlier chapters, the presentation of engagement as a construct in the literature implied that it is possible to locate different levels of engagement on an engagement to disengagement continuum (eg., Kahn, 1990). (The term ‘construct’ is used here in its generic, socially derived, sense, rather than the bi-polar definition in PCP). However, the current research findings indicate that whilst high and low (or diminished) engagement form a continuum, disengagement is a different construct. To paraphrase the quotation at the head of this chapter, it appeared that ‘the opposite of engagement is not disengagement, it is indifference’ – or, at least, if not indifference, something other than


disengagement. This chapter explores the proposition that engagement and disengagement are distinct constructs. But first, why does it matter? This would be an important contribution because, if engagement / disengagement is a single, super-ordinate, construct, a single category of factors, or subordinate constructs, could be identified and manipulated to both overcome disengagement and increase engagement. This is the tenor of current literature. However, if they are different super-ordinate constructs, different key subordinate constructs may underpin understanding and management of engagement to those that underpin understanding and management of disengagement. Further, if they are different super-ordinate constructs, it would be possible to experience both engagement and disengagement simultaneously, and this could have a profound impact on both selfmanagement strategies, and leadership strategies. Such strategies required to deal with engagement may involve some very different approaches to those required to deal with disengagement. These are explored in this chapter. First, I discuss the evidence that engagement is a single super-ordinate construct, on a continuum of high to low engagement, distinct from disengagement.

This commences

with a broad consideration of findings from the thematic analysis and concept mapping, presented in chapter 5. Thematic analysis Strong broad evidence of distinct engagement and disengagement super-ordinate constructs is revealed from the thematic analysis, which showed that the most common meanings elicited from respondents when they described engaging experiences were also elicited when they described experiences that lacked engagement. Engagement to lack of engagement therefore forms an ‘engagement continuum’. However, there were some fundamental differences between these meanings and those elicited in relation to disengagement. This was demonstrated at Figures 5.2, 5.3, 5.4 and 5.6. The most noticeable general difference between the engagement continuum, and disengagement themes, was that the former were characterised with an external reference, such as contribution and achievement, whereas for disengaging activities, dominant


meanings were characterised by inner-self referents such as self-worth, self-esteem and values. This was demonstrated more clearly by integrating individual themes into broad categories, shown at Figures 5.7, 5.8 and 5.9, and further combining these for engagement and lack of engagement, at Figure 5.10. Figure 5.10 shows that the dominant engagement continuum themes are work characteristics, purpose and connection, which have an external reference, whereas Figure 5.9 shows the strong disengagement dominance of the inner, self-concept theme. Work characteristics were referred to most often in relation to the engagement continuum but were one of the least referenced themes in relation to disengagement. Self-concept was by far the most often referenced single integrated theme in relation to disengagement and, whilst important in relation to engagement, was referred to much less. Concept Mapping Fundamental differences between the engagement continuum and disengagement were also indicated through the concept mapping exercise. As shown at Figures 5.32, 5.33, 5.34 and 5.35, concepts which had an external reference were rated as being more important for highly engaging activities than inner-self-related factors, whereas for the disengaging activities, concepts which related to the inner-self were more important. As noted (chapters 4 and 5), the concept mapping exercise used those key concepts from the literature that were included in the concept model (chapter 2). This is reproduced at Figure 6.1, for reference. The model notes concepts relating increasingly to the phenomenal self towards the left, and concepts relating increasingly to an external work context to the right. When I produced this model I did not envisage that the distinction between internal and external self-related factors would link closely to engagement and disengagement, whereas, as noted above, the research findings support the notion that external, contextual work-related factors and inner self-related factors provide an important broad categorisation of factors impacting engagement and disengagement respectively.



Authenticity Values Self-Esteem Self-Worth

Self-Identity Self-Efficacy Self-Attribution Self-Expression

Purpose Worthwhileness Knowledge Autonomy

Transcendence Integration Connection Challenge




Figure 6.1 Research Concept Model Engagement is now explored through the perspective of each main theme, and further evidence for distinguishing engagement and disengagement will be highlighted. For each theme, key findings and related literature are discussed. Whilst disengagement is noted in this section where this helps understanding, it is discussed in depth separately in section 6.3. Practical implications of the arguments presented are discussed in chapter 7, except where consideration of implications helps clarify particular arguments. 6.2.3

Work Characteristics

From the different research lenses, intrinsic work characteristics, and in particular, the work itself and challenge, were especially important in relation to the engagement continuum (section As noted in section, content factors are generally distinguished from context factors, which was introduced from ‘scientifically’ managed manufacturing work organisation (section 1.4.2), characterised by manual work, and has continued to dominate through influential theory, for example, Motivator-Hygiene theory (Herzberg et al., 1959) and the Job Characteristics Model (Hackman and Oldham, 1980). However, the research does not fully support this distinction. Rather, content and context factors were found to be so intertwined that the distinction became meaningless. For example, when EG9 claimed (section, ‘What I get a big kick from is sorting out complex things in a multi, in an interdepartmental way … I like to, I am kind of the organisations trouble-shooter’, he reported a 224

highly engaging work situation which closely integrated content and context factors. Repertory Grid analysis further indicated that work characteristics impact engagement across the engagement continuum (Figure 5.18). As work has generally become more knowledge-based and integrated (McKenzie et al., 2008), the distinction between content and context factors appears to be an increasingly inappropriate lens through which to explore the impact of work. A more meaningful distinction appears to be intrinsic versus extrinsic (section, because this emphasises not the different objective elements of work, but rather, holistic, internal, subjective experiences. This is also consistent with the constructivist perspective of the research, and PCP as the theoretical perspective. One main work factor that did not relate to positive engagement at all, but linked to diminished engagement (and also disengagement) was routine administration. Its impact on engagement is not surprising. Lefever and Lefever (1977) note the alienating affect of mechanistic work, and Schaufeli et al. (2009) show how diminished job demands can lead to burnout. Routine administration implicitly diminishes engaging work factors such as challenge (Locke and Latham, 1990), self-attribution (Farr, 1977), achievement (McClelland, 1987), growth (Deci and Vansteenkiste, 2004), and would naturally, therefore, diminish engagement (or create disengagement). Challenge was found to be an especially important engagement work factor, evidenced from thematic analysis (Figure 5.6) and concept mapping (Figure 5.33), and was it reported often during interview conversations and as a Repertory Grid construct. These findings are consistent with general goal theory, which identifies challenge as a motivator (Locke and Latham, 1990), with achievement theory, which indicates that the degree of challenge varies with peoples’ need for achievement, for example, people with a high need for achievement need a moderate degree of challenge (McClelland, 1987), and with the theory of flow which suggests that challenge, in balance (or tension) with skill level, can create the ultimate experience of engagement in the form of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; 2003) (section 2.4.6). However, the research indicated that too much challenge, leading to pressure, had a negative impact on engagement for some respondents, for example, EG4: ‘the team … do demand quite a lot of time and energy’.


In summary, consistent with the job design literature (chapter 1), the research indicated that work characteristics can have a deep impact on motivation and engagement. Intrinsic work characteristics can enhance engagement when positive for the individual and diminish engagement when negative.

Challenge is especially important for building

engagement and can also diminish engagement when absent; routine administration is an important work characteristics factor for diminishing engagement. Engagement may, then, be maintained by minimising routine tasks, maximising intrinsic interest and optimising levels of challenge. However, because of the wide variation found in the ways that work characteristics impact engagement, the design of work should take account of the individual characteristics of jobholders. For example, what is routine or administrative for one employee may be intrinsically challenging for another. 6.2.4


The findings indicate that a sense of purpose is a key factor on the engagement continuum (section Engagement would appear to diminish where purpose is lacking but enhance where there is a sense that the activity is in some way important, significant, or worthwhile. It was especially evident in the concept mapping exercise where, along with worthwhileness (which was grouped with purpose in thematic coding) it was the most important of all concepts (Figure 5.32). This is consistent with the literature, which indicated that purpose underpins meaningfulness (Debats, 1999; Holbeche and Springett, 2004; May et al., 2004). The nature of meaningfulness is discussed in section 6.6. Purpose also gives focus for people’s need for self-enhancement (Snyder and Williams, 1982), and self-expression (Sheep, 2006), as ‘self-perpetuating systems’ (Gecas, 1982), and can motivate engagement in highly demanding contexts (Palmer, 2008). Constructs specifically designated as purpose were identified in the Repertory Grid exercise (Figure 5.11), however, other constructs, not designated as ‘purpose’ but which were underpinned by a sense of purpose, were also identified. For example, the construct Change-No change (MM11) was categorised in the analysis as a ‘Growth’ construct, but also included an aspects of purpose.

Likewise, the construct Ownership and

responsibility-Outside my skill (EG1) was designated as relating to ‘Self-determination’,


but included purpose: ‘… I would be responsible for the end product’. Because many of the constructs that were not specifically identified as purpose nevertheless incorporated purpose in fundamental ways, purpose may be considered as a key super-ordinate construct, central to respondents’ sense of reality within the engagement universe of discourse. Purpose was expressed in many different ways, for example, giving value to self (AO1), by making an impact (EG4), in building relationships (AO5) and leaving a legacy (EG11). However, the most noticeable expression of purpose was through making a contribution to others. This is the most reported of all the individual themes on the engagement continuum (Figure 5.6), and whilst this may have been due at least partly to the nature of the research organisation’s activities, it indicates that giving to a cause creates a strong sense of engagement. The sense of contribution was characterised by transcendence, that is, giving to something beyond self (Hughes, 2006; Sheep, 2006; Houston and Cartwright, 2007) and paradoxically, this indicates that the enhancement, or actualisation, of self from purpose-driven engagement, is achieved not through self-interest, or hedonism, but from building authentic self through eudaimonic transcendence (van Dierendonck and Mohan, 2006). Whilst sources of purpose varied, they were linked by the sense of doing something that mattered. AO1 expressed what appeared to be a more purposeful sense in the importance of being ‘here for a reason’, as she used the metaphor of a circle to explain her experience of engagement. In summary, purpose, characterised by transcendent contribution to a significant, worthwhile cause, appears to be a key construct and factor in enhancing or diminishing engagement. The different ways that purpose was expressed indicates that, whilst purpose may potentially be considered as an all-pervasive, super-ordinate construct, and could have an engaging affect throughout all aspects of work, individual differences may vary the degree by which the inner sense of purpose is experienced. It is not essentially about having knowledge about an objective, the reason for a task, or an outcome, but about internalising meaning in relation to an activity. This is indicated by the circular arrows in the concept model (Figure 6.1).




The term ‘Connection’ was used to integrate all themes and concepts associated with relationships and involvement.

It represents not just physical involvement, such as

working in a team, but affective experiences including, for example, empathy and appreciation, and the sense of being part of something beyond self (Figure 4.7 and section Findings indicate that connection was important across the engagement continuum (Figure 5.10) and whilst different lenses varied slightly, connection appears to be fundamental in relation to engagement and, like purpose, may be considered as a key, super-ordinate construct. The data supports this in different ways, discussed next. Interview transcripts were found to contain many references to working with people, both clients and colleagues: ‘… it’s the people you work with …’ (MM11), ‘… speaking to people about it …’ (AO3), ‘… helping people blossom …’ (EG11), ‘… fairness between people …’ (AO1), ‘… got very strong relationships …’ (EG4), ‘… proud of the team …’ (AO5). Whilst the number of elicited constructs relating to connection was not high (Figure 5.11), every respondent noted at least one such construct. The depth of feeling expressed in interviews indicated the importance of connection, and was further illustrated through metaphors, including ‘whole and continuous’ (AO1, circle), ‘everything’s in there’ (EG2, circle), ‘all inclusive’ (EG10, circle), ‘complete’ (EG7, sphere), ‘different aspects put together’ (AO3, triangle), ‘panels fitting together’ (EG6, hexagonal prism). Connection was therefore interpreted as a key construct on the engagement continuum. The importance of connection found in the research is consistent with the literature. For example, the general alienating impact of scientific management (Caldari, 2007), and the motivational dynamics revealed in the Hawthorne experiments (Yunker, 1993), illustrate the engaging impact of team working and supervisory attention over mechanistic work. Kahn (1990) emphasises the importance of psychological safety, and May et al. (2004) of supportive and trusting relationships (section, illustrating the facilitating impact of connection on engagement. Schneider and Alderfer (1973) (section 1.4.2) argue that ‘relatedness needs’ are one of three key motivational categories.


The findings emphasised that degrees of engagement depended not so much on being or working with other people but on its affective impact. Every quotation and reference to relationships, including those noted above, and those listed in Annex N.3, linked to the respondent’s inner experience. When this was positive, it tended to enhance engagement (‘… I’ve really got a good team that we work with … which does motivate me to do more’ (EG8)), and when negative, it diminished engagement (‘… they’re obstructive … that’s individuals’ attitudes … I’m being blocked personally’ (MM5)). In summary, experiencing connection, through involvement and affective relationships, appears to be a key super-ordinate construct in facilitating engagement when positive and diminishing engagement when negative. The research emphasised the importance of people’s inner experience – how connection made them feel - not just being around people, and this highlights the importance not simply of involvement with others but of how that involvement may enhance people’s sense of self. This links with the next engagement factor, self-concept. 6.2.6


Self-concept included all those constructs that related to the perceived sense of self, or the phenomenological self (Snyder and Williams, 1982) (section 2.4.1).

Aspects of self-

concept were noted as important across the whole engagement continuum. (However, as noted above, self appeared to be much more important in relation to disengagement, discussed in section 6.3). Fewer self-related constructs were elicited through Repertory Grid analysis than was expected, and, whilst self appeared from the research to be fundamentally important across different work experiences, it appeared to be less important than indicated in the literature. The literature emphasised the central role of the self, for example, the definition used to initially guide the research (Kahn, 1990) rooted engagement in the employment of self, and Shamir (1991) indicated the importance of self as a key driver for involvement in activities. However, the few Repertory Grid constructs appeared to reflect the difficulty respondents had accessing and communicating self-related issues unsolicited (section, which required conversational probing to access, and that the context of the interviews were around work-related issues rather than on personal activities.


Findings indicated that different aspects of self, including self-worth (perceived worthwhileness, importance or value of self, sections 2.3 and 2.4), self-identity (meanings people have about themselves, section 2.4.3), self-esteem (positive conception of self, section and self-efficacy (perceived self-confidence and competence, section were important in relation to engagement (Figure 5.32), but self-worth was the most important of these four. However self-worth also appeared to behave differently to the other three.

Self-identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy appeared to enhance

engagement when present but did not seem to diminish engagement when absent, whereas self-worth had both a strong enhancing and diminishing effect. This may be explained by considering the nature of these four constructs from the literature. Shamir (1991) associates self-identity with the drive for involvement because of meanings associated with values and the state of being. Leonard et al. (1995) considers self-esteem to be subsumed by self-identity, and it has been construed as a motivator (Maslow, 1943), as a means of enhancing identity (Shamir, 1991), and as a way of maintaining a positive self-conception (Gecas, 1982). Bandura (1982) argues that selfefficacy, as a perception of self-confidence and ability, is self-initiating, and it has been viewed as a motivational self-reinforcing spiral (Salanova et al., 2011).

These three

constructs are therefore positioned as positive motivators or drivers to engage. However, self-worth appears to be more of a state that is experienced within an activity or as a result of it, than a driver to engage, and is associated with worthwhileness and meaningfulness (Baumeister, 1991; May et al., 2004; Hughes, 2006). Self-identity, self-esteem and selfefficacy appear, then, to primarily be positive, driving engaging factors, whereas self-worth appears to be a state that impacts across the engagement continuum, underpinning both enhanced engagement and diminished engagement. Aspects of this will be discussed further in relation to meaningfulness (section 6.6). In summary, the possibility of enhancing self, characterised by self-identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy, appears in particular to have a positive driving effect towards engagement. Self-worth appears to be a deeper, super-ordinate construct, and the need for self-worth may drive engagement when positive but, as a state, may also have the effect of diminishing engagement when lacking.




Self-determination included those themes that related to initiating or regulating behaviours (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Sheldon and Filak, 2008), and, as discussed from the literature (section 2.4.6), included the sense of autonomy (the ability to self-manage), being able to attribute the outcomes of the work to self, having influence, and taking responsibility. Metaphors described in interviews alluded to the importance of self-determination for respondents, for example, ‘a journey, getting to the end successfully’ (MM3, circle), and ‘transparent, nowhere to hide’ (EG4, figure of eight). Findings indicated that self-determination, like self-concept, was important across the engagement continuum, but some aspects of self-determination did not appear to be consistently important in relation to engagement. For example, the need to influence did not register as an important factor for most respondents. Self-attribution, the ability to associate outcomes to one’s self, and responsibility appeared, like self-identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy, to be important for driving engagement but not as a key factor in diminishing engagement. Responsibility featured in the literature as a key motivator, for example, as a critical psychological state, mediating job characteristics and positive outcomes (Hackman and Oldham, 1980), a motivator for those with a high need for achievement (McClelland, 1987), and it has been associated with work meaning (Holbeche and Springett, 2004). Autonomy was shown to be important across the engagement continuum, enhancing engagement when present but also diminishing engagement when absent. If, as noted above, people are naturally self-initiating (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Sheldon and Filak, 2008), are self-expressive (Shamir, 1991; May et al., 2004) and have an internal drive for selfenhancement (Snyder and Williams, 1982), it is not surprising that they would be motivated to seek autonomy, and react negatively when autonomy was diminished. Overall these findings were consistent with literature which emphasised the proactive, selfinitiating nature of self (Deci et al., 1994) and the engaging experience associated with building self (Carver and Baird, 1998) through autonomous choice and responsibility in intrinsically motivating activities (Fullagar and Mills, 2008). The literature therefore links the importance of intrinsically engaging activities, self-concept (section 6.2.6) and self-


determination, and it notes the deep impact that external control of activities can have on diminishing self and engagement (Moller et al., 2006). In summary, autonomy appears to be particularly important for positive engagement but also undermines engagement when absent. However, whilst providing opportunities for autonomous working appears to be most important to establish and maintain engagement, as with other factors, some employees are likely to need a high level of control over their work whilst others may need much less. A degree of freedom may enable employees to find their own level of self-management and regulation, taking responsibility for outcomes of tasks and enabling them to attribute work outcomes to themselves. Self-attribution and responsibility, like self-identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy, appear to act as drivers for engagement when positive but not as important factors in diminishing engagement when absent. 6.2.8


The integrated theme ‘Values’, incorporated important factors associated with principles or standards, including personal, moral and business values. It was surprising that values was found to be one of the least important themes overall, however findings indicate that values were about equally important in their impact on both enhancing and diminishing engagement (Figure 5.10), perhaps by, respectively, being aligned or misaligned with an activity. When value-based issues were raised in interviews, they were often expressed strongly. This is consistent with the literature which emphasised the importance of values as an integral and fundamental aspect of self (Shamir, 1991), and being (Maslow, 1971). As a positive, they often related to the importance of excellent service for clients, for example, ‘… deserve the utmost quality of customer care’ (EG11), and, as a negative, in relation to standards of behaviour within the organisation, for example, ‘I don’t like it when people do not have the same work ethic as me’ (MM2). The latter quotation indicates a strong need for integrity and authenticity, and whilst not an important construct overall, authenticity balanced between the positive influence of authenticity in building engagement and the diminishing impact of a lack of authenticity, for example, ‘… values would be right up there, your inner standard or beliefs about what matters … being true to myself ...’ (MM8).


Whilst values did not appear to be one of the most important themes overall, findings were interpreted through the strong sense I gained in interviews that, more than for any other factor, respondents appeared to wish to give the ‘right’ impression. This seemed especially evident in the concept mapping exercise when rating engaging activities, and whilst this is an interpretation, and cannot be evidenced from quotations, it raises the possibility that values were reported as relatively more important in engaging experiences than experiences that lacked engagement than was actually the case. The literature emphasises the importance of congruency between employee’s personal values and organisational values (eg., Beagrie, 2005; Driver, 2005). The research supports this view, however, it indicates that, whilst congruency may help to maintain positive engagement, a deeper impact would be felt when values are incongruent. The strong comments made in interviews indicates the negative impact that incongruent values can have on diminishing engagement (or creating disengagement), for example, ‘… it can make you feel quite angry’ (MM11); ‘it affects me personally … I feel I should be better than this’ (MM2); ‘… and I was … devastated … they decided to try and take even more … of me … felt let down … it’s right in the heart’ (EG11). The impact of incongruent values on diminishing engagement (or disengaging) may therefore be greater than the impact of congruent values on positively building engagement. In summary, values, as a fundamental aspect of self and sense of being, appear to help to build engagement when there is congruency with an activity or an organisational context. Respondents appeared to feel a deep sense of fulfilment when they could see they were upholding important values. However, the negative impact of incongruency between activities and personal values appeared to be especially important. Respondents reacted deeply when they were compelled to be in a situation that offended their personal values. 6.2.9


Growth is the last of the seven integrated themes to be discussed in the context of the engagement continuum. It included individual themes that were labeled ‘growth’ and ‘achievement’, representing those themes that related to the possibility for selfenhancement in some way.


Growth was especially strong in relation to positive engagement; a high number of constructs were elicited on the Repertory Grid. More than any other theme, growth was proportionately much higher for engagement than for lack of engagement (and disengagement). Whilst growth factors were reported in relation to low engagement (or disengagement), for example, ‘I find it quite frustrating if you do a piece of work and then it goes nowhere’ (EG4), most references were to the positive impact of growth on engagement and were expressed strongly, for example, ‘I like to get and feel a sense of achievement … there’s a kind of passion to get things right’ (EG4); ‘I love the analytical part … it’s about personal achievement’ (EG7). This is consistent with the literature, which emphasised the importance of being able to grow as a person (chapter 2), for example, Deci et al. (1994), Debats (1999), and Deci and Vansteenkiste (2004), and self-enhancement was recognised by Gecas (1982) and Snyder and Williams (1982) as a fundamental human need. Likewise, the idea that people make choices based on the intrinsic fundamental human characteristic that people continue to move forward underpins PCP (Kelly, 2003). The research appears to support the positive impact of growth on engagement, but suggests that the lack of growth or achievement in an activity does not greatly diminish engagement (or create disengagement). Growth appears, then, to act as a positive when it is present but not a negative when absent. This finding is similar to the effect of self-identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy (section 6.2.6), responsibility and self-attribution (section 6.2.7). In summary, the opportunity for growth appears to be a key driver for engagement, but again should recognise individual ways that different employees may need to grow and develop. Whilst an important driving force for engagement, the lack of opportunities for growth appears to have very little impact on diminishing engagement (or disengaging). 6.2.10 Conclusion to The Nature of Engagement Engagement is not an absolute. It is not appropriate to describe employees as either engaged or not engaged (or disengaged).

Rather, people experience degrees of

engagement in the ebbs and flows of day-to-day work. Engagement should be considered as a continuum, not a state. Whilst the literature alludes to a continuum with engagement and disengagement at its poles, evidence from the research does not support this but


suggests that engagement and lack of engagement form a continuum. Figure 6.2 shows the engagement continuum, containing, first, factors indicated from the research that appear to most strongly increase engagement when present and decrease engagement when absent, listed in the middle, second, factors that appear to have a greater impact on diminishing engagement but very little or no impact on building engagement, listed on the left and third, factors that appear to be more important in building positive engagement when present but have less of an impact in diminishing engagement when absent, listed on the right.


Routine administration Pressure Incongruent values

The intrinsic work itself Challenge Worthwhile purpose Transcendent contribution Affective connection Self-worth Autonomy Authentic values

Diminished Engagement

Self-esteem Self-identity Self-efficacy Responsibility Self-attribution Growth Achievement

Enhanced Engagement

Figure 6.2 The Engagement Continuum I have noted (section that I had not planned to contribute another list of factors that may be applied formulaically by leaders to enhance engagement, but rather, consistent with PCP, (Fransella and Neimeyer, 2003), contribute insights into general factors or processes by which leaders and employees can make sense of, and manage, dynamics that impact engagement. Accordingly, perhaps the most important contribution from the research that has been discussed so far is the recognition that, on an engagement continuum, with high engagement at one pole and diminished engagement at the other, subject to contextual and individual differences, there are some factors that vary over the whole continuum, some


that act to primarily enhance engagement and some that primarily diminish engagement. The factors listed in the middle of the engagement continuum diagram (Figure 6.2) appear to enhance engagement when present because the activity which facilitates them enhances the person’s self, but diminish engagement when absent because the self is diminished due to their absence. This does not mean that work should contain as much of each factor as possible, because the engaging degree of each factor will vary between individuals. Rather, an optimal level or degree of these factors should be sought. This requires of leaders the sensitivity, leadership and interpersonal skills to first understand the importance of each factor for each jobholder.

Because the engaging impact of each factor is internally

constructed by a job-holder, work context cannot provide the factor directly, but, rather, work may be designed so that the opportunity to internalise experiences that enable these engaging factors are provided, taking account of individual differences. For example, one jobholder may be optimally engaged when he or she has autonomy over his or her immediate day-to-day tasks, but less engaged where this is either increased to strategic autonomy, or subject to micro-management. A different employee may be optimally engaged with both day-to-day and strategic autonomy. The factors listed on the left of the engagement continuum diagram (Figure 6.2), which appear to diminish engagement but not to positively engage, are factors which should ideally be eliminated in work wherever possible. For example, pressure (as distinct from challenge) may diminish engagement but would appear not to build positive engagement in any circumstances. However, again, as the factors are essentially internally constructed reality, and not objectively defined, whilst work may be designed to facilitate the possibility of eliminating factors that may diminish engagement, such as pressure, those objective tasks themselves that may be responsible for the pressure, may vary widely between individuals. The antithesis of pressure is challenge and what may be challenging and engaging for one person, may be pressure for someone else. Taking another example, as noted in section 6.2.3, routine administration would be that activity which an employee views as routine, and what is routine administration for one person, and lacks engagement, perhaps because their primary role is, for example, project management which varies daily, may be another person’s primary role and purpose, and be optimally engaging for them. The factors listed on the right of the engagement continuum diagram (Figure 6.2), which


appear to enhance engagement when present but do not diminish engagement when absent, implies that leaders should consider where they may facilitate opportunities for employee growth and recognise that whilst growth opportunities will tend to draw employees towards an activity, and sustain them when involved in it, when they are in activities that do not provide growth opportunities this factor alone may not diminish engagement. For example, an employee may be drawn to an activity that allows them to learn new skills, but the possibility that they will not learn new skills in an activity may not by itself diminish engagement in that activity. Again, this depends critically on the person and context. For example, an employee may have a particularly high need for achievement (McClelland, 1987), and his or her engagement may diminish where he or she does not see opportunities for development. In conclusion, from this discussion, the research contributes by identifying that different factors behave in different ways on an engagement continuum between low and high engagement, subject to individual characteristics and contextual dynamics. Some factors appear to relate to enhanced engagement when present and diminished engagement when absent, such as intrinsic work characteristics. Some factors appear to act as positive drivers for engagement but do not appear to strongly diminish engagement when absent, such as growth. Other factors appear to diminish engagement when present but do not have any enhancing role, for example, pressure. In this section, reference has been made to disengagement where this has helped to clarify meaning. The next section focuses specifically on factors relating to disengagement and considers disengagement as a construct that is distinct from engagement. 6.3


As noted, from early in the research programme, I began to question the dominant view from the literature that engagement and disengagement are two poles of a single construct continuum. I developed the research iteratively to explore this further and found evidence to support the view that they are two different constructs. Having discussed the nature of engagement as an engagement continuum, in the last section, this section explores disengagement, to assess its nature as a separate construct. It


commences, however, by considering those integrated themes that appeared from the findings to be important to both engagement and disengagement. This shows that whilst engagement and disengagement may be different super-ordinate constructs, they contain some subordinate constructs that are of similar importance to both. This is followed by a discussion of those themes that appeared to distinguish engagement and disengagement: work characteristics and self-concept. Whilst, when discussing the engagement continuum (section 6.2), I included reference to the literature against each theme, in this section, when discussing disengagement, I do not refer to the literature against each theme but include literature in a separate section (6.3.3) because an integrated discussion presents the issues more meaningfully. For reference, Figures 5.4 and 5.9 show the importance of individual and integrated themes associated with disengaging activities. Figures 5.33 and 5.35 show the ratings of concepts against disengaging activities on the concept mapping exercise. 6.3.1

Common Engagement and Disengagement Themes

Those factors that appeared, from thematic analysis, to behave similarly between engagement and disengagement, and therefore appeared not to distinguish these two constructs are, in approximate order of importance (in relation to strength of meaning), from high to low: o Connection o Purpose o Self-determination o Values o Growth Each of these is discussed in turn. This is followed by a discussion of the distinguishing factors, work characteristics and self-concept.

238 Connection Connection appeared to relate more than any other theme to disengagement and, of the different factors included in this theme, affective relationships appeared to be most important (Figure 5.4). The concept mapping exercise (Figure 5.33) indicated that the link between connection and disengaging activities varied between respondents, however this was due to the range of activities selected for this exercise, some of which did not involve connection issues, which were, then, naturally rated low. All of the activities rated as medium to high involved the negative impact of relationship issues or the disengaging impact of not being with other people. Many disengaging relationship issues were characterised by feeling attacked in some way, or wanting to withdraw, for example, ‘He likes to make a competition … but the way he does it is very destructive’ (EG7); ‘I’m not good … if I knew they were gonna be confrontational’ (EG4); ‘… I find it very stressful … it was quite patronising and trying to take over … they can be quite back-handed people, you hear that things have been said behind closed doors … rather than being transparent and honest about things’ (EG5); ‘I wouldn’t like to be the one stood at the front – it’s people that I don’t actually know … they’re strangers to me’ (MM9). When recounting this activity, MM9 also described a metaphor of wanting to be in a hole or covered in a sheet. Negative relationship issues were, then, experienced as the most disengaging factor within this theme of connection.

As connection was an important construct across the

engagement continuum (section 6.2.5), this suggests that connection is a central construct within the overall engagement dynamic. Purpose Similar to the connection theme, whilst lack of purpose was associated with diminished engagement (section 6.2.4), lack of purpose was also associated with disengagement. The importance of lack of purpose as a factor in disengagement was indicated in thematic analysis, however it appeared even more strongly in concept mapping and Repertory Grid analysis. Concept mapping indicated that purpose (with worthwhileness) was impacted more than any other factor in relation to disengagement (Figure 5.33) and this is also consistent with engagement.

Many constructs relating to purpose were elicited in


Repertory Grid analysis (Figure 5.11) and the close clustering of purpose-related constructs indicated a strong impact of purpose on construing engagement / disengagement related activities (Figures 5.38 and 5.30). This builds the argument, noted in section 6.2.4, that purpose appears to be a fundamental, super-ordinate construct in the range of engagement / disengagement experiences. Disengagement in relation to purpose was characterised not by active conflicts of purpose between respondents and activities, but by the sense that activities lacked purpose; that they were not worthwhile, did not make a difference or did not contribute to a cause. For example, Repertory Grid constructs included: ‘Worthwhile-Needed to be done’ (MM4); ‘Making a difference-not making a difference’ (MM3); ‘Work ethic-Means to an end’ (MM2). Quotations included: ‘I think if you haven’t got a sense of purpose, you wonder why you were actually put here, or why you get up every day’ (AO1); ‘I wouldn’t want to complete something that wasn’t done to a high standard and didn't have a purpose’ (EG4); ‘… disengaging because it was one of the things where you are given something to do and you don’t really know where you’re going’ (MM10). Respondents appeared disengaged, then, when they were involved in an activity about which they could see little reason, point or importance. The emotions expressed in interviews when discussing purpose and disengaging activities appeared deeper than many other disengaging factors and were often accompanied by a sense of frustration or hopelessness. For respondents ranking purpose as high in the concept mapping exercise, associated with disengagement, activities included, being excluded (EG4), destructive behaviours (EG11), being taken advantage of (MM6), and not knowing the reason for being involved a task (MM7). In summary, respondents felt most repelled, or disengaged when they could not sense that their involvement in an activity was worthwhile, valued or made a difference. Self-determination Section 6.2.7 explained the impact of self-determination on positive engagement, in addition to diminishing engagement. Likewise, the lack of self-determination is also an important factor in disengagement, indicating then, like purpose and connection, that this is a key construct in all engagement-related conditions.


Whilst not noted as the most important individual factors, the lack of autonomous control, and being compelled, were two themes that were expressed as deeply disengaging, for example, ‘I’ve never felt that there has been any ability [for them] to compromise and negotiate and therefore we can’t all reach a happy place’ (EG5); ‘… you’re not being listened to … not involved in the process … not responsible for it … you don’t feel someone do you … you’re not motivated your confidence goes as well, … it’s really unpleasant … you don’t feel trusted either’ (EG3). What is striking in disengagement-related comments relating to self-determination is the sense that respondents were ‘shackled’ in an activity that they could not avoid but were not able to manage autonomously, and this had an intense emotionally withdrawing impact. One respondent noted that, of all possible experiences, for her the most disengaging was ‘… where I'm forced to be involved in a project where I don’t find the outcome acceptable’ (MM12). The comment noted above, ‘you don’t feel someone’ (EG3), was typical of the affect on the self that respondents reported when discussing disengagement relating to autonomy and other self-determination issues, although these comments were elicited only after probing through pyramiding. One respondent described a football as a metaphor for a disengaging activity (Figure 5.37), partly because he felt kicked around, but also because he was not in control (MM5), and another respondent described work in which she lacked autonomous control as being like in a prison cell (MM1). In summary, the lack of autonomous control, in an activity that respondents also felt compelled to be involved with, was the single most disengaging factor in relation to selfdetermination. Values Whereas on the engagement continuum the degree of congruency of values related to the degree of engagement (section 6.2.8), overall, the impact of incongruency of values was one of the least important of the themes relating to disengagement, and constituted the lowest number of constructs elicited in Repertory Grid.

However, relative to other

themes, the impact on diminishing engagement and on disengagement was very high in proportion to the overall extent to which values were discussed (Figures 5.9 and 5.10), and was the most polarised of all construct categories (Figure 5.18). When values were


discussed, it was mostly in the context not of building engagement but of reducing engagement or actively disengaging, for example, when left out of an important decision, one respondent … ‘… felt my self-esteem was affected … and my values’ (MM8), and another respondent was disengaged … ‘… when someone breaks that trust and morality, that’s when I tend to have difficulties’ (MM5). Very often, value issues underpinned other reported disengaging factors, indicating a deeper impact than is otherwise evident from findings. For example, in relation to purpose: ‘I wouldn’t want to complete something that wasn’t done to a high standard and didn't have a purpose’ (EG4); in relation to connection: ‘I have difficulty, sometimes in having to do something that is obviously going to cause somebody else problems’ (MM1), and, as noted in section, in relation to self-determination, MM12 reported the most disengaging of all situation to be ‘… where I'm forced to be involved in a project where I don’t find the outcome acceptable’, indicating a strong underpinning impact of values on disengagement. In summary, whilst value issues were not noted as a key disengaging factor overall, they integrated and underpinned other factors, indicating the impact on a deeper sense of self, and, more than any other theme, related proportionately more to disengagement (and diminished engagement) than engagement. Growth The last of the themes that, from thematic analysis, tended to behave similarly between the engagement continuum and disengagement was growth, which included those factors that related to self-enhancement and achievement. Growth was noted very rarely in relation to disengagement (Figure 5.9) and had a similar profile to experiences that lacked engagement.

Where it was noted, by just three

respondents, it reflected a particularly strong need for achievement for those individuals, for example, ‘… I like to get and feel a sense of achievement … I find it quite frustrating if you do a piece of work and then it goes nowhere’ (EG4); ‘[I]f … I don’t have stretch projects … I don’t get any improvement or knowledge’ (EG8). The importance of growth overall was evident from the Repertory Grid analysis, which


showed a high number of growth-related constructs (Figure 5.11) and large clusters of constructs for both the Executive Group (Figure 5.27) and Middle Managers (Figure 5.29). However, whilst respondents did not appear to associate the lack of opportunity for growth as a factor that caused disengagement, or diminished engagement (as noted in section 6.2.9), they found the positive association of growth on engagement to be proportionately greater than any other theme, indicating a relatively strong positive association, but a weak negative association, with engagement dynamics. Whilst growth was, then, an important theme for positive engagement, it did not associate strongly with disengagement (or diminished engagement). Conclusion to Common Engagement and Disengagement Themes The five themes noted in this section appeared from thematic analysis to behave similarly between the engagement continuum and disengagement, indicating their broad importance in engagement dynamics. Connection, purpose and self-determination were the most important of these themes. Values and growth appeared least important, and also behaved differently. Whilst not a key theme overall, values appeared to be proportionately very much more important than any other theme in relation to disengaging (and diminished engagement) activities than engagement. Growth, again, whilst not an important factor overall, was proportionately much more important for positive engagement, compared to disengagement (or diminished engagement). The last of the integrated themes identified, work characteristics and self-concept, which appear to be key differentiating themes between the engagement continuum and disengagement, are discussed next. 6.3.2

Distinguishing Engagement and Disengagement Themes

To reiterate, work characteristics and self-concept factors have appeared, through the research, to distinguish the engagement continuum and disengagement. Whilst the broad notion of engagement has been positioned for the research as an internal (rather than behavioural) experience, within this context, consideration has been given to the possibility that engagement relates primarily to factors external to self, whereas disengagement relates


closely to internal self-factors. Work characteristics were of primary importance in the engagement continuum but of low importance in relation to disengagement. Self-related factors were shown to be of very much more importance in disengagement, but also of some importance overall in the engagement continuum. This was illustrated most clearly in the composite thematic analysis (Figures 5.9 and 5.10) and from concept mapping findings (Figures 5.34 and 5.35). Work Characteristics Work characteristics included all those individual themes that related to aspects of work that were, by definition, external to the job holder, including work ‘content’ and ‘context’ factors. As noted, whilst work characteristics was the most important theme on the engagement continuum (Figure 5.10), factors within this theme were reported relatively little when respondents discussed disengagement (Figure 5.9). The work characteristic factor that had the greatest impact on disengagement was being involved in tasks that were routine or administrative in nature. These are characterised by having little stimulation and being separate from the central purpose or nature of the work itself for example, ‘I hate getting bogged down with reports’ (MM6); ‘When I first came here … I worked in an administrative function … doing basic administration work daily – I nearly went out of my mind. I hated every minute of it, there was no challenge there, I didn’t feel I was using my capabilities at all’ (MM1). By definition, routine administration would be described as such by someone whose primary role is characterised by tasks which he or she considers to be of greater importance, and over which they have greater control, for example, ‘Well, when you get into some of the more trivial stuff you are actually then thinking well I could be doing other things rather than talking about the possibility of this … which is very remote and just taking up time (EG6); ‘We’re not all pulling in the right direction here and they can get very side tracked ... and you can see their policy and procedures in the background restricting them from doing things’ (EG3). Having too little to do was not noted as a major issue for respondents, but one respondent indicated that this could strongly disengage: ‘… boredom … I would say that a disengaging activity would be to have little to do. I couldn’t bear to sit at my desk without stuff to do’ (MM2).


Rather, having too much to do, and feeling pressured was a more frequent cause of disengagement, often coupled with other factors, including lack of control, or expectations of others, for example, ‘I think, because there is so much that I have to achieve … I’ve got a workload and other people can put into that workload and I prioritise it differently to what they might. So for me it’s a huge feeling of pressure sometimes and it can be quite frustrating’ (MM11); ‘… quite a few of the team have quite a need and wants and they do demand quite a lot of time and energy … we have spoken about it … it is quite draining’ (EG4).

Whilst being compelled to be in a job that lacked

stimulation can be disengaging, it appeared that being in a job that was pressured created a more disengaging experience. In summary, whilst externally focused work characteristics were central for engagement, they were very much less important in disengagement and often incorporated other factors such as relationships, autonomy and achievement. Whilst having to be involved in routine administrative activities was actively disengaging, it was the absence of factors, such as stimulation, connection and purpose, that was the central dynamic in this disengaging experience. Pressure, through too many demands and insufficient resources, including time, appeared to be the greatest disengaging factor in this work characteristics theme. Self-concept Factors incorporated into the self-concept theme were identified as being by far the most important in disengaging experiences. Figure 5.9 shows the graph line for self-concept as around twice the length of the next most important theme (although this does not imply it is twice as important) and Figure 5.35 indicates that self-related factors are consistently rated as more important by respondents in relation to disengaging activities than other factors. It appeared that, whilst a range of different factors may cause disengagement, those factors most deeply impacting disengagement related to the self. For example, EG11 expressed a deeply felt sense of betrayal and withdrawal after he felt that he had given a great deal: ‘I felt that … they’d had a huge bit of me and … devastated … they decided to try and take even more … felt let down … it’s right in the heart’. This was an extreme reaction to a deeply disengaging event. Nevertheless, other respondents also experienced a deep sense of disengagement relating to self. MM2 indicated the impact on her self-identity when others she worked


with had a different sense of work ethic: ‘I feel frustrated … and irritated … I don’t like it if people don’t have the same work ethic as me … I feel that perhaps it affects me personally insofar as I feel I should be better than this’ (MM2). MM6 indicated a diminished sense of self-worth when involved in an interviewing activity that required her to appear engaged but she viewed as an imposition: ‘… I suppose … it becomes a bit personal … only one, really was anywhere near decent … just awful, it’s like I'm losing the will to live here because this is such a struggle … no, … you have to be engaged, you have to sit there and smile … and I can feel it inside me … I absolutely don’t want to be here’. For another respondent, her self-esteem was affected when she was excluded from a task, but she made a point of indicating that her self-worth and self-identity were not effected: ‘I felt my self-esteem was affected … and my values, because it does affect them, but … I still have a strong sense of self-worth, even if I'm not involved, because I’m quite a strong character … I still have a sense of identity’ (MM8). The concept mapping exercise indicated no clear differences between the different selffactors; they appear to be of around equal importance. However, this may be explained at least partly by the approach observed whilst respondents carried out the exercise. Once they had identified the impact of the activities on the self, some respondents were less discerning about the specific aspects of self and grouped them at similar ratings. However, other parts of the research (and the last quotation above, by MM8) indicated that different aspects of self could be impacted in different ways.

As noted when

discussing self-concept in relation to the engagement continuum (section 6.2.6), self-worth was identified as relating closely to diminished engagement as well as to positive engagement, whereas self-identity, self-esteem and self-efficacy appeared to relate closely only to positive engagement.

Likewise, of all the individual themes relating to

disengagement, self-worth was noted as the most important single theme (Figure 5.4). In summary, disengaging activities were associated more with self-related factors than any other and self-worth appeared to be the single most important factor in the self-concept theme. Self-worth also appeared to be central across the engagement continuum, implying that this, like other themes noted, is a key construct in the engagement dynamic overall. This analysis shows that disengagement involves some factors that behave in fundamentally different ways to engagement and suggests that engagement and disengagement may be different constructs. The nature of disengagement is now explored


by integrating the literature.

Following this, the suggestion that disengagement is a

different construct to engagement, and the nature of meaningfulness, are explored. 6.3.3

Disengagement and the Literature

As noted in section 2.2.3, the term ‘disengagement’ is used infrequently in the literature. However, when it is used, it is often not clearly distinguished from other terms relating to diminished engagement, and the terms that are used, in turn, do not clearly distinguish the experience of non-engagement from the experience of engagement. The use of terms to describe non-engagement is, then, inconsistent. For example, whereas engagement is often positioned as if it is a state, for example, ‘37% of employees are actively engaged’ (Alfes et al., 2010, p7), the term ‘disengagement’ it is often used to indicate not a particular nonengagement state or experience, but simply as not being in the state of engagement. ‘Disengagement occurred when participants made an internal decision to stop the activity, or when factors in the participants’ external environment caused them to cease being engaged’ (O'Brien and Toms, 2008, p944). Kahn (1990) notes that the lack of supportive and trusting relationships can reduce psychological availability and safety, and therefore ‘disengage’, although he uses this term to describe a lack of engagement. Chalofsky and Krishna (2009) emphasise that not having purpose in work can diminish engagement; Vansteenkiste et al. (2006) show how a lack of autonomy can diminish engagement in intrinsically motivating activities, and Kolodinsky (2008) indicates that engagement can diminish where work values and individual values are incongruent. However, all these examples use terms interchangeably and describe different degrees of diminished engagement and disengagement.


exception to this, as noted in section 6.2.2, is a current article which distinguishes ‘Engaged’, ‘Not Engaged’ and ‘Disengaged’ (Yu and Harter, 2013), although it suggests these as a single continuum, with ‘not engaged’ as a kind of central, or neutral state. Examples in the literature of experiences which align with disengagement as it is understood in the current research include, as noted in sections 2.2.2 and 2.2.3, burnout and alienation. Research spanning over a decade claimed initially that burnout was the opposite to engagement and therefore was equivalent to disengagement (eg., Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004), although they showed only that they were negatively related, not ends of a single


continuum. Later research indicated that burnout and engagement were not opposites but different constructs (Schaufeli et al., 2009; Hakanen and Schaufeli, 2012). There is no evidence from the literature to suggest that burnout is the same construct as disengagement, but rather that one may be a result of the other, as an extreme response to work demands.

However, this supports the view from the current research that

disengagement may be positioned as a different construct to engagement. Disengagement is associated with the notion of alienation. ‘Work alienation represents the extent to which a person is disengaged from the world of work’ (Hirschfeld and Field, 2000, p790). As discussed in section 2.2.3, the concept of alienation was first introduced by Marx (Lefever and Lefever, 1977), and applied more recently by Blauner (1964). From the research, the construct of disengagement aligns closely with some aspects of alienation. For example, lack of control / autonomy in disengagement aligns with the state of ‘powerlessness’ in alienation; diminished self-identity aligns with ‘normlessness’; the impact on self-concept in disengagement aligns with ‘self-estrangement’ and the impact on purpose and worthwhileness aligns with ‘meaninglessness’. Further, alienation is the affect on the inner sense of self in work in which people feel constrained to be involved (Erikson, 1986), and from this perspective, relating to the disengaging impact of a lack of self-determination, shows further alignment with findings from the research. However, evidence does not support the view that disengagement and alienation are the same construct. Alienation is essentially the extreme state of separation through degradation of employees by work design characteristics (Erikson, 1986), whereas disengagement is the active psychological withdrawal of self. Alienation may lead to disengagement, but all experiences of disengagement are not due to alienation. In summary, then, research evidence suggests that disengagement is a separate construct to engagement and, whilst the literature is inconsistent in its application of different terms to different non-engagement states, it supports this view. This is explored further in the next section by considering the findings from a single respondent as a case exemplar, in which the possibility of experiencing both engagement and disengagement simultaneously is explored. If this is possible, by definition engagement and disengagement are different constructs.



Disengagement as a Distinct Construct

Evidence from respondent EG4 is examined to assess if she experienced both engagement and disengagement simultaneously. As noted in section 5.7.1, integrated reports were collated for respondents, and the report for EG4 is at Annex S. This report summarises findings from the conversational interview, and the Repertory Grid interview, and includes emic and etic data, with summary diagrams. EG4 had been an employee of RHA for many years, working her way through the organisation to become a director of a department with several different functions. From the conversational interview it became evident that EG4 was generally under a great deal of pressure and felt she was never able to catch up, nor consider more strategic needs or underpinning processes.

Her team constantly demanded her time and she felt

disappointed that they did not take more initiative, whilst finding the ‘HR’ aspects of her work stressful. ‘They do demand quite a lot of time and energy and I dunno … we have spoken about it, I mean … it is quite draining’. She had seen RHA grow dramatically and departments become more siloed, with less efficiency, cooperation and contribution, whilst trying to satisfy a wider range of different client needs. She felt that the work she produced was not appreciated and that she was not sufficiently recognised. Because she has high quality standards, needs to have a clear sense of purpose, has a high need for achievement and growth, and values transparency and cooperation, she experienced these aspects of her work as generally disengaging. Clustering of constructs indicated that EG4 construed the sense of uncertainty, lack of cooperation and lack of closure very similarly. Her demeanour was generally withdrawn in the interviews and she appeared to lack confidence.

When mapping concepts, the

disengaging activity she selected was a broad state of being excluded. She indicated that this had a damaging impact on her sense of self and purpose. The engaging activity she selected was complex projects, and in this activity her sense of self was not affected. Her experience of general disengagement and diminished sense of self, but the lack of selfenhancement when engaged, appeared to have a damaging fundamental impact on her. These findings indicate that EG4 was generally psychologically very disengaged with respect to the underpinning design of her work.


However, EG4 also indicated that she was engaged in her work. This was at two levels: values and projects. In the concept mapping exercise (Annex S), EG4 indicated that authenticity and values were not influenced by the disengaging activity and she maintained a sense of loyalty to RHA. ‘I don’t know whether strong work ethic comes into it, but I kind of have a very ethical … loyalty …’. She took a conscientious approach to her work. She often took work home and did more than was required to ensure that the quality was the highest she could produce. ‘I like to think that we’ve done as much as we can to get it perfect’. She has a deep sense of values, and high standards, and working with others to achieve high quality and satisfy her values was very engaging for her. ‘I feel that within the management team we’ve probably got very strong relationships … working collaboratively … to achieve the end result which is good service to our customers’. This indicates, then, that, even whilst EG4 felt strongly disengaged, relating to the general design of her work, she was highly engaged by seeking the very best standards and value for customers, possibly trying to re-engage because of her loyalty. The second aspect of EG4’s activities that she found engaging was working on complex projects, which had a clear purpose. She noted ‘complex’ and ‘project’ as two engaging activity elements for the Repertory Grid exercise and these were closely clustered indicating they were construed similarly. She finds challenge engaging and discussed specific projects with enthusiasm. ‘I like to get and feel a sense of achievement or to finish something off … I suppose there’s a kind of passion to get things right … detail’s very important to me’. Again, even whilst generally disengaged, EG4 was able to engage fully with specific projects. In these examples, key factors that related to disengagement were different in nature to factors that related to engagement. The underpinning sense of disengagement, as a superordinate construct, was characterised by subordinate constructs including diminished sense of control, growth, relationship, self-efficacy, standards and self-worth, whereas engagement was underpinned by subordinate constructs including authenticity, team-work, purpose, challenge, achievement, intrinsic interest, closure and confidence. This adds support for the distinction of engagement and disengagement. Evidence from this individual case, then, combines with previously discussed evidence to


support the view that it is possible to experience engagement and disengagement simultaneously and that engagement and disengagement can therefore be defined as distinct constructs, not ends of a single construct continuum. 6.3.5

Engagement and Disengagement as Distinct Constructs

The research concept model produced from the literature review (chapter 2), and shown at Figure 6.1, indicates concepts relating to the whole domain of engagement.


engagement and disengagement have been shown as distinct constructs, this is now reproduced as two diagrams, Figures 6.3 and 6.4, to represent these constructs. The concept titles included in the diagrams have been adapted to show those that are important in relation to each, primarily using font size. Following the discussion above, therefore, the diagrams show self-enhancement and externally-focused factors to be more important in relation to engagement than disengagement and, whilst self-factors are important in both conditions, they are shown to be especially important in disengagement. Purpose and connection are shown as factors of equal and high importance for both engagement and disengagement.



Authenticity Values Self-Esteem


Transcendence Connection Purpose Challenge Worthwhileness Autonomy Work Self-Expression characteristics Self-Identity Self-Efficacy Self-Attribution




Figure 6.3 Engagement Concept Model




Authenticity Values

Self-Esteem Self-Worth

Self-Identity Self-Efficacy









Challenge Work characteristics



Figure 6.4 Disengagement Concept Model Alternative Explanations As data were analysed, alternative interpretations and explanations of findings were considered. This was integral to the philosophy and approach discussed in chapters 3 and 4. Accordingly, alternative interpretations were considered for the differences found in the behaviours of some factors and the proposition that engagement and disengagement are distinct constructs. For example, as noted in section 2.2.1, Kahn (1990) indicates that emotional engagement may relate essentially to meaning, and cognitive engagement to mental stimulation.

Differences between engagement and disengagement may be

explained from these perspectives. The analysis does indicate that those factors that relate to meaning, for example self-worth, appear to play a greater role in disengagement than engagement, and factors that relate primarily to engagement may have a greater cognitive element, for example work characteristics. However aspects of meaning, for example purpose, and aspects of mental stimulation, for example intrinsic interest, were found to be important in both engagement and disengagement and so this explanation does not distinguish these two super-ordinate constructs. The argument that emotional engagement and cognitive engagement are not orthogonal, or distinct, is further supported by the proposition from Kelly (1955, p180), that, whilst the balance varies between constructs, all constructs integrate a cognitive, emotional and conative, or action, component; ‘[t]he classical threefold division of psychology into cognition, affection, and conation has been completely abandoned in the psychology of personal constructs’ (ibid, p180).


The interpretation of data, leading to the proposition that engagement and disengagement are distinct constructs, and other findings, required a constant critical approach and consideration of alternatives. This was integral to the exploratory, inductive, iterative research design and provides support for the interpretations and explanations that were revealed. In the next section I explore the nature of, and relationship between, engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement by examining the behaviour of different constructs as facilitators or drivers. This develops deeper insights into the distinction between, and the nature of, engagement and disengagement. 6.4


As I examined data elicited from EG4, I began to see a further distinction in the behaviours of different constructs on engagement experiences.

There were some

constructs that appeared to be drivers in engagement experiences and others that appeared to be facilitators, reflecting my broad analysis of findings, in chapter 5, and general proposition noted in section From the quotations included in section 6.3.4, she noted, for example, the lack of control as a driver in diminishing engagement (‘They do demand quite a lot of time and energy … it is quite draining’), and the opportunity for achievement as a driver in building positive engagement (‘I like to … feel a sense of achievement … I suppose there’s a kind of passion’). She also noted positive constructs that acted as facilitators, rather than drivers, for example, ‘… I kind of have a very ethical … loyalty …’, indicating underpinning values, and ‘I like to think that we’ve done as much as we can …’, indicating a sense of need to attribute outcomes to self.

Positive values and self-

attribution did not act to positively drive EG4 into an activity, but contributed towards maintaining her sense of engagement in it. Her engagement would have been diminished if these had not been present. Moving from EG4, I examined other constructs against general findings in relation to the engagement continuum, from high to diminished engagement. The following diagram, Figure 6.5, indicates those integrated constructs that appeared to be active drivers, and those constructs that appeared to be facilitators, or ‘passive drivers’ of engagement.




Self-concept Purpose Affective connection Intrinsic work characteristics Values

Passive Drivers


Active Drivers

Figure 6.5 Passive and Active Engagement Drivers Constructs were placed where they fit most closely. Growth appears to act primarily as a positive driver of engagement and has very little impact on diminishing engagement (illustrated in Figure 5.10). Self-determination, and in particular autonomy, appears to behave primarily as a passive facilitator of engagement and to have little impact on positively driving engagement. For example, no respondents commented or indicated in any way that they were drawn to an activity primarily because it gave them more control. Rather they were drawn to an activity because of other factors, and their ability to control acted as a facilitator to underpin, or maintain, involvement, not to positively drive it. Apart from these two integrated constructs, other constructs appeared to act as both active and passive drivers, depending on individual or contextual differences. It became clear, however, that sub-constructs, or individual themes, within these integrated constructs, behaved in different ways, and a more granular analysis was necessary. Figure 6.6 shows a more granular analysis, including those integrated, super-ordinate, and individual, subordinate constructs, as active or passive constructs, within a broader analysis, including disengagement, in addition to the engagement continuum. Constructs have been placed where they appear to impact most strongly, drawing on evidence from all analyses, noted in chapter 5. This is not to suggest that any one construct would never fit into another category, but that, from the research, this is the primary affect. As with previous diagrams, eg., Figures 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4, the inclusion of a ‘+’ or ‘-’ sign indicates a positive impact, or negative impact of this construct. The constructs in each box are listed in approximate order of importance, from analyses of strength of meaning.


- Self-worth - Self-efficacy - Affective connection - Purpose - Self-identity ACTIVE - Authenticity CONSTRUCTS - Self-esteem - Autonomy - Routine administration - Intrinsic work itself - Being compelled - Conflict - Values

- Purpose - Affective connection - Routine admin - Autonomy - Self-worth - Challenge - Recognition - Values - Authenticity - Intrinsic work itself

+ Intrinsic work itself + Purpose + Affective connection + Challenge + Achievement + Growth + Recognition + Self-esteem + Self-identity + Self-efficacy + Self-expression

+ Self-worth + Autonomy + Values + Self-attribution + Responsibility + Feedback + Closure + Direction





Figure 6.6 Passive and Active Constructs The boxes on the right show those super-ordinate and subordinate constructs that appeared to primarily actively drive positive engagement and passively underpin positive engagement. Active constructs draw a person into an activity and keep them engaged because, like a virtuous circle, the more they remain in the activity, the more of that factor they experience. Critically, these constructs represent needs or wants that do not appear to be subject to satiation, that is, they are phenomena that are never satisfied and remain salient however much a person experiences them. For example, purpose remains as an engagement driver however much clarity of purpose a person may experience. The combined effect of their attraction and continuous saliency means that they would sustain positive engagement, and, at an extreme, create a sense of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; 2003), as a kind of self-generating ‘servo-system’. Other things being equal, it would be expected that activities incorporating the possibility for people to experience these


constructs would be most engaging for them. Passive constructs underpinning engagement are those that do not act to positively draw a person into an activity, but act to positively underpin engagement. Consistent with the discussion above, autonomy is included here.

Noting other examples, feedback is

included, indicating the positive impact of feedback on motivational drive to continue involvement in an activity (eg., Epstein et al., 2002; Dihoff et al., 2004), but that the presence of feedback would not appear to be a primary driver to initiate engagement. Values is included here because congruency of values would appear to keep a person involved in an activity, but again would not actively initiate engagement. The corollary of values is purpose, which would appear to be the active driving construct underpinned by values. Another example of a passive construct is self-worth. Whilst self-esteem, selfidentity, self-efficacy and self-expression appear primarily to actively drive engagement, as noted in section 6.2.6, self-worth appears to be more of an underpinning state than an active driver. The notion of active and passive engagement constructs is reminiscent of the notion of self-enhancement and self-maintenance (Gecas, 1982; Snyder and Williams, 1982; Vansteenkiste et al., 2006), as fundamental characteristics of the human self.


enhancement links to active engagement drivers and self-maintenance links to passive engagement drivers. As summarised in section 2.5, the balance, or dynamic tension, between self-maintenance and enhancement factors, seeking a kind of dynamic stability, produces a sense of flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; 2003) and links to the experience of meaningfulness. It follows, then, that the interaction of active and passive constructs underpins the experience of meaningfulness.

Taking one example, as noted above,

purpose and values appear to interact to produce a dynamic engagement where drive derives from the expectation of a desirable (purposeful) outcome and is maintained by underpinning beliefs (values). Meaningfulness is discussed in section 6.6. The other boxes in Figure 6.6 show constructs that relate to diminished engagement and disengagement.

In both of these engagement conditions, only active constructs are

shown. This is because, for diminished engagement, it is non-sensical to envisage passive, underpinning constructs in what is a passive condition. It only makes sense to consider those constructs that actively contribute to this passive condition. For disengagement, it is


possible to envisage underpinning, passive constructs in disengaging experiences but, given that disengagement has been positioned as an active state, it again makes little sense to think of any contributors to this state as being passive. However, distinguishing passive and active constructs may be appropriate if disengagement were to be considered as its own continuum, from high to low disengagement. Disengagement as a continuum is discussed in section 6.5. Coming back to the whole of the matrix at Figure 6.6, there are interesting considerations in relation to active and passive constructs in different engagement conditions. For example, self-worth is shown as the most important of the passive positive engagement constructs, but it is also shown as the most important (active) disengagement construct. This indicates a fundamental characteristic of self-worth. Whilst experiencing a sense of worth is key for maintaining engagement, losing a sense of self-worth is also a key factor in creating the desire to withdraw. As noted, autonomy is shown to be a construct that would not actively draw a person into an activity, but is important in order to maintain engagement. However the lack of autonomy, control, or overall self-determination is shown to actively diminish engagement or disengage. Values are a passive driver of engagement, underpinning purpose, but when a person is compelled to be in an activity that is incongruent with his or her values, this appears to actively diminish engagement, or disengage, and impel him or her to withdraw. Whilst challenge and affective connection each appear to enhance or diminish engagement, depending on their degree of presence or absence in an activity, lack of affective connection, but not lack of challenge, appears to also create a sense of active disengagement. These examples indicate the different dynamics that may be experienced in relation to active and passive, or facilitating constructs in different engagement conditions. Implications of this are discussed in chapter 7. Throughout the research, and this thesis, I have referred to disengagement as a condition, or state, rather than a continuum, however the next section explores the possibility and implications of disengagement as a continuum.




As noted, whilst there was sufficient evidence from the research to show engagement as a continuum, from high to low engagement, there was insufficient evidence to confidently develop disengagement as a continuum (section This was because of the primary focus of the research, from the outset, on engagement as a positive experience and a single construct. However, the possibility of disengagement as a continuum can be envisaged. First, could disengagement be an extension of the engagement to lack of engagement continuum? When examining engagement experiences from the research I distinguished a lack of engagement from disengagement not by the degree of non-engagement, (with low non-engagement being attributed as lack of engagement and high non-engagement as disengagement), but by the nature of the experience. As noted, a lack of engagement was characterised as a passive or neutral state, perhaps, at an extreme, akin to a sense of ‘anomie’ (Johnson et al., 2011). However, disengagement was characterised as an active state of withdrawal. This contributed to the distinction of engagement and disengagement as different constructs, and having also established that it is possible to experience engagement and disengagement simultaneously, it does not then follow that disengagement may be construed as an extension of a single engagement – lack of engagement – disengagement continuum. If disengagement is, then, a continuum, it is separate from the engagement continuum. But what could it be like? When describing disengaging experiences, respondents often expressed strong emotions. There initially appeared to be little scope for a sense of mild disengagement compared to strong disengagement and this alluded to disengagement as a state, not a continuum. However, further analysis, whilst data was limited, indicated that there could be degrees of strength of feeling, which could be transcribed onto a continuum. For example, taking self-concept, EG11 gave what I judge to be the strongest expression of disengagement from the data: ‘I was upset because they’d had a huge bit of me … devastated … they decided to try and take even more … it’s right in the heart’. MM6 expressed a less strong disengaging self-concept experience: ‘I did that piece of work and it was completely rewritten … I got so frustrated that I just thought this is the wrong job for me’. MM8 expressed a more mild disengaging self-concept experience ‘… disengages me … when crucial decisions are made about what I'm doing and I'm not involved’. These are examples of levels of disengagement that


could form a continuum. They all indicate an active desire to withdraw but from high disengagement to low disengagement. Having already established that it is possible to experience both engagement and disengagement simultaneously, if disengagement forms a separate continuum, a matrix for analysis of the scope of engaging and disengaging experiences could be envisaged. This is shown at Figure 6.7, indicating the nature of the inner experience at each combination of high and low engagement and disengagement. This is applied in chapter 7 to show how it may be used to analyse engagement and disengagement activities in practice (Figure 7.1), where a further more granular analysis is carried out by applying this as a graph on which each activity item is placed individually, rather than into boxes, against engagement and disengagement experiences (Figure 7.2).

Figure 6.7 Engagement and Disengagement Matrix However there were few examples of data with the degree of granularity to develop a disengagement continuum, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that a continuum that is distinct from engagement could exist, and this could be explored in future research. In the next section, implications of engagement and disengagement as distinct constructs are discussed as the nature of meaningfulness, within the research context, is explored.




In chapters 1 and 2, I noted the importance of meaningfulness in work engagement (Renn and Vandenberg, 1995; Metz, 2002; May et al., 2004; Robinson et al., 2004; Humphrey et al., 2007; Alfes et al., 2010; Rich et al., 2010) but that it is not clearly understood (eg., Michaelson, 2005) and that further research was needed (May et al., 2004; Overell, 2008; Scroggins, 2008). I discussed issues relating to meaning from a broad perspective because the literature on work meaning is limited, and because work meaning may be understood most effectively through an examination of meaning as a general phenomenon (Ros et al., 1999). In chapter 2 I discussed the distinction between meaning in life and work and meaning of life and work and identified meaningfulness, for the purposes of this research, as the experience of meaning in work (section 2.3.2). Where work meaning is discussed in the literature, either no definition is given, or definitions are inadequate to explain underpinning factors, issues and dynamics. For example, Kahn (1990), in his seminal paper from which the initial definition of engagement for the research was taken (section 1.3), notes meaningfulness as one of three psychological conditions for engagement (section 2.2.1) but its clarification is limited to a borrowed definition (from Hackman and Oldham (1980) which is superficial (Ashmos and Duchon, 2000)), associated feelings (eg., ‘worthwhile, useful, valuable’), and benefits (Kahn, 1990, p704), and does not explore the internal experience of meaningfulness. This is common in the literature. This research therefore sought to develop insights into the inner experience of work meaningfulness, in the context of engagement. When conducting research interviews, as noted, I did not allude to the construct, or definition, of meaningfulness, in order not to influence participants’ responses (sections and 4.4). The notion of meaning and meaningfulness was raised by respondents in some interviews but this was very rare. The nature of meaningfulness was, consistent with PCP, therefore explored through subordinate constructs, guided by the review of literature, chapter 2. Meaningfulness was operationalised through the following definition (section 2.3.3), elicited from key elements of the literature, although analyses of findings and the following discussion were, and are not restricted by this statement.


Meaningfulness is experienced when people are able to maintain or enhance (Snyder and Williams, 1982) the being (Overell, 2008) or becoming (Harrington et al., 2001; Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009) of their authentic self (Metz, 2002) and when there is congruency with their self-concept (Schein, 1978; Boggs et al., 2003), self-identity (Chalofsky, 2003; Shamir, 1991) and ideology (Carlisle and Manning, 1994). This statement emphasises the self in terms of being, or who we are, rather what we think or do (Francis and Hills, 2008). It considers meaningfulness as possessing two main elements, first, the sense of consistency or preservation of being, and second, the possibility of growth or enrichment, with respect to who we are (self-identity) and what we believe (ideology), or ‘self-concept’. 6.6.1

Dynamic Stability and Meaningfulness

The possibility that meaningfulness is the experience of balance, or tension, of selfmaintenance and self-enhancement was introduced in section 6.4. The simultaneous sense of consistency and growth is an apparent paradox, however, as noted in section 2.4.7, an internally consistent, or meaningfully integrated sense of self (Epstein, 1973; Fullagar and Mills, 2008) is possible only as a process (Rogers, 1961) in the dynamic state of tension between current stability and future hope (Frankl, 2004). The concept model (Figure 6.1) presents engagement-related meaningfulness as the dynamic interaction of the need for maintenance and enhancement of self within an activity to form a ‘dynamic stability’. Engagement, or disengagement, is, then, influenced by the degree to which an activity facilitates the possibility of experiencing meaningfulness, or the balance between maintaining and enhancing self.

It is proposed therefore that the possibility of

incorporating both active and passive engagement constructs confers the closest possibility of experiencing meaningfulness. The nature of meaningfulness as the dynamic stability of passive and active constructs, or maintenance and enhancement of the self, raises the question of when meaningfulness, and engagement, are actually experienced. The temporal nature of engagement and of meaningfulness are important because I have positioned engagement as relating to that experience of being drawn into, or kept in an activity, and disengagement as withdrawing


from an activity, emotionally or behaviourally, and meaningfulness as that inner sense, associated with self, which acts as a powerful underpinning attractor or repeller in that engagement or disengagement-related experience. By its nature, whilst meaningfulness may be anticipated (in the future), or reflected on (in the past), it is experienced in the moment (Frankl, 2004) and through life as the ‘ongoing present’ (Carlisle and Manning, 1994, p685). The construct of disengagement has been established as an inner experience within an activity associated with the propensity to withdraw (section 2.2.3). By definition, then it can only be experienced when in an activity, in the moment, but it is related to experience that has occurred in the past, even if that past, as part of an ongoing present which created the disengagement, has only just passed. Engagement is also experienced in the present moment, however, rather than its focus being on the past, its focus is on the future. It has been established that engagement is related to enhancement drivers and maintenance conditions that draw a person towards, or keeps them in an activity (section 6.4), which, by definition, is future oriented. The notion of meaningfulness as dynamic stability, through maintenance and enhancement of self in the ongoing present, which in turn establishes disengagement as a construct vested in the present and past, but engagement vested in the present and future, adds further support for the argument that engagement and disengagement are distinct constructs. This is developed further in the following discussion, in which a more granular analysis is carried out as meaningfulness is explored through the lenses of each of the key engagement themes.

Linkages are made between the research and literature, not to

produce a definitive or exhaustive characterisation of meaningfulness, but, rather, to contribute indications of those key aspects of meaningfulness that are especially important in relation to engagement and disengagement experiences. 6.6.2

Work Characteristics

Work characteristics, as a broad theme incorporating many factors, does not appear to have a close association with any key aspect of meaningfulness, except that, where it is important, intrinsic factors are more important than extrinsic factors. In general, extrinsic factors have little association with the inner self, but intrinsic factors, by definition, link the inherent nature of the work to the needs and characteristics of self, and can therefore


create a powerful sense of meaning (Shamir, 1991).

Metz (2002) suggests that

meaningfulness relates essentially to intrinsic, not extrinsic factors, and research findings indicate that, whilst work characteristics were important for engagement, intrinsic aspects were the most important factors within this theme for both engagement and disengagement.

Intrinsic factors therefore appear to contribute to the possibility of

experiencing work as meaningful. However, whilst involvement in intrinsically satisfying tasks may enhance motivation (section, meaning is a deeper experience than motivational drive (Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009), or the superficial ‘meaning’ found in the performance of tasks (Ashmos and Duchon, 2000). This deeper experience goes beyond work preference (Overell, 2008) and relates to purpose, identity, values and integrated wholeness (Chalofsky, 2003a; Chalofsky and Krishna, 2009). Even intrinsic factors then, will not be expected to have a major impact on the experience of meaningfulness. Rather, factors elicited from the research other than work characteristics appear to have a greater influence on meaningfulness. 6.6.3


The constructs relating to purpose were found in the research to be central in engagement and disengagement (sections 6.2.4 and Purpose is associated closely with meaning in the literature and whilst it is often implied that purpose and meaning are intertwined (eg., Ashmos and Duchon, 2000; Hughes, 2006; Sheep, 2006), purpose may more precisely be considered as underpinning meaningfulness (Debats, 1999; Holbeche and Springett, 2004; May et al., 2004). As the literature indicates that meaningfulness can be experienced through purpose, and as the research indicated that constructs relating to purpose are key across engagement and disengagement, meaningfulness can be linked as a key construct within the whole engagement dynamic. This is further supported from the findings, which indicated that the most important single aspect of purpose on the engagement continuum was contribution, and in particular, transcendent contribution (Figure 5.6), and contribution is noted in the literature as being one of the most important factors for creating a sense of meaningfulness (Metz, 2002; Chalofsky, 2003a). The sense of meaning experienced through the ability to make a transcendent contribution appears, then, to be a key outcome from a sense of purpose, and this in turn appears to influence the degree of engagement or disengagement experienced in an activity. Put simply, purpose, through contribution, appears to be one of the most important factors for enhancing or


diminishing meaningfulness and engagement, or creating disengagement. Transcendent contribution has been linked in the literature with the notion of giving of self, and with self-worth and self-esteem (section 2.5). This links to the next theme, selfconcept. 6.6.4


Self-esteem, and especially self-worth, underpin the experience of meaningfulness (Baumeister, 1991; Shamir, 1991; Gill, 1999; Hughes, 2006). In the research, self-concept was found to be a central theme, especially in relation to disengagement (sections 6.2.6 and, and, of the self-concept factors, self-worth was key. These arguments therefore link meaningfulness with purpose, gained through transcendent contribution, and with self-worth.

Self-worth, in turn, is linked with the sense of worthwhileness and

significance, as key components of meaningfulness (Baumeister, 1991; Wolf, 1997; May et al., 2004; Zigaemi et al., 2007). Self-concept, and in particular self-worth, is therefore a key component of meaningfulness and as self-worth was found in the research to be such a central factor in disengagement, this indicates that meaningfulness may be influenced more profoundly in relation to disengagement than positive engagement.

Meaninglessness in

relation to disengagement may be a stronger inner experience than meaningfulness in relation to engagement. Meaning appears to be gained through the sense of being true to self, which requires a clear sense of self-identity and emphasises the meaning that arises from maintaining authenticity (Metz, 2002). 6.6.5


The literature is surprisingly quiet on the link between meaningfulness and aspects of connection with other people, with the exception of the degree to which that connection involves contribution towards a greater cause, and in particular to other people (Metz, 2002; Chalofsky, 2003a; Holbeche and Springett, 2004).

The research indicates that

connection was very important in the engagement continuum and in relation to disengagement, and that affective relationships appeared to be the most important factor


(sections 6.2.5 and

However, whilst affective relationships may impact

engagement, and relationships themselves may be experienced as meaningful, there is little evidence from the research data that affective relationships are central in the experience of work meaningfulness. Meaningfulness in connection with others therefore appears to come from the ability to contribute, not simply relate. This in turn links to the importance of purpose as a central dynamic in the experience of meaningfulness. The importance of contribution in relation to purpose, meaningfulness and engagement, has been noted (section 6.2.4) and, whilst the sense of purpose that people may experience through relationships may create meaning, and that meaning may be experienced through, for example, the enhancement of self, simply connecting with others, whilst satisfying social needs, may not contribute in any significant way to the experience of work meaningfulness. 6.6.6


The literature suggests that ideology, characterised as enduring beliefs and values (Carlisle and Manning, 1994), underpins self-concept (Gecas, 1982) and this moderates engagement through ‘self-enactment’, or the desire to maintain self-identity, moving towards situations that reinforce, but away from situations that counter, core values. Carlisle and Manning (1994) argue that this ‘attitude of mind’ ‘authorises’, or provides support for, a particular course of action, that is, then, construed as meaningful. Shamir (1991) argues that people will engage in activities that reinforce meanings associated with values (section 6.2.6). The research indicates that whilst constructs relating to values were not of central importance overall on the engagement continuum, they were proportionately more important in diminished engagement than any other factor (sections 6.2.8 and Linking with the literature, this indicates that values may be more important in the moderation of low engagement or disengaging activities than engaging activities. This was mooted in section when recounting the strength of respondents’ comments in relation to values in low engagement / disengagement compared to engagement. This in turn indicates that the sense of meaninglessness experienced where values are transgressed may be greater than the sense of meaningfulness experienced when values are upheld, and this implies that values may impact the sense of work meaning to a greater extent in disengaging activities than in engaging activities. If beliefs and values, as Carlisle and


Manning (1994) suggest, act as legitimisers, or give license to activities that create meaningfulness, then when values are not congruent with an activity, which therefore diminished meaningfulness, it would be expected that this would lead to diminished engagement or disengagement. 6.6.7


Constructs relating to growth were found in the research to be important in positive engagement but did not appear to relate to diminished engagement or disengagement (Figures 5.9 and 5.10). This was explained by aligning growth with self-enhancement and recognising that whilst people may engage in order to enhance the self, the lack of growth will not necessarily diminish engagement (section 6.2.9).

By positioning self as an

‘originating agent’, Gecas (1982, p18) argues that self-enhancement is a fundamental characteristic of self and, given Shamir’s (1991) emphasis on meaningfulness being linked to the outworking of the self, growth is shown to contribute to meaningfulness. However, because growth featured so little in relation to lack of engagement and disengagement, there is no evidence to support a view that lack of growth negatively impacts meaningfulness in any significant way. 6.6.8


The final theme identified in the research was self-determination. It has been argued that, from an ethical perspective, meaningful work should provide independence and autonomy (section However, whether self-determination in some way influences the inner experience of meaningfulness directly is unclear from the literature. Autonomy (section and responsibility (section, for example, are important factors in work motivation, however these, and other factors in self-determination do not appear to be directly important in rendering an activity meaningful or meaningless.

Because self-

determination appears to be so fundamental to the possibilities of maintaining and enhancing self (Snyder and Williams, 1982), the ability to make choices and determine courses of action will have at least a secondary impact on degrees of meaningfulness that may be possible in the context of a particular activity. However, there are few links that can be made between the literature and research findings to any strong direct association between self-determination and work meaning.


The consideration of each main theme from the research has demonstrated how engagement and disengagement, as represented by these themes, link to meaningfulness. This supports the view that meaningfulness is a key dynamic in engagement. However, perhaps the strongest support for this argument comes from Baumeister and Wilson (1996). Over many years, Baumeister researched life meanings and has concluded that there are four needs that are central for people to experience life as meaningful. These are purpose, reliable values, self-efficacy / autonomy and self-worth. As these needs were found in the research to be of primary importance in the experience of engagement, it may be argued that meaningfulness is a key dynamic, and perhaps the key dynamic, in engagement and disengagement. 6.6.9

Conclusion to The Nature of Work Meaningfulness

Work meaningfulness is understood most effectively through a broad perspective of life meaningfulness. It has been argued that meaningfulness is the experience in the moment, or ongoing present, of self-maintenance and self-enhancement to establish a consistent sense of self, or dynamic stability of self.

Passive constructs facilitate or sustain

engagement and active constructs directly impact the engagement or disengagement experience. Whilst meaningfulness is experienced in the moment, disengagement is vested in the present moment and past, and engagement is vested in the present moment and future. Intrinsic work characteristics are associated with enhancing engagement and have been linked to the experience of meaningfulness. However, other factors appear to have a stronger impact on meaningfulness and its impact, in turn on engagement and disengagement. Purpose, and, in particular, contribution, underpins meaningfulness and is a key factor impacting engagement and disengagement. Self-worth is a key component of meaningfulness. It was found to be the most important factor in disengagement and as a passive construct in developing engagement. Other self-concept factors, including selfesteem and self-identity were found to drive engagement experiences.


connection, not just being with others, was found to be a central dynamic impacting engagement and disengagement but it was the ability to contribute that appeared to be the key aspect of connection for the development of meaningfulness. The congruency of values can build engagement but of greater importance in relation to values is the impact


that incongruency can have on diminishing meaningfulness and engagement.


possibility of experiencing growth of self aligns with the fundamental characteristic of selfenhancement, building meaningfulness and enhancing engagement, whilst having little impact on diminishing engagement when it is not present. Being able to make choices, through self-determination, underpins the possibility of experiencing meaningfulness which in turn has a positive impact on engagement when present and a negative impact when lacking. The association of particular factors from the research with meaningfulness and engagement conditions supports the argument that meaningfulness is important in engagement dynamics, however, the strong alignment of meaningfulness with purpose, values, self-efficacy / autonomy and self-worth (Baumeister and Wilson, 1996), and of engagement conditions with these needs, strongly supports the argument that meaningfulness is central to engagement dynamics. 6.7


In this discussion, findings from the analysis of data and the review of literature have been combined in order to elicit meanings from the research. Each element of the research question, ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’ was explored in turn with reference to the main themes elicited from research findings.

These explorations have resulted in contributions to theory and

practice, which are summarised in chapter 7.

Evidence was presented to establish

engagement and disengagement as distinct constructs. An engagement continuum was discussed, from high to low engagement and whilst there was insufficient evidence to establish a disengagement continuum, such a continuum was proposed. Engagement appears to be characterised by externally focused factors, and especially intrinsic work characteristics, in addition to other constructs, which act in a passive or active way to facilitate or drive engagement and, in turn, to maintain and enhance self. Disengagement, as an active condition of withdrawal, appears to be characterised by internal self-related factors, and especially self-worth.

Other key factors, impacting

engagement and disengagement in different ways, include purpose, affective connection, self-determination, values and growth.


Meaningfulness has been established as a central dynamic in engagement. It is argued that meaningfulness is experienced as the dynamic stability of the process of self-maintenance and self-enhancement in the ongoing present, and is underpinned by those key engagement-related factors identified in the research, and in the literature, including purpose, self-worth, autonomy and values. Having established the nature and relationship between work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness, I now turn to the final chapter in which I discuss implications for managers and leaders, reflect on the research process and make recommendations for future research.


Chapter 7 CONCLUSION “It is inappropriate to ask for a conclusion … of a phenomenological study” van Manen 7.1


Whilst van Manen’s (1990, p13) argument above was enticing, I succumbed to the view that avoiding this chapter may not greatly help my cause! Instead, I draw on his view that phenomenological study, as with the current research, is of a nature that requires the researcher not to conclude or converge into some diluted synthesis of generalised theory, but rather to remain open to authentic meanings intended by individual respondents. This principle has underpinned the research from the outset. To reiterate, once I had identified the nature of the research phenomena and had focused the research question, I followed a systematic approach in an attempt to ensure that the whole research process was coherent and consistent. The internal perspective on the nature of work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness excluded realist and positivist paradigms, and I adopted a relativist, constructivist paradigm, recognising the constructed nature of each person’s experience.

In seeking meanings from respondents, a phenomenological

approach was appropriate and as the phenomena could not be measured directly, I collected qualitative data, recognising the inevitability of interpretation in collecting, analysing and eliciting meanings. Because the literature is not clear about the nature of, and relationship between, engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness, I adopted an inductive, exploratory approach and recognised that an iterative research design, integrating concepts and principles from the literature over several research phases, would be most appropriate for building understanding.

The framework of Interpretative

Phenomenological Analysis and the underpinning theory of Personal Construct Psychology, coupled with quality and ethical standards, provided a rigorous methodology. Notwithstanding the need to maintain focus on meanings from individual lived experience, the research sought to build understandings and patterns of essences that may, 270

after taking account of contextual and individual differences, be considered for transfer to contexts other than the research organisation.

Accordingly, whilst the following

discussion keeps sight of the limitations associated with the idiographic nature of the data, this chapter brings the research study to a conclusion by discussing implications and potential applications of findings, lessons learnt from the research process and recommendations for future research. 7.2


This section summarises the contributions of the research and discusses their application in the analysis of engagement-related experiences for leaders and individuals. 7.2.1

Contribution to Theory

The research found evidence that engagement and disengagement are not two ends of a single construct continuum, which is the tenet of current literature, but are distinct constructs, impacted in different ways by different factors. Essentially, externally-focused, future looking, work factors are critical for engagement whereas internally focused selfrelated factors are critical for disengagement. As different constructs, engagement and disengagement may be experienced simultaneously in the same activity space.


research found evidence which developed deeper understanding of the nature of meaningfulness, as a dynamic which balances the tension between the human needs for stability and enhancement, and that meaningfulness plays a central role in driving and maintaining engagement, whereas meaninglessness plays a central role in experiences of disengagement. Disparate strands of literature linking engagement, meaningfulness and self have been synthesised, developing a concept model, which was modified following the theoretical insights gained from the research. 7.2.2

Contribution to Practice

Findings from the research may be applied in different ways in the context of work. Having argued not for a formulaic list of factors but a number of principles, leaders may use these principles to help in their understanding of team members’ engagement experiences. The inner-focus of the engagement experience may require coaching or


counselling skills, especially when dealing with jobholders who are disengaged, but leaders may use a simple framework in which high and low engagement and disengagement experiences are noted and their implications analysed as a basis for change.


understanding of the nature of, and importance of, meaningfulness in engagement contexts would help leaders to focus on key factors that may, taking account of individual and contextual factors, be central for improving engagement experiences.


individuals may apply the principles to themselves, using the framework and gaining selfawareness about the nature of work and factors that impact their experiences of engagement and disengagement, and how meaningful their work is. Leader and selfevaluation may be applied in many practical ways including performance reviews, team working, task allocation, career development and considerations relating to work-life balance. 7.2.3

Contribution to Methodology

I believe that Personal Construct Psychology has been used for the first time in the exploration of work engagement-related dynamics and meaningfulness, and, with the application of Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis, has provided deep insights into people’s personal meanings. Maintaining an inductive paradigm, the research applied a variety of tools and techniques and these developed iteratively as the research progressed and as insights from the literature were enfolded with research findings to develop increasingly deeper insights. The use of formal techniques, such as Repertory Grid, and alternative techniques, such as critical incident technique, concept mapping and metaphors, along with the use of computer-based tools and instant analysis, with ongoing discussion during interviews, provided data which was triangulated from different lenses to develop greater richness and depth of understanding. 7.2.4

Leader-Analysis of Engagement and Disengagement

This section considers implications of the research for leaders. It is in two main parts. Section summarises systematic processes and actions that leaders may take to manage engagement dynamics. Section has some overlaps with section, but is more discussional. It considers links, or relationships between high engagement, low engagement and disengagement in practical contexts, and integrates how leaders may


design work contexts, and respond to different engagement experiences, in relation to both his or her actions and who they are as people, that is, leadership doing and being. Systematic Leadership Processes An early activity for establishing ways in which a leader may seek improvements in teamwork performance, or well-being, would be to analyse jobholders’ engagement and disengagement profile, giving primacy to their lived experience, and exploring those activities that create different engagement conditions. The matrix proposed at Figure 6.7 may be used for this, with reference to active and passive constructs at Figure 6.6, and applying the following process: 1. For each individual person, list key activities, including tasks, events or processes within the engagement / disengagement matrix. 2. For each of these activities, identify key constructs, for example, relating to level of responsibility, or challenge, or to clarity of purpose. For low engagement and disengaging activities, this will involve ‘active’ constructs only. For positively engaging activities, ‘passive’ and ‘active’ constructs are assessed separately. 3. Link constructs to work-related factors that may be maintained, managed or changed in some way, for example, to maintain positive engagement, to enhance engagement where this is lacking, and to overcome disengagement. Factors may include externally focused work factors, for example, work characteristics, relationships or leadership, or internally focused individual factors including, for example, expectations, desires or mindsets about how work should be. 4. Consider changes or developments that may be made, how these may be implemented and the impact of these changes to each activity individually and to activities as they relate to each other. This is presented as a systematic process for assessing engagement and disengagement activities but it raises the question: ‘What should be prioritised, diminishing disengagement or enhancing engagement? The only answer to this is, ‘It all depends’, for example, on the extent of the engagement / disengagement experiences, on contextual and individual issues, and resources. However, the following priority may be most effective:


1. Eliminate disengaging experiences 2. Maximise positive engaging experiences 3. Minimise active experiences that diminish engagement 4. Optimise passive engaging experiences Priority 2 and 3 may be interchangeable, however, addressing disengaging factors may be the top priority because of the destructive impact that disengagement can have, for example, a sense of diminished self-worth. Maximising active engaging factors could be the next priority because this would help to build the positive benefits of engagement quickly, for example, ensuring that team members have a clear sense of purpose. Minimising diminishing engagement factors would then remove barriers to engagement, for example, lack of affective connection, and, finally, optimising passive engagement factors would strengthen dynamics that underpin and sustain engagement, for example, autonomy. Whilst disengaging factors may be addressed as a priority, those individual activities that contribute to both disengagement and engagement may take the highest priority. The findings demonstrated that engagement and disengagement are distinct constructs and that it is possible to experience both simultaneously. The example case study I used to demonstrate this (EG4, section 6.3.4 and Annex S) indicated the damaging impact that this can have.

In this case, however, the simultaneous experience of engagement and

disengagement associated primarily with different types of activity, not within the same activity.

Where each activity is independent, they could be managed individually.

However, the experience of both engagement and disengagement within the same activity could create the most damaging inner experience. An example of such an activity could be working on a project which is intrinsically interesting and challenging but which, for the jobholder, does not have clear purpose or lacks affective connection. The engaging draw into the activity would simultaneously take the jobholder closer to its disengaging impact. This could create deep, psychological conflict, especially if maintained over a long time, and for this reason, dealing with single activities that create significant degrees of both engagement and disengagement simultaneously may be the highest priority for a leader.



Making changes

As noted (section, I had planned not to suggest another list of factors that may be applied formulaically by leaders to enhance engagement, but rather, following Kelly’s approach (Fransella and Neimeyer, 2003), to contribute insights into general factors or processes by which leaders and employees can make sense of, and manage, dynamics that impact engagement. The themes identified through analyses of research data are therefore used not as a list of factors that should necessarily be changed, either by a leader or by a jobholder, in order to impact engagement, but rather as the basis of questions or issues that may be addressed or discussed. Starting with the experience of disengagement, following the summary noted at Figure 6.6, the research suggests that questions and issues that should be addressed include those, in approximate order of priority, relating to: 1. Self-worth 2. Self-efficacy 3. Affective connection 4. Purpose / contribution 5. Other self-concept factors 6. Autonomy 7. Other self-determination factors 8. Intrinsic work characteristics 9. Values 10. Growth So, for example, a leader who identifies the possibility of a disengaged team member might give close attention to deficiencies associated with their sense of self (whilst, in practice, probably not starting a conversation with such intrusive issues, but perhaps starting with job-related issues). Moving to the engagement continuum, questions and issues that may be addressed to maintain active engagement, and overcome lack of engagement, include those, in approximate order of priority, relating to:


1. Intrinsic work characteristics 2. Purpose and contribution 3. Affective connection 4. Challenge 5. Growth 6. Recognition 7. Self-esteem, expression, identity and efficacy A leader may, then, focus on the work itself as a priority for building or maintaining positive engagement, for example, the intrinsic interest that the jobholder has in the work. Of these work issues, following Herzberg et al. (1959), a leader may seek to first ensure that external, context factors are satisfactory, even though they may be passive engagement issues. This is not because they are especially important in driving engagement, but because unsatisfactory external context factors may undermine the possibility of other factors building engagement. Following consideration of factors relating to the work itself, a leader may then consider purpose, contribution, affective connection and other positive drivers of engagement. Finally, a leader may give attention to those factors that are not active engagement factors but which underpin or maintain engagement. These are not considered as less important than the active factors. On the contrary, they may include passive factors that, as noted above, like hygiene context factors (Herzberg et al., 1959), have to be satisfied before drivers can effectively engage. However they may not take a higher priority because, first, overcoming disengagement and building active, positive engagement may be most effective overall, and, second, because some key passive factors may take longer to change, for example, establishing a management style that provides the optimum level of feedback. Passive factors that should form the basis for questions or issues that a leader may address are: 1. Self-worth 2. Autonomy 3. Values 4. Self-attribution 5. Responsibility


6. Feedback A leader, then, may focus primarily on issues relating to the sense of self. As noted above, self-worth was also noted as a key issue impacting disengagement and this therefore reinforces self-worth as perhaps the most important underpinning factor in the engagement dynamic. The sense of values closely links to self-worth and these two factors are therefore of primary importance for leaders to address in order to maintain positive engagement possibilities.

Autonomy links with self-attribution and responsibility to

emphasise the importance of jobholders being able to control activities, make choices and link their personal involvement with outcomes. A leader may therefore give high priority to ensuring that a team member has the optimal degree of ‘space’, resources, facilities and freedoms to be able to manage their own tasks and outcomes. In summary, disengagement may be managed and engagement may be established and maintained through leaders addressing issues and asking questions of jobholders that relate to the following, in approximate order of importance: 1. Does the work situation facilitate or promote a sense of self-worth? 2. Are the work activities congruent with the actual and potential skills and confidence (self-efficacy) of jobholders? 3. Does the work itself, and management enable jobholders to internalise a sense of purpose, and is it congruent with their values? 4. How closely does the intrinsic nature and characteristics of the work fit with jobholder characteristics? 5. Does the work facilitate the opportunity for affective, authentic connection with other people? 6. Is the work and supervision designed to promote a sense of autonomy, responsibility and self-attribution? 7. Does the work provide opportunities for challenge? 8. Do jobholders feel that they can experience a sense of achievement and growth, and express their sense of self, in work activities? 9. Does the work allow jobholders to build a sense of self-esteem and self-identity? However, a leader should focus on, and give priority to, the specific needs and


characteristics of individual jobholders, which may vary widely. The research explored inner experiences, not external conditions. Whilst it is part of a leaders responsibility to make changes to job content and context to facilitate enhanced well-being and work performance, this research has emphasised the importance for leaders of rooting their analysis of engagement and disengagement in team member’s individual internal experiences. A leader should not make assumptions. The motivation literature (chapters 1 and 2) gives guidance on the factors and characteristics that may be employed to improve work. These should not be ignored, and the list noted above may be applied for general management and maintenance of engagement. However the first priority for a leader should be to focus on the particular needs and characteristics of individuals. For one team member, more meaningfulness and engagement may be experienced through increased variety, challenge and intrinsic interest, but for another, this may be through increased pay, status and supervisory involvement, or any combination of work possibilities. A leader must get to know how his or her team members’ construe their reality. ii

Leadership competencies

The application of research findings raises the issue of competencies required of leaders to manage engagement-related dynamics, especially when there are indications of particular needs or issues. Whilst maintaining positive engagement may be expected to be within the normal skills of an effective leader, dealing with disengaged team members would require a richer and perhaps more specialist skill-base. This is partly because of the negative personal nature of the disengagement experience, and partly because it may involve deep self-related issues. Coaching, and perhaps counselling, skills would therefore appear to be essential for leaders, especially when dealing with disengagement, coupled with specialist analytical skill where construct elicitation and interpretation is required. However, whilst a leader should understand when they should refer-on team members who exhibit symptoms outside of their competence, a lack of specialist skill should not prevent him or her managing normal engagement and disengagement issues.

278 Implications for the Doing and Being of Leadership In section, I argued from the literature that whilst good leadership is often characterised by what a leader does, outstanding leadership is also underpinned by who a leader is. Many different leadership behaviours and traits were summarised and I noted that through the research I did not aim to contribute further lists of factors that could improve leadership but rather to identify key principles that underpin engagement dynamics and that leaders could use to facilitate engaging work contexts. Accordingly, in this section I draw attention to engagement dynamics by considering how engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement relate, and how both what a leader does, and who he or she is can influence these dynamics. A story-telling approach is used (Stake, 2005; Lewis, 2006), following possible engagement and leadership issues as a person starts and establishes himself in a new job. I name the person Liam, and his leader, Emma. On the first day of his new job, Liam was excited by the anticipation of the challenge. He also felt nervous, uncertain about how well he will cope; he felt a diminished sense of selfefficacy. The anticipation of the challenge drew him towards, or engaged him in, the job, but his sense of fear caused him to want to withdraw, or disengage – a strange inner conflict of seemingly distinctly different feelings, or constructs. Emma met him, but appeared to be distracted. This had a disproportionate impact on Liam. He had felt a great sense of achievement and self-worth in gaining the job but now he felt a little withdrawn, or disengaged.

But he soon realised this was just his

interpretation. He was, albeit unknown to him, testing a construct system which placed this organisation as friendly, open and welcoming, and had not internalised constructs which also recognised it as being efficient and task-focused. However, his construct system was permeable and soon adapted to the new reality, especially as Emma apologised, shook his hand warmly and asked how he was - and how his car was, which developed a fault on the way to the interview. By this Emma demonstrated her interest in Liam not just by her actions in meeting him, but by her authentic warmth and interest in him as a person. On the way to the office Emma said how pleased she was that he had accepted the job. This unsolicited comment was motivating for Liam and raised his self-esteem, but only a


little, until Emma explained why. When she clarified the urgent need for the contribution that he could make, because of his unique blend of skills and experience, his raised selfesteem, self-worth, and purpose created a deep sense of meaningfulness. Paradoxically, this high expectation also jolted the low sense of self-efficacy he was feeling, and he again simultaneously felt a sense of both engagement and disengagement, or withdrawal. This was real enough, but on a continuum of high to low disengagement, this would be at the lowest point, and he was able to dismiss it. When Liam finally got to his desk, after discussions with Emma and HR, he was excited to get started on the project he had been given. He was to develop proposals for introducing a new housing scheme for single parents. The congruency of this project with his values underpinned his sense of engagement, although this was more passive than active. What actively engaged him was involvement in a complete project which was challenging and in which he could make a real contribution to others. He loved the variety and complexity of project work, and achieving success, and these would keep him engaged day-to-day, but the overarching sense of doing something that was worthwhile and significant made the job deeply meaningful for him. Emma had introduced the project effectively. She had considered Liam’s needs, interests and characteristics and so started with an overview of its importance and purpose. She was concerned that Liam’s extrinsic ambition to gain promotion might conflict with the intrinsically engaging nature of the job, and may create inner conflicts for Liam, but she hoped his sense of values and intrinsic interest would be fundamental drivers. And so they were for a number of weeks. Some aspects of the job were more engaging than others.

The project itself remained varied and engaging and whilst routine

administrative tasks, and other tasks which were not challenging, were far from engaging, they were not disengaging and he was content by completing them quickly. Emma had helped here. Recognising that Liam had a high need for challenge and achievement, and that he seemed to immersed himself in the work, she tried to balance low challenge tasks with demanding activities, which allowed him to experience successes as he went, such as visits and meetings with other people, giving supportive but honest feedback on a day-today basis. Emma realised that she needed to manage the members of her team, like Liam, individually, facilitating, as much as she could, the most effective work context and requirements depending on each person’s unique characteristics. Liam appreciated this;


the organisation’s culture, and especially Emma’s honest and open leadership style, helped him to feel a sense of stability whilst at the same time feeling a sense of growth and development. Emma was facilitating a positive sense of self-concept and self-maintenance whilst also facilitating a sense of self-enhancement. However, it did not last.

Because of the economic downturn, external funding for

projects, such as Liam’s, dried-up and leaders, including Emma, had to make cost savings. Emma was honest with Liam about this, and this reinforced Liam’s trust and sense of confidence and security in Emma’s authenticity as a person. But she became increasingly concerned, and it affected her leadership style. She began to ‘micro-manage’, reducing Liam’s sense of autonomy. His self-determination diminished and whilst this did not have a disengaging impact, he felt a lower sense of engagement – he could no longer attribute outcomes of his work entirely to his own efforts, and his confidence, or self-efficacy, which had been high after he had established himself in the job, began to erode. It was as though Emma did not trust his judgement as she once did. As this continued, he became aware that his sense of self also began to erode. He had previously known exactly where he stood in the organisation, and with Emma, but now his sense of self-identity, selfesteem and, most importantly, his sense of self-worth felt like they were crumbling. It was strange. There was a sort of ‘vicious cycle’ in which, as his self-concept diminished, it affected his ability to perceive and interpret relationships and work with the same degree of optimism he had had, which in turn further reduced his sense of self-worth, which caused him to actively disengage. What did not help at this time was Emma’s response to Liam’s clearly disengaging behaviours.

He was no longer showing enthusiasm, staying on into the evening or

proactively contributing ideas. Emma responded to this in what Liam could only describe as a formulaic approach, which in itself – because she indicated she no longer attended clearly to his needs and characteristics personally – further reduced his sense of value and importance in the organisation. Emma had learned some motivation theories and put them into practice. She tried to enhance Liam’s motivation by improving his offices décor, buying him a new ergonomic chair and by giving him responsibility for more project activities. It did not work for Liam. His improved office and comfort were nice enough, but they had no impact on positive engagement. Increasing responsibility may have helped if it had been linked with Emma also reducing her need to get involved in


detailed aspects of his work, but all it actually did was ‘dilute’ his ability to get involved in what really mattered to him – the single parent housing project. So he found himself with greater pressure, not challenge, to be involved in work that had little intrinsic interest or meaning, and with little control to do much about it. He became even more disengaged and began to feel a sense of alienation. Something had to be done. The close relationship that Emma had fostered early in Liam’s employment had had a deep affect on Liam and in spite of Emma’s changed behaviours it was as though who she was as a person – her being – had a greater impact on their relationship – which in turn impacted his engagement – than what she did. He felt able to talk to her and discuss his issues. He explained how some aspects of his work actively engaged him, including his sense of purpose and the project work itself, and this was supported by passive engagement factors including values congruency, responsibility, autonomy and the ability to attribute successes to himself. He emphasised that whilst some tasks were not engaging for him, such as administration, he willingly accepted that this was all part of the job. It was difficult for him, but Liam also explained that, whilst he understood the pressures Emma was now under, and appreciated her continued openness with him, he felt he actively wanted to withdraw from involvement now, primarily because of the pressure, loss of meaning in his involvements and loss of a sense of partnership, or affective connection with her and others in the organisation. He admitted that the worst thing for him was the risk of loss of funding for his project. He had put a lot of himself into his work in the early weeks and felt an assault on both his self-identity and self-worth. He was some-how caught-up in a state of inner-conflict. He loved the project and what it meant, but the uncertainty over its future – would it ever come to anything? – created a deep inner sense that he could only describe as depression. He was in limbo without knowing which way to turn. Emma was shocked.

She had not realised the impact on Liam from the changed

circumstances, especially as she had tried to protect him from them. She still valued him highly and saw a great future for him, especially as the organisation came out of the downturn and into growth. Liam then began to experience a change from a ‘vicious’ to a ‘virtuous cycle’ not least because Emma apologised, explained what went wrong, discussed Liam’s thoughts and feelings and then involved him in developing his job into the future. She restored Liam’s sole focus on his project and developed his involvement by inviting


him onto the Project Initiation Committee, which reported directly to the board. Liam and Emma decided to meet each week to discuss progress and mutually contribute ideas. They agreed a target for completion and implementation of the project, providing a clear focus, challenge and purpose. Liam’s sense of self-worth was restored. As he continued in the work, he found himself immersed in the project, as though it became an integral part of himself – he experienced ‘flow’. He felt stable and that he could relax – his sense of self-concept was clear and in particular he had a deep sense of self-worth. Life was not boring. The project continued to be a challenge as he took increasing responsibility and developed new skills and experiences in activities that had worthwhile purpose. Life was meaningfully moving forward in a dynamic way, but was also underpinned by a clear sense of stability. This scenario has highlighted links between engagement, lack of engagement and disengagement, showing how they interact and, being influenced by different factors, may be experienced simultaneously. Active engagement factors, for example challenge, and passive engagement factors, for example values, were shown to operate on a single highlow engagement continuum and whilst some factors influenced all three noted engagement conditions, including purpose, factors having a particular influence on disengagement, such as self-worth and affective connection, were highlighted. Leadership approaches added complexity to this scenario. In particular, whilst leadership actions had a significant influence on engagement experiences, the leader as a person, and the affective relationship that developed, had a much greater and more profound impact on engagement experiences. Having considered implications of the research for leaders, the next section discusses implications for self-analysis and management. 7.2.5

Self-Analysis of Engagement and Disengagement

The last section discussed the application of research findings for leaders and managers through a process of analysis of engagement and disengagement experiences and implementation of changes. This section considers the application of findings for selfanalysis of engagement and disengagement. It discusses a process which is largely similar to that noted above for leaders and managers, and incorporates the same essential


prioritised constructs and factors. Similar to considerations of leadership competencies, self-analysis would require of the person careful self-awareness in assessing their own engagement-related experiences, and may benefit from the assistance of a professional coach or counsellor. This may be helpful in several different circumstances, for example, the analysis of a particular activity in the moment could help a person to reflect on specific work characteristics that are especially engaging or disengaging for him or her, an evaluation of a future work activity or different scenarios could help a person to plan, and insights into more general engagement / disengagement experiences could be a basis for career development decisions. To demonstrate a particular application of self-analysis, I am using myself as a case study, considering engagement and disengagement activities within my PhD journey. In addition to demonstrating the application of findings for an individual analysis of engagement and disengagement, this section is also, therefore, a reflection of my PhD research journey. Tasks and events included in the PhD are listed as items on the engagement – disengagement matrix at Figure 7.1. The following sections discuss each box in turn. However this is followed by a consideration of a more granular analysis using the same axes but as continua rather than discrete boxes. False start Threat to progress Destructive criticism Negativity

Involvement by X Writing Seclusion Research interviews Opportunity costs Prospect of completion

Basic analysis of data PhD routine Literature searches

Prospect of PhD Reading literature Research philosophy Findings Identifying contributions Working with partner Sharing with others Discussions with supervisors Feedback on drafts Part of research community Self-determination Life aim






Figure 7.1 Engagement and Disengagement Matrix of PhD Journey

284 High Engagement / Low Disengagement A relatively high number of items are noted in the high engagement / low disengagement box. This reflects the positive engaging experience I have had overall on the PhD, with many active, driving tasks, including reading literature, research philosophy, identifying contributions and discussions with my research supervisors and partner. I was determined from the outset to enjoy the journey and overall this has been my experience. I had high expectations of the PhD for enhancing my sense of self, as well as my work and career prospects. I researched a topic which fascinated me and I was drawn in the moment by all those tasks that allowed me to explore the topic and develop insights. I was surprised that I also found research philosophy so engaging. I expected this to be one of the least engaging aspects of the programme, but I found that developing insights into the philosophical underpinnings of research – as opposed to methods and techniques – was most rewarding. This has enhanced my awareness of my self: whilst I find practical application gratifying, I have a greater realisation of my interest in theory. Studying ontology and epistemology, coupled with Personal Construct Psychology, helped me to clarify my own view of reality and has laid a foundation for future work, and perhaps research.

As the findings were revealed and I could see the prospect of making

contributions, I felt increasingly that the journey was worthwhile.

My own active

constructs therefore included intrinsic interest, a sense of self-identity and esteem, purpose, contribution, achievement, affective connection and growth. My engagement in the PhD was also underpinned by passive factors.

I was in an

educational activity that I had wanted to do for some 20 years. As I noted in chapter 1, I had a fundamental belief about the possibilities of simultaneously enhancing both work performance and well-being and whilst this was not well formed, this sustained my ongoing interest in the PhD. I would not claim that the research findings have made major inroads into understanding how this may be achieved, but I believe it has made a contribution. The ability to plan and carry out the PhD under my own steam (albeit with helpful support and encouragement from my supervisors and partner) was important to me and created an ongoing engaging sense that it was under my control, I had the responsibility to complete and I could attribute outcomes to myself. Constructs which I identify as passive and foundational, rather than active, in maintaining engagement


included, therefore, a sense of self-worth, self-determination, feedback and my values. The PhD journey was meaningful to me at many levels, but critically, the constructs which drove and maintained my involvement, as noted above, align with those factors identified (section 6.6) as central to the experience of meaningfulness: purpose, self-worth, autonomy and congruency with values.

This sense of meaningfulness was key in

maintaining my engagement, especially when frustrations occurred. Low Engagement / Low Disengagement However, not all activities were engaging. The low engagement / low disengagement box shows items that did not actively drive or maintain my involvement, but also did not actively repel me from involvement. I had to get on with them and they provided extrinsic rather than intrinsic benefits. I note three items which are characterised by a lack of challenge and intrinsic interest. They were instrumental for other, more intrinsically interesting and engaging parts of the programme, but inspired little motivational drive. One is general. I found the need for a disciplined approach to routinely, day-after-day, work at my desk, difficult at times especially when there was little apparent progress. This was compounded when the task included the other two items noted here. I was never actively engaged by activities involved in analyses of data or literature searches themselves, although the reward of an interesting finding or a good paper helped. But these items were also not actively disengaging. They did not repel me, they just did not engage me. So, what could I have done about these? I could not eliminate them. But, if I had known then what I know now, I could have managed them more effectively. I would have included in the daily routine more enjoyable activities, especially those that were energising such as sport, and I would have planned to do low-interest, low-challenge tasks at the beginning of the day, with more interesting and rewarding tasks later. Low Engagement / High Disengagement Items noted in the low engagement / high disengagement box were imposed as active, repelling factors and were destructive barriers to progress and provided no sense of engagement. None of these were ongoing, although some lasted for several weeks, but as they were disruptive, they had no place in the programme and I was able to eliminate or


overcome them with no cost to the final outcome. They include a false start to the programme, requiring me, just as I was satisfying a life aim, to temporarily withdraw, and they also include a period of time during the programme which created a major interruption to progress. Also included are negativity and destructive criticism from some quarters. Whilst I recognise the need for direct critique and appraisal, which I was grateful to receive from supervisors, I found some particularly critical interventions undermining and repelling. Items in this box were characterised by particular constructs, including a loss of autonomy and a loss of self-worth and efficacy. They had a disproportionate impact on me; I felt alienated and I found it impossible to continue until they were eliminated or I had mitigated their affect. High Engagement / High Disengagement The last list of items in this analysis includes those that were simultaneously engaging and disengaging. Involvement in these tasks, in the moment, contained active or passive engaging factors which drew me towards it, but at the same time contained factors which were actively disengaging, or repelling. Of these activities, involvement by person ‘X’ had by far the most impact. The others were relatively minor. For a significant period during the PhD journey I talked with ‘X’ about my progress and I gained a great deal from our discussions, however the very act of doing so also created tensions. In particular, ‘X’ had a very different paradigm to the one I had adopted for the research; he essentially held a positivist perspective. Whilst I did not argue that my paradigm was right and his was wrong, and I would value a debate about the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches, I needed to remain focused on the paradigm I had adopted and so we amicably parted company. The other items had little impact but are included to illustrate different levels of potential conflict. Writing and research interviews are included because whilst I enjoyed some aspects of these the need to ‘perform’ created an intrinsic tension. Needing to write to a high standard was sometimes almost paralysing, although this was tempered by the helpful approach of supervisors who welcomed initial incomplete and roughly drafted ideas. I enjoyed seclusion and being able to concentrate autonomously but again, this meant I


would not meet with others, which I missed. If I were involved in a similar activity in the future, I would include more interaction with others, partly to satisfy social needs but also to allow more discussion of research topics. Being part of a research community was gratifying and valuable but lack of regular discussion was one of the worst aspects of this as a part-time PhD.

Other items which created tensions include opportunity costs,

primarily around responsibilities to family and friends, and for income-generating activities. The last item on this list is the prospect of completion. A strange item to include, perhaps. After four years of focused work towards completing the PhD, I began to sense a tension – a desire not to let it go! The constructs which contributed to tensions include the sense of autonomy, affective connection, a sense of identity (with respect to the research paradigm), self-esteem, achievement and self-efficacy. More Granular Analysis The analysis above was based on four categories of engagement / disengagement activities and demonstrated a self-analysis using the two continua.

However as noted, some

activities would have benefited from a more granular analysis, giving greater differentiation between items in a particular box. It also became apparent that high to low engagement and disengagement did not adequately locate all activities. Rather, a position indicating no engagement or disengagement would have been helpful. This could lead to a three-bythree rather than two-by-two matrix. However, taking this further, the items noted on the matrix at Figure 7.1 have been re-located on a scatter gram, at Figure 7.2. This shows each item located separately against my sense of engagement and disengagement. The process of formulating this revealed some interesting benefits. Producing this on computer meant that I could ‘pick up’ and move each item until it ‘felt’ right. A deeper reflection into why this location felt right helped me to develop further insights into the ways in which different items impacted my engagement and disengagement experiences. This scatter gram was especially effective for some analyses, for example, the items in the high engagement / high disengagement box, which differed widely, but was less effective for other boxes. Nevertheless, this provides a much more granular analysis of activities


and this could be helpful in other contexts where detailed experiences of each item are important.


Threat to progress False start

Involvement by X

Disruptive criticism Negativity Research interviews Opportunity costs Writing Seclusion


Prospect of completion Feedback on drafts Part of research community Sharing with others Reading literature Working with partner Discussions with supervisors Literature searches Self-determination Research philosophy Prospect of PhD Life aim PhD routine Findings Identifying contributions

Basic analysis of data





Figure 7.2 Engagement and Disengagement Continuum of PhD Journey This section has summarised research contributions and demonstrated leader and selfanalysis of engagement and disengagement activities, factors and constructs, coupled with a reflection of my PhD journey. In the next and last main section, I turn to an assessment of the research, noting limitations and recommendations for future research. 7.3


This section identifies key limitations of the research, considers alternatives and makes recommendations for future research. I argued for a particular research paradigm based on the nature of the phenomena and the research question. However this imposes limitations, as would any particular paradigm. The relativist, constructivist paradigm adopted is appropriate for exploration of internal phenomena (chapter 3). However, as noted, these cannot be measured directly and are subject to indirect access and interpretation. Interpretation is inevitable in researching 289

these phenomena and whilst intending to stay close to phenomenological data, it is limited by the ability of the respondent to identify and communicate their inner experiences, and of the researcher to perceive and internalise respondents’ meanings. I recognise my own need for development in skills to further underpin my competence in interpreting these types of phenomena. The research activities which followed this paradigm have their own limitations. In order to address the research question and, in particular, to build knowledge around engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness, which were not clearly understood but related to deep experiences, I restricted the scope of the research and carried out in-depth exploration. By selecting one organisation I could immerse myself in its culture and people. But I could never know the degree to which the findings related only to the unique nature of this organisation or may be applied to other contexts.

Transferability must remain the

responsibility of the transferor, however carrying out the same research in more organisations would provide greater credibility, dependability and transferability of findings, and is recommended for future research. Selecting a limited number of respondents, whilst allowing depth of exploration, created further limitations on the credibility, dependability and transferability of findings.


selected respondents purposively, because they would be expected to be able to address the research activities most effectively, but this places limitations on the degree of confidence possible in applying findings to people of different age groups, stages in their career, job functions, industry sector and level. Using these as criteria as a basis for future research is therefore recommended. The Western national culture within which the research organisation sits, and the organisational culture, places further limitations on the research, and application of findings. Future research, using the same methodology, could be carried out in different cultures, in particular, research into engagement and disengagement in eastern cultures could richly contribute to a broader understanding of these dynamics. This could be especially relevant to people who work in different cultures. Future research could also follow a different paradigm. The paradigm I applied was considered appropriate for the phenomena and question, and was congruent with my


personal philosophical perspective. It facilitated deep exploration. However, with the contribution of other exploratory research, and once factors and constructs are more clearly defined, a positivist paradigm may be helpful. Whilst this has its own limitations, for example, reducing phenomena to quantitative data which lacks depth of meaning, positivist tools and techniques, including questionnaires, could facilitate broader exploration across a larger population. The inductive approach, building insights from data, seemed appropriate because of the uncertainty around the nature and characteristics of engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness, however, as these constructs are more clearly understood in future, a more deductive approach, consistent with the recommended consideration of a positivist paradigm, may be applied. One of the limitations of the inductive approach applied in the research was in the definition of themes from analyses. Whilst I sought to elicit meanings by immersing myself in the data and by ‘bracketing’ my own worldview, I was aware that, at the margins, some data could be attributed to more than one theme. I became more confident of themes as I returned to interview transcripts several times and triangulated with different data, but this raises the need for further research into the themes and constructs that I defined. Themes, such as work characteristics, need more exploration, in particular to refine the different type of characteristics and how they behave in relation to engagement and disengagement. I used a computer package (Atlas.ti) early in the analysis of data but soon returned to manual thematic coding because I considered the computer coding was too reductionist and mechanistic.

I remain convinced in the value of

researcher interpretation and coding of meanings, but I wonder now if returning to computer coding, and combining with manual coding, would add richness to analyses and findings. In addition to work characteristics, all themes would benefit from more research and definition, although this seems to be all encompassing, especially in relation to such themes as purpose and values. However, research to gain greater clarity and agreement of understanding would greatly benefit understanding of engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness. I note in the findings, chapter 5, that whilst I have found evidence to propose engagement and disengagement as different constructs, and that engagement forms a continuum, I


could not confidently propose disengagement as a continuum. I remain concerned that the nature of disengagement is different to engagement, for example, if disengagement is defined as an active condition, I see no argument for it containing passive factors or constructs. However, I also see evidence that disengagement may be experienced to different degrees, and for this reason propose the engagement – disengagement matrix. More research is required firstly to develop deeper understanding about what disengagement really is, and secondly what a disengagement continuum might be like. My aim to explore the role of meaningfulness in engagement and disengagement required an initial broad review of literature and a research approach which sought to explore those constructs that contributed to meaningfulness without addressing it directly. The link between key constructs and engagement and disengagement, namely, self-worth, purpose, contribution, affective connection, values, self-determination, and meaningfulness, as defined from other research, with particular focus on self-worth, purpose, values and autonomy, is persuasive evidence that meaningfulness plays a central role in engagement and disengagement experiences. However further research is needed to develop more depth of insight into the inner experiences of engagement and disengagement and how they relate to meaningfulness. Causality in this, as well as other related constructs, has not been claimed in the current research, and future research into causal relationships would be critical if it is to be applied effectively for managers and leaders in a broad work context. 7.4


This thesis has addressed the question, ‘What is the nature of, and relationship between, work engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness?’ through exploratory, inductive research based on an interpretivist paradigm and application of Personal Construct Psychology.

It has

confirmed much of the literature and has demonstrated a link between engagement, disengagement and meaningfulness. Key contributions include identifying disengagement as a construct which is distinct from engagement, proposing engagement and disengagement continua as a basis on which these experiences may be analysed and considering the role of meaningfulness as dynamic stability of self-maintenance and enhancement and in these experiences. It has raised more questions and has made recommendations for future research, building on current understanding to develop


further underpinning theory and practical principles that may be applied to establish work contexts that simultaneously facilitate high work performance and individual well-being.


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Mobile Gardeners

Cleaner (Ipswich Estates) Residential Caretaker

Cleaner (Warner Place)

Fin Rec Administrator

Trainee Hsg Mgt

Estate Services Team Leader

Hsg Admin’or x3

IT Assistant

IT Officer

Hsg Assistants

Cust Sve Suitable Fin Rec Snr IT Advisor & Incl’n Officer Snr Hsg Homeless N’hoods x2 Officer Officer Admin’or Acc’m Cust Sve Officer Housing Sup’or Agency Officers Coord Sup’d Equality & Hsg Assistant Officer Hsg Mgr Diversity Sup’d Hsg Housing Admin’or Officer Manager Information Leasehold Sves Mgr HR Mgt HR Officer HR Officer Admin’or Assistant HR Administrator x 9 Activity Officer Cleaner x 13 Head of Director HR Coord’or Support Support Sve Scheme Service Hsg & Gardener / Board Director Manager Workers Supervisors Managers Older Care Sves x 7 HR HR HR Handyman x 7 Finance & x9 Persons Supported x 25 +Trainee Assistant Admin’or Housing Officer Resources CEO Head of & Care Support Finance Service Manager Director Mgt Acc’t Manager Senior Sve Learning Mgt Accs Dev & Property Shift Difficulties Manager / Accountant Supervisor Mgt Acc’t Assistant Sves Support Leader Supervisor PA Head of x2 to New Workers x4 Sve Temp x5 Payroll CEO Dev & Property Bus Operations Supp Hsg Proj Mgr Admin’or Sves Mgr Head of Mgr Supervisor x6 Asset Mgt Project/ Support/ Outreach Wkrs Administrator Cleaners Gardener / Handymen

Head Head Head of Dev Resp Orwell Head of Dev Repairs Repairs Snr Dev Sve Officer Resp Rprs Officer Dev Officer Prog Wks & x4 Voids Mgt Officer

Admin’or x 5

Fin Assistant Trainee x3 Fin Assistant

Home Ownership Admin’or

Tradesperson x 2 Craftsman Phase 1 ACROSS ORGANISATION interviews in red italics Phase 2 & 3 EXECUTIVE GROUP interviews in green italics Phase 4 MIDDLE MANAGEMENT interviews in yellow italics Non-participant employees in blue

Cleaners x 3




Involvement in Research at [River] Housing Association Dear ......... [CEO] has sent a note to you about some research I am carrying out at [River] Housing Association. Thank you for your interest in being involved. This note gives more details about the research. As you read these notes please do contact me at the e-mail address at the end if you have any questions. What am I researching? The research relates to the general things in work that cause us to want to engage willingly, and those that tend to get in the way of our interest in engaging in an event or activity. These vary widely between people and I am asking different people from all over [River] Housing so that I get a broad spread of different views. This is not to investigate or assess you personally about specific work issues at [River] Housing but to talk generally about the types of things that affect work involvement and engagement. What will it involve? For you, it will involve an initial individual talk / informal interview, with me, which may last for an hour. It could be shorter or longer, depending on what we discuss, but it won’t be longer than 1.5 hours. This will be in your normal work time. I do not want to explore anything that will be personally sensitive in any way. And of course, you can always say you’d prefer not to answer any question. Because I am asking you about your own ideas and thoughts, there are no right or wrong answers, just those that you honestly feel. The discussion we have will be confidential and no one else, within or outside of [River] Housing will have any way of knowing what you personally have said (unless you reveal anything illegal or that may cause harm to yourself or others!). I will take notes and ask for your agreement to record the discussion so that I can be sure I do not miss anything you say. After the interview I will summarise findings and send these to you so that you can confirm that you agree with my interpretation or correct as necessary. If for whatever reason you do not feel you wish to be involved, you can withdraw from the research activities at any time, in which case any notes or recordings will be deleted and excluded from the research. Following our initial interview there may be some aspects that I would like to discuss more with you, in which case I shall contact you again to see if you would be happy to talk further. Information Collected Information from interviews will be kept securely and compliant with the UK Data Protection Act. Hard copy data will be kept in a locked cabinet. Soft copy data will be password protected. Raw data from discussions will not be made available to any other parties. At the start of the discussion I will ask you to sign a consent form noting your agreement to the discussion.


Benefits People who take part in research like this usually find it enjoyable and are interested in what comes out of it. Once you have confirmed your agreement with my interpretation of our discussion I will produce a short summary of the discussion for you personally. You may wish to show others or keep it for yourself. I will also put together other general, anonymous, summaries of the findings for employees at [River] Housing. I may also be able to produce articles in professional journals and conference papers, as well as my doctoral thesis. You will not be personally identified against any comments you make in any of these documents, but if you agree I would like to acknowledge your contribution by noting your name in my doctoral thesis. I’d also like to give you a token thank-you gift for your involvement. A bit about me! I first got to know [River] Housing some 10 or more years ago when I worked with you to achieve Investor in People accreditation. I’ve been interested, for a very long time now, in the reasons why for some activities we become fully engaged, and why other activities leave us cold. Now, after a career at BT and independently in education, I have the opportunity to explore this in some depth in a doctoral programme. I’m working nearly full time on this, along with some work activities in business schools and universities. Who am I attached to? The research is part of a formal qualification programme with Henley Business School, The University of Reading. I am subject to formal supervision to ensure that a high professional standard is maintained in conducting the research. My supervisor is Professor Jane McKenzie ( The research has not been commissioned by [River] Housing Association and except for the time required and resources to carry out the research, [River] Housing are not providing any funding or payment for the research. The research has been reviewed by the University School of Management Research Ethics Committee and has been given a favourable ethical opinion for conduct. Before the Discussion Before we meet, please can you start to think about some work-related events or activities that firstly, were especially engaging for you, where you felt positively attentive, absorbed or involved, perhaps like you feel when you take part in a sport or hobby that you love. Secondly, please think about some events or activities that were opposite to this, where you felt uninvolved, detached, uninterested or distracted. Also, think about some activities that meant something to you, for whatever reason. We will clarify all of this in the discussion so don’t worry if this is not clear to you right now. We shall arrange a meeting time that best suits you soon. I look forward to meeting and talking with you. With kind regards, Trevor Long




Consent Form for research carried out by Trevor Long at [River] Housing Association.

I have received for my retention the ‘Involvement in Research’ letter and a copy of this consent form.

I have had explained to me by Trevor Long the purposes of the project and what will be required of me, and any questions I had have been answered to my satisfaction. I agree to the arrangements described in the Involvement in Research Letter in so far as they relate to my participation.

I understand that participation is entirely voluntary and that I have the right to withdraw from the project at any time, and that this will be without detriment.

This research application has been reviewed by the Reading University School of Management Research Ethics Committee and has been given a favourable ethical opinion for conduct.

I consent to my name being acknowledged in the doctoral thesis.

Yes / No

I understand that it will not be associated with any particular comments or issues without my prior consent. I consent to the interview being audio recorded.

Yes / No

I consent to the interview being typed by a keyboard operator.

Yes / No

Name: Signed: Date: e-mail: Age Group:

Under 20

Time in [R]HA:

Up to 1 year



1–3 years


40-49 4–10 years



Over 10 years



At the Interview 1. Welcome, explanation of research and interview process. 2. Interviewee signed consent form and given copy. 3. Agreement to audio record the interview gained. 4. Initial questions about job and response to it. 5. Questions and discussion about engagement related experiences. 6. Summary list of key issues produced from interviewee, noted on cards and priority ordered by interviewee with respect to importance for them for engagement. 7. Concluding summary about interview and what will happen next. Agreement to meet again if necessary. 8. Gift of a pen given to interviewee. After the Interview 9. Written summary of interview sent to interviewee for comments / corrections and final summary agreed.





Themes from First Interview EG2


ENGAGEMENT Sense of self-worth Self-esteem Building self-efficacy Self-attribution Meaningfulness Growth / Learning in order to be knowledgeable Gaining closure / completeness Achievement (seen as same as completeness) To make an impact Contribution, Improvement Responsibility Ownership (seen as similar to responsibility) Intrinsic interest Challenge Building relationships

168, 311, 363, 469 203, 455 82, 189 209, 455 457 82, 189, 257, 303 60, 267 64, 158 102 158 203, 209, 225, 251 251 245 295 355

LACK OF ENGAGEMENT Lack of self-worth and esteem Purpose is frustrated Lack of intrinsic interest Lack of challenge Lack of knowing what’s going on

215, 227 102 126 130 379

DISENGAGEMENT Lack of commitment / integrity / authenticity Lack conscientiousness / responsibility / integrity Lack of meaning / integrity Lack of self-efficacy Low intrinsic interest Low challenge Avoidance of spoiling relationships

415 391, 419 465 54 325 325 339


ANNEX G Date of Interview Time of Interview Participant Location

PILOT INTERVIEW REPORT 16 November 2010 10.10 to 11.25 a.m. Friend / professional colleague of researcher, not a member of the target organisation Participant’s home

Introduction     

This was the first interview in the series of interviews planned for the PhD research. The research focuses on one organisation, keeping contextual factors constant. The purpose of this interview was to carry out an initial field test of the interview method planned for data collection. The methodology was based on Personal Construct Theory (Kelly, 1963), using this as a framework to elicit components of meaningfulness in relation to work engagement. This document summarises the interview process and outcomes, and gives an evaluation of the interview with considerations for improvements for future interviews.

Process 

 

This first participant (P1) had more knowledge about the research than other future participants will have. This was not deep knowledge and, as involvement of P1 in this pilot interview had been planned for many weeks, care was taken by the interviewer not to reveal any detail that may compromise the process or findings before the interview. Nevertheless, interpretation of findings must take account of the prior knowledge that P1 had, and relationship with the researcher. To mitigate relationship issues, and maximise the value of the interview in testing the method and use of the data elicited, formalities in the set-up and carrying out of the interview were kept as close to the proposed interview schedule as possible. Accordingly, the following were carried out: o Formal explanations about the nature of the research and the interview process were given by the interviewer, even though some of this was redundant in this case. o P1 received a copy of the Information Letter that will be sent to organisational participants before their interview. o The interview was held formally with mutual agreement to interact as if a professional interview, recognising the need to avoid friendly repartee, a private location, agreed confidentialities and all processes exactly as will be carried out in future interviews. o P1 signed a consent form. The interview was audio recorded. o The researcher used mind-mapping to summarise the main issues raised during the interview, noting in particular evidence of specific constructs as the interview unfolded. The Interview progressed in this vein and on completion P1 received the token gift being given to all participants and was assured that the key interview findings would be summarised and returned to him for checking and correction if necessary.

The Interview  

The Interview started with brief introduction to the background, purpose and process of the research and interview. P1 was asked to summarise his role and activities within his work. Whereas with organisational participants this will be a summary of their full time job, with P1, who has retired from full time paid employment, he focused on a key professional voluntary role he has as treasurer and a member of the executive leadership team with a national charity. He was also asked to note most and least enjoyable aspects of the work. o This summary provided context to the work activities (Denicolo and Pope, 2001, p96) and, consistent with phenomenological research, provided some insight into contextual ‘lived experience’. The most / least enjoyable aspects helped to sensitise P1 to the issues that were to be raised. This process of free ‘story-telling’ began to raise awareness by the researcher about the ‘construction’ of P1’s world and the constructs that he used to interpret his experience. Applying Critical Incident Technique as a means of exploring experiences of particular significance for this research (Flanagan, 1954), P1 was then asked to think of and describe a time which was especially engaging within the context of his work. (The Information Letter


given prior to the interview asked the interviewee to think about high and low engagement experiences). Care was taken by the researcher to avoid specifically using the term ‘engagement’ but rather, to use those terms that have been used within this research to define the notion of engagement, by Kahn (1990) and Alfes et al. (2010). o As P1 described this time of high engagement, the researcher noted possible constructs being used and sought clarity around these firstly by seeking to establish the dichotomous nature of the construct (Kelly, 1963, p59) by asking what the ‘opposite’ of the mentioned issue could be. The researcher also sought clarity through laddering and pyramiding questioning to explore super-ordinate and subordinate constructions (Denicolo and Pope, 2001). Following the descriptive and questioning exploration of the high engagement time, the researcher asked P1 if he could represent this high engagement experience as a shape or object, following Denicolo and Pope’s (2001) discussion of the use of metaphors, diagrams and pictures as means of eliciting (deeper) feelings and constructions. o P1 was able to do this easily and quickly, and by asking why he chose this shape or object, it elicited further explanatory constructions of this experience. P1 was then asked to describe a time which was especially disengaging, again avoiding the term engagement, and seeking the dichotomous nature of the construct and super-ordinate and subordinate constructions. As with the high engagement experience, P1 was again asked to represent the experience with a shape of object. o P1 found this more difficult than the high engagement experience. Perhaps this was because the selection of this work activity was in any case in the context of high engagement work. Nevertheless, P1 did identify some constructs used to consider engagement experiences that had not been previously identified when discussing the high engagement experience. Once the experience had been defined, the researcher noticed a stronger sense of feeling by P1 when discussing this disengaging experience, and especially when he discussed the object / shape. The researcher had planned to include the exploration of one further engagement ‘experience’. This is an experience in which P1 was deeply engaged, as viewed from a close sympathetic manager / colleague who hypothetically knows him deeply, that is a ‘character sketch’ (Denicolo and Pope, 2001, p107). However time did not permit this activity. o It was hoped that this activity would further elicit constructs used to define engagement experiences, perhaps, because this was an extreme, albeit hypothetical experience, providing clarity of key constructions. It is planned to use this in later interviews, however consideration will need to be given to the amount of time a interview may take to accommodate this. This is discussed further in the evaluation section below. The interview concluded with an exercise in which, together with P1, key constructs were identified from the whole interview. The interviewer sought to use P1’s terminology in defining the construct. Each construct identified was written on a small card. When all constructs had been identified, P1 was asked to prioritise these constructs in order of importance in relation to engagement experiences. During this exercise, a construct was identified that had not been part of the interview, which was included here. o P1 was able to do this relatively easily, although he first prioritised the constructs in process order for an activity, before then prioritising them in order of importance for him. Some constructs overlapped or were subsumed in others, which was noted. Following the interview, P1 was asked for feedback on any aspect of the process or content of the interview. o P1 gave feedback willingly and openly. Points are noted below, however none of his feedback points suggested that the approach required any major changes.

Interview Findings The interview itself elicited ten main constructs used by P1 with respect to engagement as an inner experience. These are listed below, Table 1, in order of importance attributed to them by P1. Some constructs overlap or are of equal importance. 1 2 3 4 5

Challenge Capability Relationship Approval Freedom

Growing Targets Included Feedback


Table 1 Constructs, by level of Importance (1 high) In summary, P1 indicated that engagement experiences for him related to the possibility of doing something more or different than had been done before in order to achieve some form of growth. This


sense of ‘more or different’ was associated with a sense of challenge, that is, a ‘testing of self’. However, whilst this intellectual challenge was important, it is also important to have the capability, that is, the knowledge and ability to do the work taken on, or the ability to find a way of doing it. P1 reported engagement experiences as being clearly defined or bounded and being able to identify clear targets and achieve clear results, doing more than the minimum expected. Interpersonal dynamics are important for P1. Relating effectively with others and feeling a sense of belonging, inclusion and involvement, as part of an ‘entity’, and gaining feedback from others, and especially experiencing their approval, are important in maintaining a strong experience of engagement. Finally, P1 emphasised that having ‘freedom’, that is the ability to organise himself, define job description details and work his own way to achieve results was an important underpinning facilitator of engagement. Following the interview itself, the researcher listened to the recording of the interview to clarify understanding and to see if further constructs to those identified in the interview itself may be identified. This further analysis elicited the following findings.   

An emphasis on doing more than had been done before in growing the role with a clear future oriented sense of building towards valued outcomes. Whilst freedom was stated as important, the discussion indicated that this was essentially about having autonomy, or space within which P1 may work in his own way. P1 worked in a way that may appear to lack order if looked at from outside, but what was key to him was that the visible aspects of the work are considered as ordered and in control. In this sense, recognition by significant others, was noted as important, along with the sense of approval and inclusion. A sense of achievement was an important aspect of engagement for P1, and this incorporated the importance of doing the work more effectively than it had been done before or than others may expect, being able to achieve success in major objectives, and achieving this success in tasks that may be deemed as difficult, or new for P1. The intrinsic pleasure of doing the work was identified by P1 and this related to a range of factors but in particular to a sense of achievement in partnership with other people and a sense of fulfilment of ‘being’ in the right place. This relates to the sense of self, noted in the next point. The importance of self as a holistic being was evident through a number of comments, including being hard on self, and being disappointed with self if he was not able to achieve results successfully; the self having a grip on the job as though a boundary, keeping the work under control; a sense of belonging as a person to the work organisation or entity, and, as noted in the last point, a sense of wholeness of being by engagement in the work.

These additional constructs are superimposed onto the ordered list given in Table 1, in italics, in brackets and in blue, against those constructs to which they most closely link. The completed list is in Table 2. 1 2 3 4 5

Challenge Capability (Achievement) Relationship Approval Freedom (Autonomy) (Intrinsic pleasure) (Sense of Self)

Growing (Future oriented) Targets Results (Order) Included (Recognition) Feedback (Visible)

Table 2 Constructs by level of Importance (1 high) and additional constructs identified in italics, in brackets and in blue. Evaluation of Interview and Methodology This section summarises some key considerations following the interview in relation to the process surrounding the interview and the interview itself. Strengths and weaknesses as perceived by the researcher are noted. 

The interview went to plan, lasting about 1 hour 15 minutes, against the expected time of between 1 and 1.5 hours. However one part of the interview was missed out, that is, the hypothetical ‘ideal’ engagement experience where engagement would be deemed as being optimally high. This may have elicited further constructs or clarified those that had been noted already through the high and low engagement ‘critical incidents’. Reviewing the elements of the whole interview, it is expected that less time may be spent on the introductory comments and in particular on the discussion of P1s general work activities


and general enjoyment responses. It is also expected that efficiencies will be gained through experience. These would provide time to allow the inclusion of the ‘ideal’ engagement experience. The researcher was very conscious of reading into responses that P1 gave and interpreting comments in relation to the concept model that the researcher had already elicited from the literature. Notwithstanding the negotiated nature of interpretivist research, between respondent and researcher, given that a grounded theory type approach (Charmaz, 2005) was being taken it was recognised that as far as possible interpretation should be build inductively from the data and not influenced by pre-conceived knowledge. In an attempt to mitigate the influence of previous literature review and the concept model, the researcher deliberately did not engage with, seek to build the interview on or try to look for components of the concept model or related theory. Personal Construct Theory, underpinning this research, is renowned as an approach which focuses on the participants’ inner experience and the researcher sought not to guide P1 in commenting or interpreting interview discussion. Wherever possible, P1’s own words were used in summarising discussion of defining constructs. When the interviewer asked P1 to try to relate the engagement experiences as objects or shapes, P1 noted the low engagement experience as though he were a ‘pimple’, and went on to explain this metaphor. The researcher responded with some amusement. Whilst this was almost certainly an extension of the friendship lying behind this interview, as P1 noted when giving feedback afterwards, this may have been acceptable in our circumstances but would not be appropriate in another interview. This was a strong reminder to the researcher of the importance of maintaining professionalism, respect and genuine acceptance for participants, and not doing anything that may compromise openness and trust. A key assessment of the interview is around the issue of whether the findings contribute to answering the Research Question, that is, ‘What is the Nature of Meaningfulness in Discretionary Engagement?’ In support, the application of critical incident technique isolated engagement activities, the theoretical framework of personal construct theory sought to target deep inner experience and the interview methodology sought to access these experiences. The constructs elicited, during and after the interview were generic in nature, that is, they related to phenomena that applied widely, not just to the specifics of the experience being discussed. They also allude to inner components or drivers of engagement that relate to meaningfulness (for example in the way that future oriented growth, and results orientation relates to purpose, a key component of meaningfulness) however, they are more similar in nature to characteristics associated with motivational dynamics than the deeper notions associated with meaningfulness. This suggests that whilst the components elicited may contribute to understanding, deeper underpinning constructs are needed in order to explore meaningfulness more directly. Future interviews will seek to employ laddering techniques to develop this deeper insight into underpinning constructs. This will take additional time, which will need to be incorporated into the planning for future interviews.

Conclusion This interview explored the methodology and sought to elicit usable data in researching the nature of meaningfulness in work engagement. The underpinning theoretical framework, method and approach were shown to be effective in eliciting credible and dependable data. Some interpersonal process issues were shown to be in need of modification. Timing of the interview, especially with the inclusion of additional elements will need to be managed carefully. Of particular importance is the need to access deeper constructs and this will be explored in future interviews through laddering techniques built on constructs elicited from critical engagement incidents.

Trevor Long 22 November 2010




RESEARCH AT [RIVER] HOUSING ASSOCIATION In Confidence Interview Summary Interview with Interview date Time

**** 23 November 2010 16.00 – 17.00

Document status Document author

Final Trevor Long

Introduction This document summarises the main findings from a research interview carried out at [River] Housing Association for PhD research into work engagement. This summary is produced from notes taken during the interview and the audio recording. The purpose of this summary is primarily as feedback to the interviewee. At Draft status this summary is for review by the interviewee to provide an opportunity to comment on its accuracy and make any corrections. Only after the interviewee has had the opportunity to comment, is this summary noted as Final and the data released for analysis. Summary As Head of ****, **** is responsible for all aspects of housing scheme planning and building activities. She supervisors **** officers and auxiliary staff. Achievement / getting results are important to **** as well as team working. She emphasises the moral aspect of the work in contributing to a bigger purpose in society, to ‘give back’. By contribution, **** considers the importance of impacting, directly or indirectly into someone else’s ‘life and well-being’. She is not money oriented. The opposite to contribution is around self-related gain. **** least enjoys repetitive, administrative activities which do not ‘tax’ her, and having to deal with inter-personal conflict as a people management issue, but inter-personal conflict is not a normal feature of her work. Inter-personal conflict makes **** ‘angry’ but over time she has developed an understanding approach in seeking to reconcile potential conflict. **** noted, as a very positive engaging experience, the ‘bid round’ process, involving submission of bids for funding. These are time pressured, ‘all encompassing’ with the team, with many different factors coming together. She has a strong sense of achievement on completion of bid submission. By ‘all encompassing’ **** means it become the key focus, and experiences healthy stress, is ‘driven’, and when all the team play their part and they successfully achieve, is ‘proud’ of self and team. By ‘proud’ **** means she has applied ‘self’, ‘given all’. By ‘applying self’, she means she minimises risk to ensure the process continues successfully. She also senses ‘obligation’ to the team, the organisation and to potential tenants. She seems 320

to have a strong sense of the intrinsic satisfaction with the work coupled with a sense of responsibility. **** pictured this positive experience as a ‘house’, relating this to notions of family and home life – for the team and potential tenants. **** noted a lowest engagement activity as a time when she was asked to be part of a workshop, involving equal and higher level staff. She had no real prior information or preparation. She felt uncomfortable because the workshop required contributions but she felt put on the spot and unable to contribute. She felt ‘dropped in it’ after not being involved before the workshop. **** would have felt more comfortable with more preparation and her contribution would have been more valid and relevant. She felt embarrassment in thinking others could have thought she may not have had competence and ability to contribute valid ideas. An underlying feeling about this experience, whilst **** related this to a ‘shape’ of a ‘scribble’, was of lack of structure, a ‘mess’, ‘anger’, ‘frustration’. Structure, to ****, is about being in control, having a plan and on top of a situation. By ‘control’ **** does not mean being controlling but being able to plan and manage effectively. When considering a hypothetical ideally engaging situation, **** emphasised the importance of close team relationships, doing something new, taking risks, trusting the leader. **** feels quite ‘removed’ in some ways within the organisation, partly because of the layout of the building and partly because functionally she is not able to interact with others as much as she might. Key constructs were identified from the interview discussion by **** and myself together. In order of importance for engagement, **** noted these as: (constructs of equal importance are noted on the same line) Purpose Impact on Others Achieve Results Working with Others

Contribution Structure Competence

Apply Self Way you’re Perceived

The interview concluded with a discussion about the approach taken in the interview, and **** found the underlying, personal construct theory especially interesting. **** agreed to meet again if necessary. Trevor Long 26 November 2010




Before the Interview 1. Executive Group contacted about second interviews and agreement sought. 2. e-mail letter and copy of phase 2 interview summary, sent to respondent interviewees, and details of interview agreed. 3. Respondents asked to think about and note engagement / disengagement experiences on a form. At the Interview 4. Welcome, explanation of research progress, and interview process. 5. Interviewee signed consent form and given copy if not already signed. 6. Agreement to audio record the interview gained. 7. Introduction to Repertory Grid technique. 8. Pre-defined engagement / disengagement experiences transferred onto cards and onto a Repertory Grid form (reproduced at Annex H). 9. Constructs elicited, primarily using triads, and rated. 10. The most engaging and most disengaging experiences selected by respondent for next stage of interview. 11. These two experiences were used as a basis for prioritising the importance of each of the 16 concepts; the priority order was recorded. 12. Concluding summary about interview and what will happen next.




Dear ........ Many thanks for being willing to take part in further interviews in relation to the research I am carrying out. I am meeting with all the Executive Group to develop on our first discussions. I believe we are meeting at ............. on ............. in .............. It’s nearly a year since the last interview and since then I have been analysing the data and developing other key aspects of the research. In this next interview I would like to develop on our last discussion using a technique called repertory grid. Essentially, this involves identifying key ideas in relation to engagement and disengagement experiences and placing these into a model. You will remember that following your last interview I produced a summary. This is attached as a reminder. For the upcoming interview, please can you prepare by doing the following, using the definitions of engagement and disengagement noted on the attached form to guide you. Think about seven work experiences that range from highly engaging to highly disengaging. You could select the same experiences that you selected before for the more extreme examples, but the seven should be a range of experiences, from highly engaging then engaging but less so, to neutral, and then increasingly disengaging to the most disengaging experience you can recall. They should be real experiences and ideally whilst in [R]HA and as recent as possible. However, you may recall a significant experience from a previous job, which you think would work well, and you may recall experiences which are not so recent but again are significant, which you would like to use. Please note the experiences on the attached form. Finally, please imagine, first, a hypothetical ideally engaging experience for you, that is, an experience that is the most engaging you could imagine. Second, a hypothetical most disengaging experience for you, that is, an experience that is the most disengaging you could imagine. Again, please note these on the attached form. Please bring the completed form with you to the interview. In the interview I will ask you to transfer your experiences to cards. In this early part of the interview, please do not let me know which ones relate to engagement and which to disengagement. If you have any questions please contact me on, or 07889 777416. I look forward to seeing you on .................. Best regards, Trevor




[River] Housing Association Repertory Grid Interviews, November 2011 Please note below seven work experiences that range from highly engaging to highly disengaging. They should be a range of experiences, from the most engaging to the most disengaging experiences you can think of. Also please note your hypothetical ideally engaging experience and your hypothetical most disengaging experience that you could imagine. Please use the following definitions: High engagement is the experience of willingly employing and expressing yourself, feeling fully attentive, absorbed or involved in a work activity. High disengagement is the experience of withdrawing yourself emotionally and attitudinally, feeling detached, distracted or uninvolved in a work activity.


Hypothetical most engaging:

Hypothetical most disengaging:




[River] Housing Associa on Grid 1

Name ……………………………………………... Date / Time …………………….……………….



5 A
















Annex N.1

Work Characteristics

An original theme that was general in nature was ‘intrinsic interest’, which was used to describe experiences reported as being related to the broad nature of the work affecting engagement or disengagement. This was expressed by one respondent: ‘I mean, enjoying my work is when my alarm goes off in the morning and I can’t wait to get into work. I don’t lay back and think, “Oh my God, I’ve got to go to work.” I don’t see it as a chore; I see it as a pleasure’ (MM9) Some of the individual factors in this theme were of major importance, with ‘Challenge’ being a noticeably key construct. Challenge was interpreted as the experience of engaging when involved in activities that were demanding, essentially psychologically, normally beyond a routine activity. This would normally involve something that was new, or a problem-solving activity. In essence this required respondents to stretch beyond their normal capacity or work requirements. For example, challenge creating positive engagement can be illustrated: ‘… I’ll mention this sort of competitive nature of our job really and when we’re bidding … when we’re successful in that then that’s engaging for me. That would be something that I would definitely find engaging, that whole process you know’ (EG8) ‘What I get a big kick from is sorting out complex things in a multi, in an interdepartmental way … I like to, I am kind of the organisations trouble-shooter’ (EG9) ‘I like dealing with change I suppose would be an activity, so change and challenge and looking to find a solution to things, so problem-solving I would say’ (EG10) These quotations indicate that challenge may be created by different demands, including change, problem-solving and competitive dynamics. Whilst challenge appeared to positively enhance engagement, a lack of challenge appeared to diminish engagement, for example, continuing EG10’s experience of engagement from above: ‘… my job is very important, I mean, I have always loved my job … so if I didn’t have that stimulation … and use my brain in that creative way, then yes, I’d be unhappy, I’d need to find something else to use my brain if you like …’ (EG10) The most noticeable theme that related to diminished engagement was routine administration, for example: ‘I guess there’s no real challenge in it, it’s just a, it’s not really, I don’t feel like I’ve been really pushed by it or umm it’s just a question of sitting there and talking about through the process which I’ve talked through hundreds of times … that’s not the right frame of mind, you have to try and be enthused’ (EG8) ‘Well that’s just doing it for the sake of doing it … you have to have lots of different policies and things but actually they didn’t achieve anything, there is no end result in them, they just had to have them for having them, so that kind of work for works sake and … one of those documents you stick on a shelf but you’ve got to have it to be able to show someone when they come in that you have got a policy on whatever, but actually its not actually influencing anything anyone does … and actually … some of those things stifle innovation and as I say flair and quality … and those things I find just very frustrating and mundane and difficult to motivate yourself to do’ (EG10) ‘… quite frustrated sometimes by policy and procedures’ (EG3) All other factors in the Work Characteristics integrated theme were of much less importance than ‘Challenge’ and ‘Routine administration’, for example, ‘Feedback’: ‘… having the involvement at a later date and speaking to people about it … it’s like you get that bit of feedback … it’s not like, you know, done it drawn a line … it is a bit of that relationship thing isn’t it’ (AO3)


However, all these factors combined to make Work Characteristics the key integrated theme in relation to engagement / lack of engagement overall. Whilst Work Characteristics combined to form the most important theme overall in relation to the degree of positive engagement, it was, as noted, less important as a theme relating to disengagement. As noted in table 5.E, a broad scope of job characteristics factors effected disengagement and there were two additional factors that contributed to disengagement but did not feature as factors relating to engagement or lack of engagement. These were ‘Too little to do’, and ‘Support’. Having to be involved in administrative activities was reported by several respondents as a key disengaging factor, for example: ‘Well, when you get into some of the more trivial stuff you are actually then thinking well I could be doing other things rather than talking about the possibility of this which is completely off the wall and very remote and just taking up time … You know we don’t have an awful lot of spare time and I would rather be again doing some of the other stuff’ (EG6) ‘I hate getting bogged down with reports’ (MM6) … and some respondents indicated the reason for this, for example, because it, again, lacked challenge, or lacked purpose, or got in the way of key activities: ‘When I first came here, for example, I worked in an administrative function, working out service charges, doing basic administration work daily. Sitting at my desk from half past 8 till 5 o’clock, with an hour for lunch, everyday being almost the same – I nearly went out of my mind. I hated every minute of it, there was no challenge there, I didn’t feel I was using my capabilities at all’ (MM1) ‘We’re not all pulling in the right direction here and they can get very side tracked ... and you can see their policy and procedures in the background restricting them from doing things’ (EG3) Having too little to do was not a main factor, but, for example, boredom was very strongly reported by one respondent: ‘… boredom … I would say that a disengaging activity would be to have little to do. I couldn’t bear to sit at my desk without stuff to do’ (MM2) However for some respondents having too much work was disengaging, for example: ‘I think, because there is so much that I have to achieve … It’s, I think … about pressure really for me, and the fact that I’ve got a workload and other people can put into that workload and I prioritise it differently to what they might. So for me it’s a huge feeling of pressure sometimes and it can be quite frustrating’ (MM11) … and for this respondent the pressure was compounded by her inability to control work demands. For another respondent, constant demands made by her team created a frustrating and disengaging context: ‘I think also erm not all of my team but quite a few of the team have quite a need and wants and erm they do demand quite a lot of time an energy and I dunno … we have spoken about it, I mean … it is quite draining’ (EG4) Another respondent reported urgent work demands by others as having a disengaging impact: ‘... one of the things that most frustrates me is, umm, I can be working on something and there’s umm... last minute dot com, umm, expectations’ (EG7) Lack of support was the third factor reported in relation to disengagement but not noted in relation to engagement or lack of engagement. One respondent, for example, reported: ‘… this woman … was particularly difficult and we ended up having a confrontation … it wasn’t my fault … she really was a difficult person … but, at the time I didn’t feel like my bosses, sort of, supported me through it either. So I kind of disengaged then from [RHA] entirely … you feel deflated, you, you think, “All the good work I’ve done here and they can’t even support… and … had the job market not been as bad as it is at the moment, I, I honestly think I would have looked for another job’ (AO1)


… and another respondent noted more generally how disengaging it could be to have a difficult relationship with management: ‘I’ve had jobs where I’ve had that relationship with … management … you’ve just got the feeling you don’t wanna be there cause you don’t want the interaction with them’ (AO3) Other work factors that related to disengagement, and were also present in relation to engagement and lack of engagement, were illustrated by the following examples: … not being able to complete tasks: ‘I don’t like seeing things not complete it drives me nuts … because it’s not finished – it’s not … if it needs to be started it also needs to be finished … like we’ve got a project swimming around for 2 or 3 years and it isn’t actually finished and that can make possibly a big difference on a large group of staff … it lurks around without being finished ... that bothers me … it bothers me personally’ (EG2) … where communication was lacking or inconsistent … ‘I think communication could be improved … in all areas really … if you don’t know something’s going on you haven’t got a hope in hell of doing the right thing … or you’ve got a mixed message or it comes too late’ (EG2) … where an activity was not considered a valuable use of time… ‘I’ve been on a course that’s been a day and I’ve thought the valuable bits of that could have been put into an hour I could have got on with some more important stuff for the rest of the times’ (MM12) … and not feeling too closely associated with certain activities: ‘I don’t feel that I’m able to give my opinions which could be very valuable on different topics, because people are just so pushed for work, and there isn’t the ear to listen to you anymore’ (MM2) In summary, many different work characteristics were included in this integrated theme, and many quotations have been included here to illustrate the relationship between different factors and engagement or disengagement. It was shown to be the most important integrated theme in relation to degrees of positive engagement, however, work characteristics were shown to relate much less to disengagement than to engagement.

Annex N.2


‘Purpose’ has an internal element, in that what a person finds purposeful or worthwhile relates to their own values, needs and other characteristics (‘Self-concept’ factors), and has an external element, in that worthwhile purpose often relates to something that is valued outside of self. In this respect this theme relates to factors in other themes and maybe viewed as an overarching theme in the dynamic of engagement. For example, for someone to gain a sense of achievement from an activity, it would have to be seen as worthwhile. Contribution, or making a difference, will have a degree of purpose attached to it. Quotes relating specifically to contribution are included in the second part of this section. Disengagement relating to diminished self-worth or esteem could be because of a lack of purpose attached to a person’s deeply held values. The following quotations therefore include some elements that relate to factors other than purpose. The first respondent related contribution to purpose and the second considered how making a difference could be worthwhile when it gave primacy to the real needs of the other person: ‘It would just honestly be just the fact that I was contributing. It would make me feel, like I say, worthwhile … if someone feels worthwhile and has got a sense of purpose then they’ve got a reason to get out of bed every day … I think if you haven’t got a sense of purpose, you wonder why you were actually put here, or why you get up every day’ (AO1) Yeah, I like to make a difference. So if someone’s come to me regarding a matter and it’s upsetting them, it’s obviously affecting their life, whether we think it’s big or small, it’s affecting


them and each individual it will be different. So there’s no … someone can have a major problem and it doesn’t affect them and they don’t show that and then someone will have the most trivial thing but it’s a big issue to them, so you can’t really make the judgment on whether you think it’s big or small because it’s what that person feels’ (MM3) The notion of purpose in relation to making a difference was expressed more generally by one respondent in relation to having direction: ‘Clear direction - I think it is the mix of skill sets, it’s the mix of approaches and opinions … It is that unity of sort of a pulling for a common purpose and just yeah you know I mean it sounds a bit trite if I say it is sort of like being on a boat with, to a degree [manager], [manager] and I have got different jobs, and then [CEO] is the captain of the boat pulling it together kind of thing. It just, you feel like you are heading in a good direction and you feel like you are making a difference’ (EG6) … and one respondent emphasised purpose in relation to significance: ‘I think it’s definitely … it’s work where I can’t see, for a better word, a point in doing’ (MM4) The point in doing something maybe related to different situations, for example: a short-term end product: ‘I thought the task was challenging, demanding and it was exciting because we were doing something … making something new’ (MM5) ‘A good answer is it’s used and it’s useful and it has a purpose and it’s useful to the business and it provides a better service’ (EG4) … or a long-term end product: ‘The legacy looks like something that I’ve left in business terms that somebody would just say I’ve left it in good shape’ (EG11) … or the intrinsic nature of the task itself, for example: ‘… there was constant feedback as well through the process so as and when we went out to tender we obviously got emails back from the guy who was leading it um and constant feedback on the process, which was good’ (EG3) One respondent strongly linked their own sense of purpose to the strategic purpose of RHA, emphasising her sense of vocation whilst experiencing an inner satisfaction and engagement with the activities she was involved with: ‘In terms of the ethos of the business is we are doing that in order to provide homes for people in need, I don’t think is ever lost in terms of the development side, because that’s why you are in it … I think I am incredibly lucky in that I do a job of work, doing something that I believe in that upholds my personal values in terms of my social side and looking after those less fortunate and I can do that by providing them with beautiful homes and all of those sorts of things, so I think my job enables me to put in practice and actually do something, not just put money in a collecting tin, but actually do something that changes peoples lives who are in greatest need and that’s just fantastic I think’ (EG10) Whilst purpose appeared to positively drive engagement, there were several examples of respondents who reported how a lack of purpose could diminish engagement, for example: ‘Yeah, I think the chief exec and the annual reviews are all about going to a specific positive direction and working attitudes block that direction I think sometimes’ (MM5) ‘Here I don’t understand the purpose. And although I understand why we have to do some of the reporting I don’t understand what a lot of it is for’ (MM6) ‘I wouldn’t want to complete something that wasn’t done to a high standard and didn't have a purpose’ (EG4) ‘… I guess kind of umm meaningless really, and I’m just casting my mind back to a job I had before I came here where I was more on the policy side and err I just felt like I wasn’t making


a difference and I wasn’t using my skill set, I was using my strengths umm, and like I say it was the job I was in then err, it was very, well it wasn’t involved in the nitty gritty development, it was more in the policy side and you didn’t feel like you were having anything tangible as a result of it. And I felt like the activity was kind of outside of what I was doing, you know I was standing back from everything, not really in there and shaping it and being involved’ (EG8) ‘Well I ... I mean I dislike the hundreds of emails that come through and you know, the pointless communication that happens and you know, whether that’s from above or from below’ (EG7) These example quotations, then, indicate the importance of purpose as a factor that can build engagement when present and diminish engagement when absent. There was a broad scope of factors that were referred to in relation to purpose and as noted many overlapped with other factors from other integrated themes, indicating that this theme is a critical underpinning dynamic that can be satisfied in many different ways. Whilst purpose involved factors that could diminish engagement, the following quotations also provide evidence that these factors can contribute to the experience of disengagement. Several respondents indicated the disengaging impact of having to carry out administrative or other routine activities that, for then, lacked purpose, for example: ‘… I mean, I dislike the hundreds of emails that come through and you know, the pointless communication that happens and you know, whether that’s from above or from below, I mean I do’ (EG7) ‘So for example the Local Authority will hold an event or a meeting on launching its strategy or something and you know [RHA] needs to be represented because we’re working closely with the Local Authority and they are our key partners. But really all we’re doing is just going along and showing a face and saying [RHA] are here, so when they write the minutes up in six months time they can say [RHA] were at the meeting - but really you’re not’ (EG8) The final comment in this quotation ‘but really you’re not’ is a strong indication of disengagement. The quotation from EG7 above emphasises that not having clear purpose was central to the experience of disengagement. Disengagement related to not having clear direction, was reported by several respondents, in different ways, for example: ‘… disengaging because it was one of the things where you are given something to do and you don’t really know where you’re going’ (MM10) One respondent noted two activities which lacked purpose for him; to populate a web site and update a database, both of which he know would be used very little, if at all, and this was compounded by the activity being a routine administrative task: ‘I think it’s definitely … it’s work where I can’t see, for a better word, a point in doing. So things like … the most obvious one I can think of was updating the Board members’ website so that they can access minutes and agendas, but I was having to backdate it two years and it was really time consuming, really repetitive. And in the back of my head I’m thinking, I’m doing all this work, it’s taking me four or five days to do it and actually how often will they actually be using this information I’m putting up there? So it’s when I can’t see the point of … having the end result doesn’t justify the amount of time and effort you put into it. And it was very repetitive, find a file, click upload, give it a name, OK, find the next file, upload’ (MM4) ‘And part of the process is for us to extract data from our database and you put it into this central database but because I know that people don’t use it I am disengaged from doing that task myself … the situation was, we had lots of people buy up and join the scheme but nobody was using it. So I felt I was putting this information in every month and there was no one out there actually using the system’ (MM4) Another respondent found a report-writing activity disengaging because it demanded a great deal of time, she did not know why the reports were being produced and the data on which they were based was faulty: ‘I think they’re tedious, I don’t like doing them … I mean I don’t like doing them, I find them time consuming and frustrating because I think I'm doing this report and I don’t know why I'm doing this report … “This report’s never going to be right from this data” you know and I don’t


know if there’s a lack of communication but it’s very frustrating and we never know what we’re doing it for’ (MM6) … and she recounted another, recent occasion in which she felt deeply disengaged because she saw her work was changed by others without proper acknowledgement of the work she had done: ‘I did that piece of work and it was completely re-written. You know I got, “Thank you very much for your input, here it is” and nothing that I had done really had been taken into account, one or two little bits and pieces, but nothing really that I had done and two months down the line we’re still not using it, so I don’t know what happened to it … I am not going to waste my time and I got so upset about it, well not upset about it but so frustrated that I just thought this is the wrong job for me, I can’t do this anymore, you know constantly having to be, not criticised, not to have the authority to do anything. You know I’ve done this piece of work, I thought it was a really good piece of work but actually it was completely re-written so is it that it wasn’t a good piece of work or is it that it’s not what they wanted but nobody’s fed back to me? They just said, “Oh thanks very much for working hard on that”’ (MM6) This was an example of an experience which included several factors that exacerbated the disengagement she experienced through lack of purpose, including a lack of autonomy and discretion, and not having feedback on the impact of her work, to the extent that she considered resigning. This again illustrates the complexity of disengagement experiences because it shows not only the way in which several different factors may contribute to disengagement but that these factors can compound to form a profound negative emotional experience. Lacking worthwhile purpose, whilst not represented as the most important integrated theme for disengagement (Figure 5.9), appeared to have an impact on disengagement that was deeper than most other themes and appeared to integrate significantly with other factors. In summary, whilst ‘Purpose’ as a theme was not noted as most important for engagement and lack of engagement experiences, it appeared to engender deeper emotional experiences than some other factors, and especially for disengagement, compared to the positive engagement continuum. The varied ways in which contribution was expressed is reflected in the high number of quotations included here. When discussing contribution, one respondent explained what it meant to them: ‘I think it means that what I do on a day-to-day basis has an impact on other people’s lives. If you asked somebody who moved into a new home, I’m sure they wouldn’t quote me as being the person … who was involved in that process, but I know that I am involved in that process, albeit a tiny part, umm, and actually, the building of that good quality new home, that that person then moves into, and who needs it and helps contribute towards their umm, their life and wellbeing and I had a part in that, and I think if ... that’s, that gain, rather than a ... I don’t know, umm … if the gain of my job was literally to bring the bucks in, it wouldn’t give me the same job satisfaction I think’ (AO5) So, making a contribution was central to this person’s engagement, and the sense of making a difference was summarised by other respondents, for example, in the following quotations: ‘I think it’s about knowing at the end of the working week that you’ve, actually feel like you’ve contributed and you’re making a difference’ (EG8) ‘I think if I didn’t enjoy making a difference to peoples lives I wouldn’t work for an Association, I’d work for a builder and earn more money you know, and I think that’s the difference really is that I feel that when we do find ways of doing things, when we do find ways to carry on building, when we overcome complicated issues on site, when we improve our repairs service and all of those sort of things makes a difference to the person that we are delivering it for’ (EG10) EG10 illustrated an interesting combination of two key drivers, which seem to have a particularly powerful engaging impact. The first was an underlying strong value associated with contribution towards others, which appeared to create a strong sense of external meaningfulness. The second was a strong intrinsic motivational drive associated with achievement in challenging task activities. This respondent was especially animated when discussing this and this illustrated the power of a combined intrinsic motivational drive with external meaningfulness in building a strong sense of ongoing engagement. Values are discussed below. The impact of underpinning values that drive a sense of engagement to contribute was indicated by a


respondent: ‘I manage domestic violence properties. You know, because that is a high motivating ... it’s a high value thing for me … there’s something about it that gives some value, because I can see the greatest effects to individuals’ (EG7) Another respondent noted the engaging impact of being part of a team which made a real difference for people: ‘… seeing the finished product and affecting the tenants really, so I love it when you go and see a new house or a new kitchen or bathroom done and you see the happy tenant at the end of it and that is good. I love that’ (EG3) … … and one respondent who had previously had a more junior role, reflected on the loss in engagement that he sensed in not being closer to the people that are being served by RHA, to the extent that to see more of the impact they have he would … ‘… rather do a frontline job because there is a lot of job satisfaction in being a housing officer or a support or a care worker … Because you can make a real difference down there … you want to know that you are doing useful things and it is not all just wasted effort’ (EG9) … and another respondent felt that engagement would be diminished where she was not able to contribute: ‘You wouldn’t have sort of like any enthusiasm to do any work because you haven’t contributed’ (AO2) It is not surprising that contribution to tenants was so strongly expressed by respondents in the context of the service provided by this organisation. However, contribution also extended to internal organisational leadership and management, for example, one respondent noted that … ‘… getting involved with their personal development is something I sort of get a lot of pleasure from’ (EG5) … … and another respondent had a deep sense of engagement internally in … ‘… helping people blossom … It’s feeling for me… I guess it’s twofold. One is just a warmth that you think you’ve made a difference … and I guess there’s an element of self-reflection about needing either to be wanted and, or, to have made that difference’ (EG11) The importance of making a difference was emphasised in the following contrast in which diminished engagement was experienced by a respondent who was unable to contribute: ‘You wouldn’t have, sort of like, any enthusiasm to do any work because you haven’t contributed to get anything back, does that make sense? … A bit empty’ (AO2) … and the impact on engagement of not being able to contribute was also illustrated in the following example: ‘… shut out and umm I guess kind of umm meaningless really, and I’m just casting my mind back to a job I had before I came here where I was more on the policy side and err I just felt like I wasn’t making a difference and I wasn’t using my skill set … it wasn’t involved in the nitty gritty development, it was more in the policy side and you didn’t feel like you were having anything tangible as a result of it … I felt like the activity was kind of outside of what I was doing, you know I was standing back from everything, not really in there and shaping it and being involved … I was on the edge of the main development sort of activity and the market I was kind of in this policy role. I wasn’t feeling engaged and I felt like I wasn’t really using my skills and my experience and my knowledge’ (EG8) Another respondent reflected on regulations that could interfere with being able to make a contribution: ‘… I mean I find that incredibly frustrating if you couldn’t actually make a change, I mean I believe there is always something that you can make a change … I don’t believe really there is ever a time when you can’t do anything … I mean that’s one of the reasons I don’t think I could work for something like a Local Authority because I think you have probably got potentially some very motivated people trying to work for Local Authorities who come up against Red Tape’ (EG10)


… and a different respondent noted the disengaging impact that administrative activities could have because they prevent the possibility of making an impact: ‘The needless bureaucracy … I am just ticking a box or I am just going through the motions with this or I am doing this because I have to do this. I find that de-motivating because it doesn’t achieve making the difference’ (EG6) The theme contribution outside of self, or transcendence, which was often expressed as making a difference, can be a key driver for engagement, but can diminish engagement when it is not possible to make a difference. Whilst the degree, then, of contribution / transcendence related to the degree of engagement experienced, with diminished engagement experienced with diminished contribution / transcendence, this theme did not appear to relate closely to the experience of disengagement.

Annex N.3


In the context of engagement, relationship appeared to act as a driver for people at several different levels. For some, it drew engagement because of the social interpersonal dynamics: ‘I kind of look forward to our annual staff conference because it is wonderful to see all of our staff come together under one roof and watching them all sort of mix and you know just generally be together’ (EG9) … and another respondent described this as ‘good spirits’ in relationships, which he contrasted with negative, or ‘low spirits’: ‘I believe good spirits at work are very much needed. I think you achieve more … I believe you’re going to be hitting 95 to 100% from your staff. Low spirits, you’re going to be hitting 40, maybe less’ (MM9) Others also experienced the engaging affect of enhanced performance through working closely with colleagues: ‘I feel that within the management team we’ve probably got very strong relationships so that we are always talking and working collaboratively and working erm to achieve the end result which is good service to our customers’ (EG4) ‘… I’ve really got a good team that we work with … everything is very informal … I think there’s a very good relationship with all my colleagues which does motivate me to do more’ (EG8) However, one respondent indicated how engagement could be diminished through the negative attitudes of other people: ‘So they’re obstructive … in that I’m being blocked. That is obstruction by a person … that’s individuals’ attitudes and they’re being obstructive … that’s blocking for me. I’m being blocked personally …’ (MM5) … and another respondent considered how a lack of equity / fairness or confrontation by others could reduce engagement: ‘.... you know, to me, there has to be a fairness within a company. I do think that there should be things that aren’t tolerated, you know … people who go around the building chatting and not doing their work, I just think there, there’s got to be a limit. And it’s as though there’s a fairness that … is missing sometimes. You want fairness between people. You want it to be seen that one person is treated the same as the other … to me, fair is people being treated similarly’ (AO1) Effective connection / relationships related, then to positive engagement, but also diminished engagement when relationships were problematic. However, some aspects of relationships and connection were shown to have a direct disengaging impact. Whilst clearly from Figure 5.3.iii, ‘Connection / Relationship’ factors were reported very much less than ‘Self-concept’ related factors, they are noted as being reported as the second most important theme of factors that impacted disengagement. Experiencing ‘Conflict’ and ‘Exclusion’ were two of the most reported factors in relation to ‘Connection’


and ‘Relationship’ in disengaging experiences, for example: ‘I don’t like rude people, because I’m not rude myself. We do get, you know, where you get some rude people on the other end of the phone, when you’re only trying to do your job’ (MM9) ‘… I find it very stressful … I’m quite protective against my team, umm and there have been occasions when they have made mistakes and the umm, the knock on from that has been, you know, very difficult to manage, people getting very involved, umm telling us how things should be done, umm and kind of taking over. Umm but then also not taking over to the extent where they’ll do the job, you know literally telling us how to build this and how do that and for me I struggle. I suppose as manager … I struggled with that level of input and I felt it was quite patronising and trying to take over … they can be quite back-handed people, you hear that things have been said behind closed doors. So umm rather than being transparent and honest about things’ (EG5) ‘I have a real issue with closed meetings … because I am a very open honest, I have a very open honest leadership style … we have got a couple of organisations who culturally seem to enjoy having closed meetings … you would be given the impression that it is kind of just a what can we find wrong with what the offices have done over the last quarter so we can challenge them about that when they come to the meeting’ (EG9) For EG9, being excluded was problematic and he felt strongly disengaged from any behaviours that he felt were secretive, however, unlike EG5, above, he considered confrontation to be a healthy activity – as long as it did not humiliate him: ‘… some people are very uncomfortable with confrontation for whatever reason and I am not. If I have not done something particularly bad, quite well you know I expect to be confronted about it at some point you know and I don’t mind if that happens in a meeting or you know with other people, and I don’t want to be humiliated or anything but you know I am not afraid for somebody to challenge me and you know openly. What I don’t like is behind the back stuff. So that’s you know behind the back style of management is a definite no no for me there is not a lot of it goes on here …’ (EG9) … however, the confrontational nature of this manager could create very disengaging experiences for other managers, where he diminished them in this process, sometimes by comparing to others: ‘He likes to make a competition. He thinks competition is healthy, but the way he does it is very destructive’ (EG7) … ‘… and he’s somebody that gets involved in things that he really shouldn’t be involved in at all … he’s the one that gives them jibes and makes me change direction sometimes, and I don’t always understand why … So the insight’s not there, the negative influence … sometimes you can do it perfectly well, but there still has to be a jibe in there, a cutting jibe … for no purpose and I’ve watched him do it with other people’ (EG7) One respondent emphasised the disengagement that may result not from being the target of confrontation, but, more generally, with an environment in which confrontation through criticism existed: ‘It is awkward because I don’t like, the one thing I’ve always found is I’m not a person that feels they need to pull somebody else down, I’ve come across a lot of people like that in organisations, to make themselves shine. I shine by the work I do, I don’t need to do that, and I have difficulty, sometimes in having to do something that is obviously going to cause somebody else problems. I don’t like having to do that. I know politics, office politics are often like that, I try then to let the person know, but I don’t like that situation’ (MM1) Another respondent emphasised the disengaging impact of others making decisions that affected them, but without involving them: ‘One of the things … that disengages me is when crucial decisions are made about what I'm doing and I'm not involved in that decision making process but I am told at the end and this is what you need to do’ (MM8) These examples are of proactive behaviours that had a directly disengaging impact. Other examples of activities are more indirect in their affect. For example, one respondent recounted an event that was not directly confrontational but in which he felt disengaged:


‘… basically, we’ll have two seminars a year with the whole … organisation, we’re all in a big room, and it’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I’ll sit back and I’m a listener, with things like that. You know, because there’s 400 of us, and… I wouldn’t like to be the one stood at the front. If we’ve got in here, 20 or 30 people, it’s not a problem, but I suppose – it’s people that I don’t actually know, you know, they’re strangers to me, where … it’s that sort of group activity on that scale that I’d shy away from. I won’t offer myself to go up the front and talk’ (MM9) Whilst this respondent indicated that he did not have a great dislike for these events, his later comments indicated that the disengaging inter-personal aspects of them were of deep concern for him. Other respondents indicated how the prospect of conflict or other undesireable consequences would cause them to avoid or disengage from particular events or activities, for example: ‘I’m not good with kind of confrontation so anything that can tend to end up in a confrontation situation I don’t enjoy and I would probably not relish erm you know delivering say bad news to a tenant or something if I knew they were gonna be confrontational and yeah I don’t enjoy that so I probably would procrastinate about that (laugh) in delivering bad news’ (EG4) ‘I don’t like having to chase people for stuff. Because I like to deliver, I expect, would expect the same back and I don’t like having to chase people for pieces of work ... or a response or, so I suppose I put those off because it just doesn’t interest me – I don’t know … that’s a hassle’ (EG2) Some respondents gave examples of situations which did not create a directly pressured negative disengagement experience, but were disengaging because, again, the respondent was required to be present in an event, but did not have a sense of involvement, for example: ‘… another department … carried out … a tenant event … we were asked to come along to the meeting but I didn’t feel, they didn’t give me any clear instruction, didn’t really understand what I was doing … I felt as though I could have had a bit more understanding from the beginning of the process … I was a little bit unclear in terms of what was going to be happening so we couldn’t quite get 100% motivated for it until I actually got there – rightly or wrongly’ (EG3) … and others felt a sense of disengagement because their job scope or organisational processes prevented involvement where they felt they may have benefited others by being involved: ‘It’s demoralising because you could have... it’s about having little influence, it’s about, you know ... my background is coming from a health and psychology sort of type background, so nursing, and so I suppose my fundamental motivation is about people, and when I can see somebody that has a need, and there’s a barrier preventing me or the organisation or society, delivering that to somebody, and I’m having to try and justify and rationalise why somebody else’s decision hasn’t been in accordance with what I would have done, that’s the thing that makes me... maybe demoralised is the wrong word actually. Maybe it’s just... maybe frustrated is a more apt word, but there’s that friction there’ (EG7) The examples noted to illustrate the disengaging impact of ‘Connection’ indicate a number of different dynamics. Disengagement was experienced directly by some respondents through the actions of others in creating interpersonal conflict or exclusion. It was also experienced by direct criticism or through a diminishing approach to relationship, due to barriers being created by processes or circumstances or because of a sense of alienation. For some respondents a sense of disengagement was experienced not because of direct conflict, exclusion or barriers, but more passively by their decision to avoid a situation that they would otherwise consider to be an important activity in which to be involved. ‘Connection’ was shown, then, to be a key theme in both positive engagement, with different degrees of engagement relating to different levels of relationship / connection, and in the experience of disengagement, relating to either direct actions of others or more passively to the nature of the interpersonal situation.

Annex N.4


One respondent indicated the degree to which self-worth and self-esteem influenced their sense of engagement, or lack of engagement, when discussing the quality of service offered to clients:


‘I like seeing other people having nice things … it’s nice to – there’s nothing worse than going in to (which I have done on the negative side) you go into … a tenants house and they’re living in a house which isn’t good and I’m not proud of it, and you think ‘cor that’s not nice’ when you’ve seen someone living in a property that’s not a good standard. So, so I thrive on delivering a good house and a product for someone’ (EG3) Another respondent reflected on internal organisational rather than external service activities, indicating how her sense of self-worth was enhanced when she engaged with her team in a successful project: ‘… when everybody pulls together and plays their part, and we get the outcome, I feel really proud, because I think that’s umm, I feel proud of the team, and I feel proud of myself for pulling it together ... (AO5) Other respondents also indicated a strong sense of self-worth when their work was recognised, for example … ‘… most engaging … where I was asked to lead a project that has a highly valuable outcome where I'm there because my contribution is key’ (MM12) … and feeling valued was emphasised by another respondent: ‘I suppose I feel valued. So, that’s ... that for me is one of the most enjoyable, most engaging parts of the job’ (EG7) Working to a high quality, and being appreciated, reflected centrally on the sense of self to one respondent: ‘I wouldn’t say I do it for [RHA] - I think I actually do it for me. What matters to me is doing a good job. It matters to me that I get through the quantity of work that I want to get through at the start of the day ‘cos if I don’t, I feel a bit deflated’ (AO1) ‘I think … if I was financially able not to go to work, then I would do something voluntary … so it matters to me that I’m appreciated … both verbally and financially’ (AO1) This respondent, then, indicated a strong sense of ownership or association with her work, and another respondent also indicated how his strong sense of identity was tied closely with the engagement associated with the success of a major project: ‘I felt the need to show other people that that particular process was under control … and that was important to me. It’s me putting my, my imprint on that situation … one of the most intensive periods of my professional career … high, a really quite high level of stimulation … the real elation was around being able to look everybody in the eye and say, “We couldn’t have done this any better.”’ (EG11) In summary, there were several different ways in which self-concept was expressed by respondents as a central factor in relation to different degrees of engagement, and together they indicated a strong sense that the ability to employ the self, and recognition of this, was central to the experience of engagement. Whilst in relation to engagement / lack of engagement, ‘Self-concept’ was important, in disengaging events and activities, it was by far the most important theme, indicating that self-concept was central in the experience of disengagement. This is illustrated in different ways in the following quotations. The next quotation indicates the inner sense of detachment that was experienced where there was not a close sense of self-worth in relation to the employing organisation: ‘I think that would be awful to work for an organisation that you didn’t feel proud of, I think that would be … if I didn’t feel proud of our work, well I think I would feel a bit ashamed, I’d feel ashamed, because particularly in the role that I am in now … part of that is me’ (EG10) Another respondent related a sense of dread by being compelled to stay in a job which had little meaning: ‘I [would] hate the job, I’m not using my talents, but I’ve got to do it to take home the money … dreadful … angry, pent up, annoyed ... watching the clock for hours on end, thinking when it is going to be time I can take a break, get away from the desk for a few minutes, complete – I just can’t explain it, it’s just psychologically and physically draining, because it does drain you


physically’ (MM1) For some respondents their sense of self-efficacy related centrally to disengagement experiences, for example: ‘… you could make a very poor decision based upon that piece of work and it wasn’t thorough enough – it could be disastrous, it could cost you a lot of money … it’s knowing inside that you’ve done a good job … but it probably only means something to me, it might not mean the same to somebody else’ (EG2) ‘I don’t know why, it’s almost, like, it frightens me … a meeting with the board members - I would be really quite uncomfortable about that … I feel a little bit inferior to them and also it’s providing information which I feel that they might sort of like be picking it … I don’t know if I would be up to the standard that they would expect … I don’t feel educated enough …’ (MM3) ‘I'm not kind of a charismatic leader so I would totally disengage … if I was expected to stand up at a staff conference and do a presentation and try and inspire somebody, I would find that extremely difficult … my confidence would go basically and I would be extremely self, erm self conscious and a lot of, I suppose a lot of self-doubt about ability’ (EG4) Another respondent illustrated deep disengagement through an experience in which he felt he was taken advantage of when trying to help two prospective managers as much as possible: ‘I felt that I’d given them a lot and then they came and said, “Well, you need us. If you don’t play ball, we, we want, we’ll go.” Or whatever. And I was upset because they’d had a huge bit of me and I think I’d been more than fair … devastated … they decided to try and take even more … which I found really tough … I gave a lot of myself and they played with that or something, you felt let down … it’s right in the heart’ (EG11) The references ‘huge bit of me’ and ‘right in the heart’, combined with the intonation and expressions at the time the respondent reported these, indicated a very deep sense in which his self-worth and selfesteem were influenced by this experience and that it caused him to strongly disengage from the event. Some respondents indicated that their self-esteem, but not their self-worth could be affected in relation to disengaging activities. The following example is of a respondent who felt, when left out of decision making, that her self-worth remained intact, because this rested on an inner confidence, whereas her self-esteem was diminished: ‘I felt my self-esteem was affected … and my values, because it does affect them, but not as much … I still have a strong sense of self-worth even if I'm not involved because I’m quite a strong character, but it does. I don’t like … Yeah, I mean I did feel I can contribute in a way. Even though … I still have a sense of identity’ (MM8) … and another respondent indicated her strong emotional response when she was excluded: ‘I think it can make you feel quite angry, if whatever has been decided has a direct impact on you or maybe at work if it’s the people you work with. If you haven’t been involved in that decision making if can make you feel quite cross and quite frustrated’ (MM11) Self-worth was strongly associated with disengaging activities for several respondents, for example for the following respondent, who was compelled to be in a work situation which she felt was demeaning. ‘I feel frustrated … and irritated … I want to actually do what I set out to do within a timely manner and I don’t want things to get in my way … I feel the need to achieve things in a time which I would set for myself, and I don’t like it if people don’t have the same work ethic as me … I feel that perhaps it affects me personally insofar as I feel I should be better than this’ (MM2) A similar disengaging experience was reported by another respondent who again was compelled to be in an activity that she found to diminish her sense of self-worth. She was required to interview several people who were far from appropriate for an activity in which she had a deep personal stake. This had the effect for her of feeling that the activity was devalued, which, in turn, devalued her sense of self. ‘The interviews were an hour and half to two hours each and it was very soul-destroying to be sitting listening to somebody just to say you know how they would work within the scheme and because of my engagement with the schemes and projects I become very, I suppose in a


way it becomes a bit personal … only one, really was anywhere near decent and then I start to lose the will to live really … I just think that [RHA’s] a great place to work … and I think when we were interviewing for the scheme manager for these two schemes it was … just awful, it’s like I'm losing the will to live here because this is such a struggle, it was such a struggle … to interview … and get no responses, no engagement with the candidate … no, so you have to be engaged, you have to sit there and smile … and I can feel it inside me that I'm like I don’t want to be here, I absolutely don’t want to be here … you have to go through that process, and it’s a struggle to remain attentive’ (MM6) Finally, some respondents indicated how a disengaging activity deeply related to several different aspects of self at once. The following example illustrates the negative effect for one respondent on self-worth, esteem, efficacy and identity, and on her sense of being valued or recognised, when compelled to be involved in an activity in which she was not prepared and felt she had little to offer, but was being observed by senior management. ‘I was asked to take part in a kind of workshop, umm, that had a particular aim, outcome at the end … that I hadn’t been directly involved in … and I was then pulled in to this workshop without any … prior information or preparation, umm. I felt very uncomfortable through the whole thing and umm ... because it was a umm, it was a workshop environment, so it was contributing, umm, and trying to umm, develop these assessments, and I was with ... everybody in the room was either the same level as me or senior than me and … the person who led the workshop was quite intense and wanted everybody to contribute and to make … a valid contribution to the day, umm, it also then involved going off and working in smaller groups of senior people that I work with, umm and I think because I felt so unprepared and a bit put on the spot, I completely disengaged with it and got actually quite, umm... quite angry about the whole situation I think … I’d been dropped in it, I think is probably how I felt … I think I also felt that it was something that had been going on in the organisation at a, umm, a strategic level, at the level of management tier above me, that I think I felt could have been disseminated down earlier and I could have been a lot more prepared, umm, I felt like it was a bit of a tick box exercise that I was there, and that my contribution wasn’t really valid … I had absolutely no idea what they were even talking about… I can’t actually think of another time where I’ve been in the room with all of that senior management team at the same time and I think I came away from it thinking, they’re all going to think I’m absolutely useless because I couldn’t contribute to what was going on because I didn’t know what was happening and I wasn’t prepared and so I think there was a sense of umm, embarrassment I think … I would have wanted them to think that umm... I don’t know, that... I suppose that I was... I was competent enough to umm, give ... to give something ... you know, something valid to the workshop … I’d never been in a circumstance where I’d worked with those people before, and I think I thought to myself, oh, you know, they’re ... this is the only time ... they’re going to think, oh... what on earth does she do, what’s she ... why is she in that position, she’s obviously useless…’ (AO5) The integrated theme ‘Self-concept’, including ‘Self-worth’, ‘Self-esteem’, ‘Self-identity’, ‘Self-efficacy’, ‘Recognition’ and ‘Being valued’, was, then, central in all engagement conditions. Example quotations illustrate how being able to bring the self into an activity could enhance engagement. However, what is most noticeable in this analysis is how self-related factors were so much more deeply related to disengagement, indicating that the sense of self could be impacted more deeply in a disengaging experience than in an engaging experience. This is discussed further in chapter 6.

Annex N.5


The importance of taking responsibility and control was illustrated generally by one respondent: ‘Well, the thing is, you then, you look at yourself and you think, “Do you know what? I’m so pleased that I’ve done that on my own”’ (AO1) Some respondents emphasised the importance of autonomy, within a clear, supportive context, for example: ‘I think I enjoy … the thing I like most is I’ve got direction from … my line managers … but not … but no boundaries’ (MM5) ‘I think I’m allowed to be quite autonomous, I really enjoy working with people. I like decisionmaking, I like ensuring that things are done properly and the fulfilment and the rewards which come with seeing people housed as quickly—and having excellent support’ (MM2) The notion of autonomy, or ability to have some degree of discretion in work, was noted explicitly as an


important factor for engagement, for example … ‘… you’re that person at the front of trying to, you know, get the business on behalf of [RHA] and there are people’s jobs, maybe, that rely on you getting the business, and the direction of the Association, the success of the Association, err, and how the Association is perceived in other people’s eyes, does come back to what I do’ (EG8) … … but on deeper exploration, autonomy was found to be implicit in many aspects of the engagement process. For example, one respondent emphasised the importance for engagement of her personal control in solving problems to achieve results, noting … ‘… when you’ve got those jobs where you’ve actually pulled something together, you go home that day and you think right, yes, I’ve found a way through all of those problems and I can now find a way of continuing to deliver’ (EG10) One respondent noted how having ownership in a project was important for her even though the intrinsic interest in the task was not in itself motivating, which indicated the strength of importance of autonomy as a driver: ‘I came up with the idea … more ownership in a way … I’m actually sitting at a desk most of the time … it is more – I suppose a mundane job in a way’ (MM1) Not having autonomy, or more generally not being able to determine the way an activity was carried out, was not associated very strongly with disengagement, however some respondents noted how a lack of ownership or autonomy could diminish engagement, for example: ‘… the fact that I don’t have the control over my activity and the fact that, for instance, if I went to do a scheme visit I have to get permission and I find that really frustrating’ (MM6) Having autonomy to determine how work is carried out can, then, be a strong driver for engagement, as it allows the person to have a sense of ownership, and restricting this sense of ownership can diminish engagement for some. ‘Responsibility’ closely linked with autonomy in that whilst autonomy could be viewed as the ability to use discretion, responsibility related to the focus of that discretion. One respondent differentiated the ownership associated with autonomy from responsibility when considering the engaging affect of involvement in an activity: ‘No I don’t think it’s a sense of ownership particularly, I think its, I suppose it links into the tangible doesn’t it. I would say it’s more a sort of responsibility really I suppose rather than ownership’ (EG10) Other respondents emphasised the sense of direction that associated with responsibility, for example: ‘I was responsible as well, so I had, I had direction from above in terms of, yep, you can lead that and that’s up to you and you can take responsibility for that’ (EG3) ‘I like the fact that I’ve got some responsibility, even more so now. I’ve got a team of people that I’m trying to lead, and that we are coming into an era under developing new services, and all those things kind of interest me and motivate me and that’s what I like about my job. And that I’m travelling from one place to another’ (MM11) Another respondent noted the importance of having a sense of responsibility in the context of making a contribution, in this case when working with contractors: ‘I was being listened to … I think from the outset, I was being able to contribute and the guys … who were leading it listened to everything that we said so we had a contribution, so it wasn’t that they’d gone right into the process with some massive ideas that they thought that this was going to work, they listened …’ (EG3) This indicates the strong sense of personal involvement and that the success of the task fell on the person himself. The feelings that this could engender is illustrated by another respondent, whose sense of responsibility for an activity had the effect of building self-esteem: ‘Makes me feel proud. Umm, motivated and energised, umm knowing that what you are doing is important and difficult; not anybody could just come in and do it’ (EG5) Responsibility linked closely with other factors and a compounding affect could be seen, for example:


‘I’m the one responsible for pulling that together … I’m just totally absorbed in that. Umm I tend to work probably three weekends and my working week will go from maybe forty/fifty hours a week, that’s what I do at the moment, to more like sixty or seventy hours a week, and it’s just, but I love it as well … So it’s a stressful time, umm but it’s one that brings me lots of challenges … it’s nice to know that you are largely responsible for something’ (EG5) Here, the concepts of ‘Challenge’, ‘Autonomy’, ‘Contribution’, ‘Self-attribution’ and ‘Achievement’ are linked with ‘Responsibility’ and, as noted, they compound the engaging affect of the factors as they work together. Factors relating to ‘Self-determination’, then have a positive impact on engagement and, to some degree, can contribute to diminished engagement when not present. However, they can also create a disengaging dynamic. What appeared to be a key general dynamic in the experience of disengagement related to the degree to which respondents were compelled to be involved or remain in an activity. This contrasts with engagement / lack of engagement in which the degree of autonomy over the activity appeared to be key. So disengagement appeared to be associated closely with activities from which it is difficult to withdraw. For example, one respondent noted the inner conflict relating to the requirement to be involved on the one hand, but not being able to control the activity, on the other: ‘… I like to think I’m the kind of person that if I work hard enough at something eventually we will get to the right result where everybody is happy. You know I produce a [report] initially, [manager] sees them … want to change … you negotiate, I suppose is what I’m looking for, compromise, come to an agreeable case … I’ve never felt that there has been any ability to compromise and negotiate and therefore we can’t all reach a happy place’ (EG5) … and this same respondent felt that having the autonomy taken away from certain aspects of her work would be disengaging: ‘I think I’d find that very difficult, quite a struggle. I suppose if it was something that I felt I should be part of … if I’ve been doing the [report] for five or six years and [manager] turns round and said actually … I want to do it … he’s got every right to do that but I’d really struggle with that. I’d struggle to let go and to not have role to play and to feel pushed out or something’ (EG5) This, then relates to a loss of autonomy after having a degree of control and responsibility, which this respondent indicates would be especially difficult. Disengagement can be experienced where the opportunity can be seen, but is not provided: ‘… you’re not being given the opportunity, probably not being listened to … you’re not engaged and you’re not involved in the process … not responsible for it … you don’t feel someone do you … you’re not motivated your confidence goes as well, you don’t feel very confident … it’s really unpleasant isn’t it, yeh it’s not pleasant at all … you don’t feel trusted either’ (EG3) For this respondent, then, the experience of disengagement relating to a lack of responsibility and control was all-encompassing, affecting his self-efficacy in addition to his motivation to be involved. For some respondents, a lack of control and autonomy over work was envisaged as the most disengaging position to be in, for example: ‘I think it would be doing something where everything is literally dictated to you and you more or less that’s it you just follow you know exactly a set thing there is no input in it. You are I suppose removed from decision making’ (AO3) ‘Well I mean, frustration for me is about a barrier, being tripped up. Being tripped up sounds a bit menacing in some ways, but it’s about being prevented from following a process’ (EG7) … and some respondents gave examples of the disengagement experienced as a result of not having control or responsibility, for example: ‘I think basically you just feel removed from what you do … erm disinterested I suppose … I have been unmotivated. I mean I can give examples to a different job … you still care about what you do but your focus changes. I mean this was when I was running a trade counter and I basically just had no relationship with the new area manager. He didn’t understand the problem that we had … I ended up doing everything for the customer experience but I had no interest in doing anything for him, whereas his predecessor I did all sorts of stuff for him …


shared my ideas and everything. But as soon as someone came in that was totally different and we didn’t have that relationship and he didn’t, wasn’t prepared to sort of let you do what you knew could work, you sort of go away and think well if you’re not going to let me do it I am not gonna do any of that … you don’t feel understood or listened to which means you don’t feel appreciated or... and I think that just spiralled as unless something happens that breaks it and eventually you get to a point where you just don’t wanna be there and you break it by going somewhere else’ (AO3) This respondent, then, demonstrated the deeply disengaging impact from having autonomy removed or frustrated, involving the loss of relationship, diminished contribution to the manager and organisation, and the intention to quit. For other respondents, disengagement resulted from having control usurped, for example: ‘I’d given a mandate to people the other... a month or so ago, to buy new [product]. You know, only yesterday I then had somebody above me questioning why somebody was ordering [this product], you know and that manager shouldn’t be speaking to that director and you think well, why do I ... why does that need to happen. It’s done, it’s within their budgets, within their ... it’s within their accountability levels; they can go and do it. So why ... you shouldn’t be questioning it, just go and do it. So that annoys me, because it trips the process up’ (EG7) … and a lack of autonomy could lead to disengagement not because it took away the control to carry out the work in the way that they consider to be most effective and engaging, but because it took away a sense of personal ownership. One respondent contrasted a disengaging event at a previous company with the disengaging impact of losing autonomy in this way: ‘… but it’s nowhere near as disengaging as it is here … I'm on holiday at the end of this week … I'm only going for a few days, but already I'm beginning to get a little bit concerned… [manager] will go through my desk and … will take everything that I'm half way through that don’t need any action, and it’s a control thing, and it’s like I'm perfectly conscious of what I’ve got on my desk, I know what I can hand over and I know what I can leave, but when I’ve come back before my desk has been opened and all … had been taken into [manager’s] office and … that frustrates me’ (MM6) In summary, ‘Self-determination’ combines, then, key aspects of autonomy and responsibility, with selfattribution, as drivers of positive engagement and a lack of autonomy or responsibility could diminish engagement. Not having autonomy where there may be an opportunity to make a change or have an impact, or having autonomy removed or usurped, could be disengaging for different reasons including the frustration related to the loss of effectiveness. However, the loss of autonomy could also be disengaging because it removed a sense of ownership in relation to a process, activity or service. A key dynamic in disengagement was the inability to withdraw physically from an activity that is psychologically disengaging.

Annex N.6


This theme relates to the deep inner dynamic of ‘Growth’ and shows how the intrinsic experience of growth and the expectation of future growth can be a strong motivator for engagement. It is also clear from Figures 5.8 and 5.9, however, that not having opportunities for growth, as defined here, may not diminish engagement greatly or be a major contributor to disengagement. Nevertheless, example quotations below indicate some diminished engagement and disengagement experiences relating to growth factors. One respondent noted his sense of achievement in relation to being able to establish an organisation in which others can thrive: ‘I have a huge satisfaction from the perception that people are happy with their lives and every aspect of their life’ (EG11) … … indicating that if he could not achieve this … ‘… it would be de-motivational for me. It would be something that I’m actually not sure that I would want to get out of bed and continue doing the job that I’m doing’ (EG11) … showing a deep sense of engagement he has through achievement relating to the impact that he can have on others’ lives.


One respondent reflected on the general achievement he sensed by being able to have an impact on the lives of those being served by RHA: ‘… it’s getting a sense of fulfilment and a tangible kind of, the thing about development is you, I’ve been working in housing since I left university really, you actually feel like you’re achieving something when you’re working in housing because you can drive past a housing development in five years time and I think well I helped build that. So you’re actually seeing something tangible as a reward for your efforts’ (EG8) Other respondents related the engaging nature of achievement to successfully completing more immediate activities, for example, one respondent related a deep sense of engagement through the results he has achieved, also relating this to his personal autonomy he has in this process: ‘The budget sheets came out this morning for month eleven, so I’ll be going through those thinking, we’ve done brilliantly and I love the analytical part of breaking it all down and working out where the success has come from, umm, so, for me, it’s just about achievement. It’s about … about personal achievement’ (EG7) Another respondent noted the specifically engaging drive in relation to being able to complete tasks: ‘I like to get and feel a sense of achievement or to finish something off … I suppose there’s a kind of passion to get things right … detail’s very important to me’ (EG4) Finally, another respondent, as with the last one, emphasised the importance of being able to finish tasks as a drive to engage: ‘There’s a lot to achieve and a lot to complete … and it’s the completing and getting to the end, of and achieving’ (EG2) Whilst achievement and growth-related factors featured strongly in relation to engagement, as noted, the lack of growth or achievement did not feature greatly as a factor in diminishing engagement, or in disengagement. One respondent indicated a lack of engagement where the results of his efforts were not clear: ‘… but I think generally if I’m not being challenged or I don’t have stretch projects or things thrown at me which I haven’t done before, umm then you know, I don’t get any improvement or knowledge’ (EG8) … and this same respondent also indicated he felt ‘disengaged and a sense of going through the motions’ (EG8) … Another respondent indicated that she experienced a deep sense of frustration if she could not achieve: ‘… I like to get and feel a sense of achievement or to finish something off. I find it quite frustrating if you do a piece of work and then it goes nowhere or erm it’s not used or you’re routinely doing something and then no-one ever looks at it or you know I find that quite frustrating’ (EG4) However whilst there is strong evidence in these findings that growth and achievement could positively enhance engagement, the findings do not provide strong evidence that not being able to achieve or grow at work greatly diminished engagement or contributed to disengagement. The concept of achievement was shown to create engagement in different ways, from broad work engagement to task engagement perspectives, and was often related to the ability to see a task to completion or to experience something as finished, tied up or closed. This was also discussed above in relation to work characteristics.

Annex N.7


There were several examples from respondents of how positive or negative values by self or others impacted the degree of engagement, relating therefore to engagement and lack of engagement experiences. In relation to degrees of engagement, from high engagement to diminished or lack of engagement, several different perspectives relating to values were reported, including:


… personal values, for example: ‘… it’s a vocation … my personal feeling is, as a Christian, and I'm a committed Christian, I work for a higher authority, I work for god’ (MM8) … interpersonal values, for example: ‘I mean, if I was to go on values, I mean, I think truth is a big thing for me. You know, people telling the truth. And honesty … for me it’s imperative for anybody who I, for example, have a relationship, personal relationship, that they’re honest with me’ (AO1) ‘… lack clear principles – lack eng - Umm, and I’m learning a lot from it, but I think... I’m not saying that he’s wrong; I’m just saying it goes against my principles and he’s somebody that gets involved in things that he really shouldn’t be involved in at all … I don’t always understand why … so the insight’s not there …’ (EG7) … social values, for example: ‘I know when I first started work one of the tenants, we were in a Woolworths at the time, and I was aware that someone was not being very nice to him and he said to me, erm don’t worry it happens all the while and I thought that’s very sad that someone can’t even look at something in a shop without being laughed at’ (AO4) ‘I do a job of work, doing something that I believe in that upholds my personal values in terms of my social side and looking after those less fortunate … actually do something that changes peoples lives who are in greatest need and that’s just fantastic I think’ (EG10) ‘Just by the fact that they’re born with learning disabilities. So what we offer them is an opportunity to lead a life that is of a high quality, that is fulfilled and where they have aspirations, where they are a part of society rather than being marginalised … It’s a vocation’ (MM8) … work values, for example: ‘I just feel it’s important to work hard, to be the best you can be. There is no alternative, you know, you have to work with what you have, do you know what I mean, to try to produce the best you can’ (MM2) ‘I don’t know whether strong work ethic comes into it, but I kind of have a very ethical … loyalty …’ (EG4) ‘I’ve always taken pride in, you know, I take pride in, I did nearly 21 years when I was on the tools. I’m a great believer in you must take pride in your work because if not you shouldn’t be doing that job’ (MM9) … quality values, for example: ‘I like ensuring that things are done properly and the fulfilment and the rewards which come with seeing people housed as quickly—and having excellent support’ (MM2) ‘I think you can potentially complete something but it doesn’t mean to say that it is a wholesome product, do you understand what I mean, it…we might complete something but I don’t know, 2% is wrong and incorrect and I like to think that we’ve done as much as we can to get it perfect …’ (EG4) ‘… these people [clients] deserve respect and the utmost quality of customer care’ (EG11) … organisational values, for example: ‘… for me it’s about making sure that people that work here want to work here, enjoy being here. That my managers understand the values … we all share. And that they are articulated throughout the Organisation and importantly are articulated and perceived by outsider Organisations with whom we work’ (EG11) ‘… you know, [RHA’s] business and its ethics lie very much in umm social wellbeing and trying to improve people’s life chances’ (EG8)


‘I did find there was nothing rewarding about [a previous] job … the bank was benefiting from whatever we done … although I was totally not about that, and that’s why this industry is for me, just my ideal job’ (MM3) An issue that appeared to effect engagement fundamentally in relation to values was authenticity, for example: ‘It’s hard to say what means more than something else, but certainly here values would be right up there, your inner standard or beliefs about what matters, that does matter, part of something yourself definitely. Being true to myself ... I think th[at] values is the more important thing’ (MM8) ‘I think … at the end of the day … I’m one of those persons I think if I go home and I’ve had a busy day, you know I feel as though I’ve done a good job, I’ve earned my money and … meeting my own targets, I dunno I guess just get a sense of achievement for myself … that’ll give me … satisfaction that I’ve done a good day’s work’ (MM7) These example quotations, then, demonstrate how values impacted degrees of engagement from a positive drive to engage to a diminished sense of engagement. As noted, however, the underpinning values appeared to be less strongly related to disengagement, and where they were related it was most often related to authenticity and integrity. Of the examples, one respondent discussed the way in which she would be disengaged if she were not able to express her values within her work: ‘… I think I am incredibly lucky in that I do a job of work, doing something that I believe in that upholds my personal in terms of my social side and looking after those less fortunate … I think there is very few organisations where actually you can do that … I love buildings, I love design and that’s where my background is, I wouldn’t get that same feeling … doing those for a private developer, I am telling you it just wouldn’t be the same, even though some of the challenges and the innovations would still be there, it wouldn’t have that same sense of achievement and that you are benefiting people who need it the most really’ (EG10) … and she went on to discuss more specifically the impact of producing low quality service: ‘… I think if you just thought … that you are delivering rubbish and you can’t change it, that would be very sad wouldn’t it? It would be a miserable place to be I think … I can’t believe anyone would be happy with delivering rubbish … I think most people would find that pretty depressing and a bit fed up wouldn’t they I think’ (EG10) Another respondent reported quality as a factors in contributing to disengagement: ‘I least enjoy I suppose is getting set tasks when either they’re needed to be completed urgently … when I think ‘well actually I know I could’ve done that better if I was given more time…’ (MM7) … and MM7 went on to discuss how the disengaging impact of low quality work is compounded when he is unable to work effectively with others: ‘… or if the people I needed to engage with were more forthcoming in helping out, or available … disengaging, working with uninterested team of people with little time for the tasks … set, or … short notice resulting in me not being able to produce an excellent piece of work’ (MM7) Here, the respondent illustrated the disengaging impact of producing low quality work, compounded by not having the time or resources required to complete it to a high standard. Values relating to inter-personal relationships featured as important in disengagement, for example: ‘Yeah, a high moral base I think. You know, when someone breaks that trust and morality that’s when I tend to have difficulties … Honesty, the sort of things that I find … honesty would be a terrible one for someone to break or disloyalty, those sorts of things’ (MM5) When discussing values and their link to disengagement, it became clear that values had an impact that was somewhat different to other factors in one key respect. It appeared that for other factors, respondents could accommodate different degrees to which they were present of absent, for example, challenge or involvement, and recognised the variable impact that this could have on engagement. However values seemed to be more polarised. As noted, the presence of certain values and the ability


to integrate these in work appeared to have a positive affect on engagement. However, where values were incongruent with an activity, this appeared to have a more profound impact and caused a person to (seek to) withdraw entirely. This is illustrated in the following: ‘I think it goes back to that hypothetical [example] where what that is is fundamentally in conflict with my values, and then I would get up and, if I could I’d get up and leave’ (MM12) This more extreme response to this factor would naturally, therefore, lead to there being fewer examples of values influencing disengagement; it is logical that a highly disengaging experience due to values would be one that someone would not get involved with in the first place, or leave if at all possible. Whilst someone might stay in a situation that diminishes their engagement, they would be less likely to be in a strongly disengaging situation. However, in the few occasions where people were required to remain in an activity that was disengaging because of values, the impact was deep, illustrated by one respondent who noted the hypothetically most disengaging possible situation for her: ‘… where I'm forced to be involved in a project where I don’t find the outcome acceptable’ (MM12)




Integrated Themes: Work Characteristics (WC) Self-concept (S-C) Connection (C) Purpose (P) Self-Determination (S-D) Growth (G) Values (V)

Executive Group EG 1 Need to change - Desirable, not essential (WC) Internal direction initiated – Tenant initiated (P) Using expertise – Develop more knowledge (WC) Clear objectives – Unclear objectives (P) Ownership and resp – Outside my skill (S-D) Informed/indep judgement – Collect decision (S-D) Offices working in isolation – Team rels (C) Informing – Influence and support (C) Clearly defined – Flair (WC) Referring on – Making decisions (S-D) Existing knowledge – New activity (WC)

EG 2 Reacting to Issues – Proactive (S-D) Focus on wrong–Focus on what’s right (V) Only partial truth – Everything recognised (V) What’s the point – Feel valued (S-C) Get’s you cross – Content (S-C) No involvement – Celebrating contribution (P) One-way – Opportunity to be heard (C)

EG 3 Administration – People oriented (WC) Ownership/whole process – Lack involvement (S-D) Responsibility – No ownership (S-D) Clear direction – Muddled (P) Produces outcome – Negativity (P) Success – No win (G) Enjoyable / ease – Boring (G) Flair – Process driven (WC) Team working – Lonely (C) Change someone’s life – No impact on person (P)

EG 4 Cross functional – Own division (WC) Collaborative – Self-focused (C) Resolved/del/complete – Ongoing/never ends (WC) Good working relationships – Uncooperative (C) Certainty – Uncertainty (S-D) Detailed and clear – Woolly and undefined (WC) Planning required – Reactive (WC) Structured / clear – Unstructured (WC) Empowering – Ineffectual (G) Task oriented – Personal (WC) Prof focus – Unprofessional behaviours (V) Big picture – Silo mentality (WC)

EG 6 Core function – Across disciplines (WC) Frustration – Focused / best use of time (S-D) Boring – Exciting (G) Lack sense of achievement – Sense of achieve (G) Pointless – Clear value achievement (V) Have to do it – Want to do it (S-D) Bureaucracy – Customer benefit outcomes (P) Overlooked/not appreciate–Recog/appreciate (S-C) Individual work – Team work (C) Process related – People related (WC) Prescribed – Flair / initiative (S-D)

EG 7 Personal contact – Solitary (C) Receiving feedback – Detached (WC) Personal message – Corporate message (P) Have outcomes / reward – no progress (P) Empowering – Disempowering (S-D) Affirmation – Acceptance (S-C) Feel valued – Frustration (S-C) Excitement – Predictable (G) Creative – Factual (G) Exert influence – Passive recipient (S-D) Positive anxiety invoking – Relaxed (G)


EG 8 Strategic – Local / insular (WC) Specialist kn & expertise–Not using exp & kn (S-C) Challenging – Monotonous (G) Broaden know/experience – Routine process (G) Personal recog – Individual input not recog (S-C) Team working – On own (C) Fun and enjoyable – Dull (WC) Highly motivated – Low motivation (G) Different/tang outcome–Not interest/outcome (P) Break from routine/different – Office-based (WC) External focus with partners – Internal (WC)

EG 9 Team working – Excluded (C) Being valued – Not feeling valued (S-C) Tough decision – No decision (V) Leadership and direction – Not involved (P) Mgt / improved services – Complex issue (V) Flair – Inconsistency (G) Praise – Taken for granted (S-C) Pers control/resp – Wkg with snr colleagues (S-D) A difficult issue on own – Giving advise (C) Achieving goals – Agreed goals (P) Share own knowledge–Benefit from others kn (S-C) Developing people – Work towards goal (P)

EG 10 Change / new – Righting a wrong (P) Future – Present (G) Forward planning – Process / info collation (WC) Exciting – Detail (WC) Improving – Process for own sake (G) Change for better – Collecting data (G) Successful negotiation – Process (WC) Service delivery – Administration (V) Challenging – Dull (G) Make a difference – Records / facts (P)

EG 11 Enjoyable – Stressful (G) Challenging (leadership) – Failed leadership (P) Success / made a difference – Failure (S-D) Positive relations – negative relations (C) Very satisfied – Very dissatisfied (WC) Personal/professional achievement–Debilitating (G) Exhilarating – Disappointing (G) Professional – Emotional / heart (S-C) Public – Private (C) Team – Personal (C)

EG 12 Group – Interaction (C) Planned – Ad hoc (WC) Matrix – Free form (S-D) Systematic – Thinking on the hoof (S-D) Mentally isolated – Involved with others (C) Mathematical / logic – Verbal (WC) Boring – Stimulating (G) Tedious – Satisfying (WC)

EG 13 Analysis of existing service – New / unknown (WC) Dev sve & bus as it stands – Expand the bus (P) No costs – Costs (WC) More control / certainty – Uncertainty (S-D) All my work / resp–Others involved / directive (S-D) Clear objectives – Unclear objectives (P) Enjoyable – Not so enjoyable (WC) Direct rel to team & sve users – Bus / Finance (P) People – Processes (WC)


Middle Management Group MM 1 Project management – Prison cell (S-D) At the helm – Within a team (C) All communication – Very little comm (C) Organising – No thought required (S-D) Active – Desk bound (WC) Empathy – Lack of empathy (V) People – Paper (P) Asked to do – Ownership (S-D)

MM 2 Me organising – Networking (S-D) Autonomy – Relying on others (S-D) Giving your opinions – Receiving information (C) Verbal interaction – Administration (WC) Continuing to learn – Stagnation (G) Recognition – Being ignored (S-C) Challenging – Necessity (WC) Brain stimulating – Sluggish (G) Work ethic – means to an end (V) Engage with people – No involve with people (C) 2 way discussion – Boredom (WC) Achievement – Non-effective (G)

MM 3 Staff – Tenants (WC) Less control – In control (S-D) Statistics & targets – Advice (P) Not necessary improvement – Improvement (P) Not making a difference – Making a dif (P) Not rewarding – Job satisfaction (G) Documents – People (WC) Procedures – Development (G) Information – Guidance (WC)

MM 4 Technical – Design (WC) Personal ownership – Team (S-D) Recognition – Lack recognition (S-C) Agree with purpose – Disagree with purpose (V) Worthwhile – Needed to be done (P) Challenging – Mundane (G) Puzzle – Information process (WC) Specialist skill – Low skill (S-C) With others – On own (C) New ideas – Repetitive (WC)

MM 5 Me obstructing – Others obstructing (WC) Trust – Not trusted (C/R) Faster – Slower (WC) Happy – Sad (WC) Enlightening – Frustrating (G) Positive environment – Negative environment (V) Specific direction – Blocks direction (P)

MM 6 Business focused – Active community focus (P) Background – feeling valued (S-C) Driven by others – Complete control (S-D) Can’t see value – See the value (P) Wkg against what want to do – Wkg towards (S-D) No staff interaction – Staff interaction (C) Working with staff – Wkg for staff and support (P) Don’t understand purpose – Purpose (P) Feel like waste of time–Understand necessity (P)

MM 7 Corporate target driven – Development (G) Impersonal – Personal (C/R) Immediate relevance – Frustration (P) Enjoyable – Annoying (WC) Efficient – Inefficient (WC)

MM 8 Staff – Tenants (WC) Relationship – Process (C) Lack of commitment to staff – Commit to staff (V) Bad communication – Good communication (C) Not in my control – In my control (S-D) Does not enhance performance–Enhances perf (G) Exclusion – Inclusion (C/R) Poor feedback – Good feedback (WC) Dissatisfaction – Satisfaction (G) Lack of structure – Structured (WC)


MM 9 Satisfying / constructive – Destructive (G) Good inside – Nervous (WC) Contributing to others – Withdrawing (P) Good base – Not a good base (V)

MM 10 Clear outcome – Unclear outcome (P) Interesting – Uninteresting (G) Requires thought – Does not require thought (WC) Complete task – Single element of a task (WC) Statutory requirem’t outside org – Internal req (WC)

MM 11 Scary for others – Comfortable for others (C) Change – No change (G) Exciting – Process (G) Motivating – Boring (G) To do with me – Others (S-D) Stability – Not stable (WC) Who I am – Affecting the who you are (S-C) No conflict – People and conflict (C) People related – Task related (C)

MM 12 Ongoing – Defined time (WC) Leading – Facilitating (S-D) No conflict with values – Conflict with values (V) Worthwhile – Waste of time (P) Talked with – Talked at (C) People – Processes (WC) Unique – Routine (WC) Opportunistic – Foundational (S-D) Exciting – Doesn’t evoke excitement (G)




Executive Group EG 1 Intro of rent tenancy regime Let’s talk again event Interviewing for new posts Meeting tenant groups Preparing committee reports Hyp Chairing committee Undertaking audits on services Review strategies Hyp management structure

EG 2 Hyp Celebrating contribution Pitches view 2004 opening Staff conference 2010 Human resources awayday 2009 Full management team meetings Contract work HR ignored Hyp Heavy criticism Awayday 2011

EG 3 DLO meeting Application for grant EPC specification 10 year plan review Residents meeting Resolving outstanding work Complaints letters Hyp procurement re-tender Hyp producing stat spreadsheet

EG 4 Hyp Delivery Complex Project Training Work together Planning Management team Excluded Hyp HR issues

EG 6 Hyp Acquisition of new business Short notice audit inspection New affordable homes Delivery plans Policy creation Grey fleet processes Value for money group Component accounting Hyp pointless acc std changes

EG 7 Wkg with directors – bus solutions Project meetings re specific tasks Working with outside agents Presenting at wksps or conferences Reporting to committee Regular mtgs with heads of service Budget setting Hyp Comm change to support staff Attending to e-mails

EG 8 EG 9 Norwich sites Housing support / care committee Business plan reviewing Project management Hyp Development team awaydays Hyp Team building / sailing Let’s work together event Resolving the irresolvable Village consultation events Training / coaching Regional working Advice / support / guidance Supported hsg strat proj teams Interaction with CEO & directors Administrative duties Board meetings Hyp processing invoices Hyp Excluded from secret mtgs EG 12 Attending / notes at Board mtgs Liaising board & scrutiny panel Docs for board mtgs & awaydays Proof reading docs Arranging many attendee mtgs Filing The History of Orwell Booklet Working on columns of figures Any form of public speaking

EG 13 Wkg on setting up volunteers User involvement forum / mtgs Putting in for a tender Analysing referrals to sve Waiting lists Performance information layouts Hyp Looking at cutting costs Closing money advice proj & results Financial training protocol


EG 11 People development Short notice inspection Closing a deal Transfer YMCA / Suffolk Rural Transfer McIntyre Care Partnerships Hyp Merger / Acquisition Behaviour Hyp Fall out

Middle Management Group MM 1 Hyp Org event-promote & assists Project managing FATIE event Recruiting tenant forum Producing E & I film Streetwise soccer Design hsg application form Prod annual service charges Customer service team Hyp Any clerical work

MM 2 Hyp Management team meetings Housing conference ACT allocations Charing large meetings Tenancy sign up Performance review information Too little to do Data input Hyp Envelope stuffing

MM 3 Listening and making a difference Dealing with complaints Giving training General enquiries Reports Staff appraisal procedure Board meetings and reports Risk assessment policy and proced Selling

MM 4 SNAP setup ORS setup Housing project Phone and mobile contracts Team film [R]HA website Updating board area SNAP time sheets Updating info sharing website

MM 5 Hyp Annual reviews Software implementation Chief exec Evening chats IT rules Employee learning Working attitudes Key Hyp Time starved

MM 6 Hyp Staff valued Merger activity Scheme visits Let’s work together programme Absence improvement Interview process scheme manager Contract redone Handover to acquiring company Hyp Reporting regularly

MM 7 Hyp Perf rel – interested people Rent arrears letters Overseeing rightoffs Giving training Wkg with uninterested colleagues Wkg on task without support Work completed to acceptable std Work not perf related Hyp Wkg with uninterested team

MM 8 Hyp Training and Dev Lead Coaching Tenant involvement Supervision and staff meetings Career pathway Organisational structure Performance management Poor communication Hyp Not involved in decisions

MM 9 Hyp Trust Enjoying work Good spirits Satisfaction Sharing knowledge with others Making life easier for others Lack of organisation Group activity Hyp Stress

MM 10 Hyp Understd/enjoy,pos outcome OHL invoicing and payments CIS Leasehold depreciation Wenham view accounts VAT [R]H contract novation Photocopying Hyp Low understd/enjoy outcome

MM 11 Becoming Head of service Hyp Dev service with full team Dealing with disciplinary issues Conflicting priorities Dealing with conflict with people People side of disciplinary Important issues but lack control Hyp No change – bored Managing workload

MM 12 Hyp Proj High val outcome & valued Working on prestigious scheme Working with new partner ass’n Yearly audit Training new staff Getting a new scheme on site Poor training course Hyp general admin and filing etc Project with unacceptable outcome




Annex Q i

EG Composite Cluster Analysis


Annex Q ii

MM Composite Cluster Analysis


Annex Q iii

EG and MM Composite Cluster Analysis




ENGAGING EXPERIENCES ‘… It would be a circle … It’s just the first thing that came into my head … and it just, umm, I don’t actually know [Laughter] … It’s just the first thing that came into my - It’s just, umm, I dunno. Kind of make you, it would make you feel whole and I sort of suppose … that, you know, I would associate that shape with … It’s just, I dunno, I think you, that sometimes you can go into these things in so much depth [Laughter] … You’re kind of, like there’s a circle, I suppose, a circle of life and I just believe that we’re all put here for a reason … And umm, you make the most and the best of what you can in the time you’ve got, sort of thing. And, umm, the circle to me, it’s just, it’s a continuous thing. It just feels, I dunno, the right shape’ (AO1) ‘… I’m going to pick the first one; a star [Laughs] … You’re going to think I’m crazy or something … It’s the shape that came in to my head … I think the stars quite a positive … Maybe because I talk to my little girl about stars quite a lot and … Because I talk to my daughter about stars and things, it’s quite a happy - sort of nice … A journey, I don’t know [Laughs] … Yeah. So works like, like carry out a piece of work, it’s like a journey isn’t it, a star … A nice destination, a beach may be … From starting a piece of work and completing it’ (AO2) ‘Triangle … I suppose just because you’ve got all the different points to it but put it all together it makes a shape … Well all the different aspects of it … I suppose also a triangle points in the one direction doesn’t it in the end so’ (AO3) ‘Well when you were talking about it it was a lovely sunny day, so I, Cos it was very sunny that day … It was warm and bright and … Happy times’ (AO4) ‘Well a circle came to mind, immediately, I don’t know why … I have no idea, it’s just I don’t know, maybe because it’s, it’s it seems to … I suppose it’s a shape for me that seems complete … It’s, it’s I don’t know, it’s not messy, it’s tidy, it’s not open ended, it’s – and everything’s in there, I don’t know … I don’t know, the effort, the, I don’t know, the job itself, the end result, I don’t know I’ve never really thought about it’ (EG2) ‘I automatically think of a circle or a square, whether or not that’s – I can’t quite pick between the two … I think, it started with having a centre point [the activity] and working your way out … The target so in terms of what you’ve got to achieve … In terms of what we’ve got to do to get to the target … wouldn’t naturally but that was the first thing that came into my head … It should probably go the other way around. I don’t know why I thought of a square [Laughing] but it’s just a square came into my head … I think a square felt a bit more structured … Just the sides I suppose and a bit more solid … more safer …’ (EG3) ‘… I dunno, a figure of eight possibly … I suppose it brings together things to kind of a central point to make, a complete figure really … And there is lots of elements to it which all came to the same kind of point, central point … conclusion … It’s a wholesome [Laugh] … It’s a wholesome figure … healthy looking number … No angles … I dunno, for me I think things can get stuck in corners can’t they. I think you know corners are a place to hide aren’t they, or to lose things … I dunno, obviously it means, I dunno it gives me suspicious, kind of suspicions I think … I kind of like things to be open and transparent … I like to know all the facts and information before I kind of come to a conclusion … if you ask people for information and you think you’ve got the right information and then you find out that you’re missing a part or you’re, you haven’t got the full facts, and you then mis-inform someone else then that… you know I find that difficult … I like to know, and also I like to understand how things fit together … Have I said the wrong thing [Laugh]? (EG4) ‘… Probably something plain and boring like a circle, probably would be the thing … I like the smoothness of it … Umm, perhaps a little bit more flexible, umm in umm, (pausing for thought), I don’t know … Umm, sort of think of hexagonal and it’s a little bit blunt … Well it’s more sharp … In having those edges’ (EG5) ‘… I can’t rationalise it … The shape that came into my mind was a 3D hexagon like a prism … Goodness only knows why … Sort of that prism. Almost like a crystal shape. You know the one with the, but it was 3D for some bizarre. It wasn’t necessarily a hexagon. A hexagon is probably the wrong word. It is that … It is one of those, it is like a football with hexagonal panels … Don’t ask me why. I suppose the panels are obviously joined together and they make a useful object but I don’t know why … On one level it kind of does portray to me the different you know we are different but you know to me the beauty of a team is the old two plus two equals five aspect.


Together we are stronger than we are individually … Which I think is what makes a good organisation. It is that whole well like I say synergy two plus two equals five. It is that but in that respect it is a little bit of a daft shape because the panels are all the same when they are not. Although I suppose if you introduce colour on them then it would be difficult, different … I think probably the depth … I do believe that that depth is, I mean I played a lot of team sports as a young guy and I do believe that you know teams are fantastic things when they click because of what you can, you get more out of them then some of the parts. Equally they can do the opposite you can lessen some of the parts and you know it is a huge challenge in business, in life in whatever to get that … I suppose possibly I mean there is an awful lot of trust within this you know the organisation and the teams which is a big part of it.’ (EG6) ‘… that’s a bit off the wall isn’t it?… Well I’m thinking about a sphere … Because it just seemed round and complete and wasn’t … I don’t know, I just... I’m thinking about a sphere being quite comforting in some way, in that’s something you can hold and it’s something you can... you know, there’s no rough edges to it … It’s just a nice... it’s a nice fit in the palm of the hands, sort of type thing … It’s... I mean I was thinking, there’s sort of no jarring. You know, it just flows... maybe that’s it, maybe it’s just that it’s not... it doesn’t flow. You know a sphere is a continuous flow, it doesn’t matter what direction you go in, it’s just continuous. There’s no hindrance to the motivation. You know if I were to pick something like a star or a square, then you’ve got changes of direction …’ (EG7) ‘… Maybe driving the fast car … Is that off the wall or? … I feel, because driving a fast car around a racing track may be and this is very kind of umm may be masculine thing to say, but trying to overtake someone in a racing car or something like that … It’s not just the overtaking, it’s the, like if you imagine may be a rally or something like that where you have to go through difficult corners and round up different, you know that sort of feeling of adrenaline rush I suppose, it’s may be extreme but … When you feel like you’re in control of something … Umm and you’re kind of the competitive edge to it, but also there are obstacles ahead of you which you have to overcome and it’s your responsibility to overcome them. Umm, but there’s a kind of, you know there’s a kind of adrenaline, you know, rush to it, may be up against the clock or something like that … Umm, I guess it’s, mmm … a word jumped in to my head then which I’m a bit cautious about using so … Spear-heading [Laughs] … Which I thought because if you’re out trying to get business on behalf of [River] you’re, I guess you’re in a way you’re that person at the front of trying to you know get the business on behalf of [River] and there are people’s jobs may be that rely on you getting the business and the direction of the Association, the success of the Association, err, and how the Association is perceived in other people’s eyes, does come back to what I do I suppose … I don’t want to sound, you know, too big headed, but I suppose it’s that kind of the front of things really … The spear I suppose … So driving a fast car but one that’s quite up to the latest kind of technology, you know … Nobody’s asked me that before so it’s quite interesting’ (EG8) ‘A shape or object that comes to mind … It will be something that has a massive impact so I don’t know … Yeah a missile there we go … I don’t know why … I suppose if everybody had a missile coming towards them they would be very alert and kind of you know be receptive you know maybe run for cover, that is not such a good thing is it. Just something that would you know put it this way when I am doing my thing there aren’t that many people that are looking bored or switching off or … It is important to me that they are all engaging and you know listening to what is being said and enjoying what is being said … I don’t know. I am talking myself out of the missile thing now … I don’t know. Something that would kind of, King Kong there we go … you know when King Kong on the stage you know he is sort of in the chains and when I come on they are like oh … you certainly don’t want people out there falling asleep and looking disinterested … It is important to me to be entertaining’ (EG9) ‘… Oh good grief [Laughter], alright, let me think … I am essentially quite a practical person … so things like this. Think of an object, if I think of an object, a circle … That’s a shape, yes I could do a shape, not just an object yes … I suppose because its all inclusive isn’t it, so I am not a lone worker in that, I enjoy doing those challenges and things with other people, you know having that debate and stimulation of feeding off other people and then challenging and all of those sorts of things, which I think is a more sort of circular shape I suppose, and quite often these things come full circle don’t they and get around I suppose [Laughter]’ (EG10) ‘… Do you want a colour for that? … I would have lilac with white around it … I see that colour, it’s rewarding, it’s full of promise, it’s about life at its best, I see people with that too you see, and the people that I’ve met in my life are leaders, good leaders, good teachers, it can be a place. I’ve got a place, I lived and worked in Austria for a while and I’ve got a place up in the mountains where the eagles fly and the tourists don’t go, which is that place, it’s beautiful …’ (MM1)


‘… a circle I suppose … because it’s a journey and you know hopefully we’ll get to the end of it and will be you know a successful way, but not always because it’s not always what they want … I just think a circle as a happy face’ (MM3) ‘… no, the only thing that popped into my head was a ship because it was on the harbour … But that’s only because the offices overlooked the harbour and it was just such a great place to be. Not really no’ (MM6) ‘… No not really. The initial thing that just comes to my mind is just the layouts of letters because we were just doing letter after letter after letter and they were all following a set format … So all I really have in mind is a proforma of the standard letter on an A4 piece of paper, that’s the only thing that springs immediately to mind if I was to relate to objects’ (MM7)

DISENGAGING EXPERIENCES ‘I’d say, something like a star, or, something prickly like one of those things that they used to, knights used to have to kill people with [Laughter] … Do you know what I mean? … yeah, spikes coming out of it [Laughter]. Yeah. That was just a horrible incident. Absolutely horrible.’ (AO1) ‘… Well probably a scribble I think … I think it made me want to go err, err, err, [Laughing] … A mess. No, umm, structure’ (AO5) ‘… I can give you a colour … Red … You’re going to think I’m mad now, but I’m honest, I’m going to be absolutely honest with you, All my life I’ve seen people as colours, that’s how I see people. I don’t see, I’m not talking about these weird spiritual auras or anything like that, but I’ve always seen people in colours, and experiences in colours, and red is for me it signifies anger, it signifies everything that’s not working right. If I come across a person who is red, it could be that they’re very angry, it could also be, and that would be a situation too. It could also be somebody who is extremely, who has a severe mental health issue, for example, could also be red … But the situation that’s red, is alarming, it’s upsetting, it’s a lot of negative ... I’m red too … it’s awful, it means I don’t operate or function as I want to. Lack of freedom as well. If you think the majority of your time is spent at work, then that’s what you’re trying to cope with is this feeling that you live with the whole time … Dead end, full stop’ (MM1) ‘… A no-entry sign … I don’t know. For me it would just be, for me to have to sit there, it would almost flash up that I should not be doing this. So you know, it would be against what I believe I should be doing. I know that’s really, sounds awful, but you know, if I think now, when I was 15, 17, I would gladly stuff envelopes all day because it would be the pay packet at the end of the week and I’d be proud of myself for working, whatever it is, and gaining experience and being part of a team. But now I’m 42 and I feel that I should have moved on’ (MM2) ‘… Yeah triangle … Because we’re talking about something that I'm quite uncomfortable with so it’s like edgy … I don’t know, a straight line. So I'm very … I know what I like, I know what route in want and anything out of that, I don’t know’ (MM3) ‘… Football … Kicking it … I’m being kicked … Lost control … No ability, no trust, no ability to control the environment. I like to control the environment … No ability to control where it’s going’ (MM5) ‘… Under a sheet! … A hole’ (MM9) ‘A triangle. Because it’s spiky … I suppose because it’s got generally three points and it involves more than one person, and if you’ve got situations happening around you it’s about more than one person … Not particularly pleasant, if you think about your touching something that spiky that causes it to be unpleasant. If it’s something spiky it’s not nice to look at, it conjures up those kinds of thoughts’ (MM11)




RESPONDENT EG 4 INTRODUCTION This report is an analysis of individual respondent interviews. Section 1 is the post interview report from the first interview, agreed by the respondent, excluding identifying details. Section 2 summarises the findings primarily from IPA analysis of this interview. Section 3 summarises Repertory Grid analysis from the second interview. Section 4 is a concluding integrated analysis of findings from both interviews. EG 4 is female, between, middle aged [age group deleted] and has been an employee of [R]HA for over many years [employment time deleted]. INTERVIEW 1 Summary EG 4 summarised her job by noting that she is involved in a diverse number of activities, including management. EG 4 described the changes that she has seen in the organisation structure and culture. There is now a more empowering culture, with greater autonomy being given to all staff. However she noted that as [R]HA has grown there has been an increasing ‘disconnect’ between functions and a growing silo mentality, with a lack of communication between some departments which do overlap or effect each other, and possibly some managers being parochial. EG 4 also notes that whilst there has been a growing flexibility in [R]HA, which has facilitated the broadening of the client-base, and the increase of regulatory and other requirements, skills are now spread thinly, compromising service standards [other identifying details deleted]. EG 4 sees herself as a ‘doer’ and enjoys the process of ‘delivering’ / ‘completing’ / ‘achieving’ in her work. She in particular likes to know ‘why’ an activity is needed and to have a clear sense of ‘purpose’. When thinking about a work situation that may be ‘ideal’ in relation to engaging, EG 4 noted the need to have a team that is more self-sufficient and where she is able to delegate and let go of tasks. This would create more time for EG 4 to be more involved in making effective changes to improve efficiency and develop more thorough processes than in the more day-to-day activities as at present. EG 4 least enjoys three main work activities. First, those that involve statistical reports, which can be frustrating and do not gain the recognition that is reflective of the work that has been expended in achieving the report. Second, time management issues and not being able to get on with her work because of interruptions from her staff, which she perceives as being continuous. Third, people issues. She finds the increased ‘HR’ activity that she, and other managers are involved with as being very time consuming and draining especially when discussing more personal issues relating to peoples needs and issues. She finds confrontation especially difficult. For some members of staff, EG 4 is ‘disappointed’ in particular with what she sees as laziness and because they do not seem to learn, needing to be told more than once about a process or approach they may take. EG 4 recounted a positive engagement experience as being when she was involved in ‘driving’ a project related to [R]HA’s website. This involved her in talking with different internal and external experts, and ‘pulling together’ to design and develop a high standard website, which was awarded 3 As for accessibility. Of particular value here for EG 4 was the ‘learning’ involved, as she developed new knowledge and understanding. More generally, EG 4 recognises that it is the experience of ‘making a difference’ and creating ‘improvement’ that were central in this project, and are a key to engaging her. She emphasises the importance of ‘getting things right’, with professionalism, and finishing the activity to a high standard. EG 4 defined her experience of ‘driving’ this project through consideration of contrasts, which she noted as losing control, indicating the importance of being in control. When asked to think about a shape or object that represented this positive engagement experience, EG 4 noted a ‘figure of 8’. She explained this by describing an ‘8’ as having a central point which everything moves to – ‘lots of elements come to the centre’. She sees this shape as ‘complete’ and ‘wholesome’, with ‘no angles or corners’ that anything can get ‘stuck’ in or ‘hide’ in, which would make her suspicious. EG 4 emphasised the importance to her of transparency and openness so that she can develop understanding about the ‘full facts’ - all the issues and factors relating to an activity.


From the whole interview we elicited constructs together, using EG 4’s ideas and words. These are listed below in order of importance for EG 4 for engaging activities, with constructs of equal importance noted together on the same line. Achievement Learning Openness Clear direction Completion

Purpose Challenge Integrity Work Ethic Delivery

High Standards Improvement Loyalty Passion (to get things right)

When questioned in greater depth about ‘Purpose’, EG 4 noted, when considering contrasting factors, that without purpose she would ‘lack contribution’ and feel ‘worthless’. The interview concluded with an explanation of the approach and questioning techniques used to elicit the constructs, and a discussion about related leadership and management issues. EG 4 said she would be happy to meet again if necessary. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis This section summarises in note form the detailed interpretative phenomenological analysis for EG 4. When asked to describe her job she noted the diversity of it. Various administrative activities. Worked through the organisation from administrative activities. Changed dramatically over that time from being dictatorial to being much more flexible and relaxed, with much more responsibility for different customer groups. Emphasis on empowerment, autonomy and self-management, and development. Sense of regret that size of org has led to a more alienated type of org, but still 'family feel'. Noted the silo mentality isolation and territorial - keep to own job and do not communicate as much as they might. Proactive communication that may contribute to others is not as effective as it might be. But in management team there’s a strong team spirit, collaboration. In her team, she feels that some people do not engage as much as they might. She is driven and seeks to be professional and get things right, and is happy to do whatever it takes, eg taking work home to ensure that a job gets done effectively. Enjoys most: Completion and deliver result - achievement important, and to a high standard. But important that activities have a purpose, is useful for business and provides a better service. Contrast to purpose - disengaging, lack aim, ambition, worthless, lack contribution. Emphasis on clear direction - hates incompleteness. A particularly engaging activity: Web-related project. High engagement through cohesive project and involvement of broad team of internal and external people … because pulling together ideas, creative inputs, successful access for different users. Challenge to bring ideas together and create success … learning and development in something new was important - different to existing skill-base. Making an improvement that is visible seems important. Driven by challenge, leading development, driving development of something new. Current job seems to be wearing whereas web development was developmental. Emphasis on loyalty, and professionalism, seems to suggest that she would push forward even where there is not an intrinsic motivational dynamic. Re-live an engaging situation - a shape or object: Figure of eight, because brings things together to a central point. Make’s a complete figure – is a wholesome number, with no angles. Things can get stuck in corners. Can loose or hide things in corners. Lots of elements all coming together indicating making order out of chaotic situation. Suspicious about what is going on. Emphasis on her need for openness. Seems to like completeness and openness for understanding about how things work and about being trusting and open. Least enjoyable and engaging activities: Mechanistic tick-box activities. Feels that [R]HA is very flexible in seeking to provide for any need in different agencies, but creates a great


deal of work. Lack of completion leads to lack of engagement and transcendence is important - lack contribution - lack engagement. Frustrating when do some work and no acknowledgement. Sense that when get it right then just accepted - not recognised, but when get it wrong - and easy to make a mistake - then criticised for that. Lack of self-worth and esteem from others about what do. Sense that she is not appreciated as much as she would like. Emphasis on complexity of work - frustration about independent working of others makes it hard to coordinate work. For her own work activities, HR issues are time consuming, and can be draining – mainly people issues, not routine process issues, that are of key frustration. She feels that she does not have the skills for peoplemanagement issues, eg, counsellor, so self-efficacy is an issue. People are always wanting her time, which she finds demanding. And feels that people should be more willing to go the extra mile if necessary – but many don’t. She feels that work is inefficient and would like to be able to delegate and let go, so that she had more time for less operational and more tactical / strategic activities, such as web-site development. But is not confident to do so. Whilst she takes a learning approach to work, and likes to get things right, she is disappointed that others do not take that approach. Sense that things get in way of doing a good job, but that this is to do with some lack of confidence on her part. A particularly least engaging activity. Inter-personal issues that are confrontational, eg giving bad news to people. Lacks charisma seems to be about self-identity and lacking confidence - self-efficacy problematic in presentations - self-doubt – disengaging. The themes elicited from this IPA are listed below, under the three engagement conditions. Theme


ENGAGEMENT Integration Connection Worthwhileness – purpose Authenticity Values Growth Contribution – achievement Challenge Autonomy Transcendence

519, 623, 671, 939 207, 519, 591 263, 555, 827 899, 927 911, 946 147, 539 247, 555 535, 835 147, 447 887

LACK OF ENGAGEMENT Lack self-worth Lack connection Lack worthwhileness / contribution Lack purpose Lack authenticity Lack self-esteem Lack Integration Lack self-attribution Lack autonomy Lack transcendence

299, 351, 1035 175, 615 251 1035 703 299 179 299 639 451

DISENGAGEMENT Self-efficacy Self-worth Self-esteem Self-identity Self-attribution Relationships – connection

371, 747, 755 299, 1037 299, 755 755 299 747


In summary: EG 4 has been a member of staff in [R]HA for over 20 years and has moved to senior management level from an administrative position. She notes with some regret the change from a small family culture to a larger more impersonal one. She used to know everyone but now doers not and regrets this, but in particular is frustrated by the more isolating silo mentality that she perceives in different departments, making communication and working together more difficult and frustrating. There is a sense that EG 4 is worn down by her work, with constant demands on her time, and criticism when things go wrong, which they can often in this type of work, but too little recognition when things go well. She finds people issues, routines and statistical routine work least enjoyable, and people issues such as giving bad news and having to be interested constantly in more emotional type issues to be especially disengaging. The interview discussion tended to move towards negatives rather than positives, and this reflected EG 4’s negative view of much of her world, even though the emphasis overall was on positive engagement activities, however EG 4 recounted a positively engaging experience, the development of the organisations web site, which involved responsibility, variety, challenge, clear direction and purpose, team working and a sense of achievement. Overall self-worth, efficacy and esteem are clearly issues for EG 4. These are generally diminished in routine work but are enhanced when in a particularly engaging activity. INTERVIEW 2 Repertory Grid Analysis This section summarises the Repertory Grid analysis carried out for EG 4. The following diagram was produced using ‘Rep 5’ software.

Activity Elements EG 4 came to the interview having identified the 9 engagement – disengagement ‘elements’. By observation, the types of events included some that represent the general nature of the work, such as ‘Complex’ and ‘Excluded’, and some general work activities, such as ‘Work together’, Training’, ‘Project’, and ‘Management team’. The clustering of activity elements indicates one cluster of three activities, five activities with diminishing similarity to this cluster, and which also were rated by EG 4 as being decreasingly engaging, and one singleton. The cluster of three includes the three activities that were rated by EG 4 as being the three highest engaging activities, including the one hypothetically engaging activity, that of ‘Delivery’. This activity reflects EG4’s high priority on loyal and professional approach to ensuring that if a task is promised it will be delivered and to a high standard. The two most similar activities, rated 2 and 3, are ‘Complex’ and ‘Project’, reflecting the engaging experience of EG 4 being involved in projects (rather than routine work) which are complex, and involve varied activities which entail some learning experiences. The five activities which diminish in similarity to this cluster start with ‘Training’, which has high ratings of many engaging construct poles, including those relating to collaboration, relationships, clarity, professionalism and structure, but are more insular and personal in nature. The next activity is ‘Planning’, which is reported as being less structured and planned, with lower professionalism, than those activities rated as more engaging. The next activity, rated 7, ‘Management team’ is less engaging, in particular because it is less certain but also because it is characterised by more unprofessional and uncooperative behaviours and it is less clear. The next activity is rated 8, ‘Excluded’. As an activity that is rated highly disengaging is has many ratings at the right of the matrix, which correspond to disengaging factors, involving less collaboration, clarity, certainty, planning, empowerment and cooperation than more engaging activities. The last activity, the hypothetical activity of HR issues, is rated as the most disengaging, 9, and is characterised by all constructs rated high towards the right-hand construct poles, which correspond to disengaging factors. This factors that make this especially disengaging include the tendency for them to not involve cooperative relationships, to be ongoing rather than characterised by being completed or resolved, to be unprofessional and to involve some degree of silo mentality rather than being more holistic.


Constructs EG 4 elicited 12 constructs. These are characterised by relationships with other people, clarity, structure, and standards of behaviour. Constructs are organised into four main clusters, one of four constructs, one of three constructs and two, each with two constructs, with one singleton. The most similar constructs are those in the cluster of three, with the two most similar constructs indicating that the experience of having something resolved, delivered or completed links closely to good working relationships, which is contrasted with something which doesn’t end and uncooperative relationships. This links with EG 4’s reported view that people issues can be the most frustrating and disengaging for her partly because they are an ongoing part of her work which she feels does not lead to resolutions and clarity. This is further supported by the third construct in this cluster which links the positive experiences to certainty and negative experiences to uncertainty. The next most similar constructs are part of the four-construct cluster. These relate to the clarity and structure of activities, where clearly defined and planned activities are more engaging for EG 4 than those that are reactive and unstructured. This reflected EG 4’s reported need to be in control – not to be controlling but to know where she stands and how activities are unfolding. The next construct in this cluster indicates that she finds planned, structured clarity empowering but ill-defined and unstructured activities ineffectual. The fourth construct in this cluster is ‘Task-oriented – Personal’. ‘Personal’ is associated with less engaging activities and this is because this pole relates not to the inner experiences that EG 4 may have as a person, but to the people – oriented nature of some of her work. She notes that she finds people issues difficult and demanding and this construct reinforces the preference EG 4 has for tasks that are clear and structured, than people issues that are reactive and unclear. This is further supported by the construct that does not relate closely to any other cluster but is linked to this cluster, that is, ‘Detailed and clear – Woolly and undefined’, which in itself summarises the general nature of the constructs in this cluster of four and emphasises EG4’s need to be clear, structured and detailed in tasks rather than reactive, uncertain and ineffectual with people issues. A cluster of two constructs indicates that EG 4 finds the focus on a more holistic view of the activities she is involved in to be more professional than a more siloed mentality that she reported she experiences often. She clearly has a strong sense that working openly together, across division is more engaging because it is not just more effective but builds trust and more effective collaboration. This links with the other paired cluster, not formally in the repertory grid analysis but conceptually through the definitions of constructs. Crossfunctional activities are inherently collaborative rather than being self or own-division focused and this links closely with the silo mentality noted in the other cluster of two. EG 4 clearly feels more engaged where there is open relationship and involvement across different parts of the organisation rather than insular, closed activity, which she views as unprofessional.

Combined The pattern of the activities indicates clear factors that impact EG 4’s tendency to be engaged or disengaged. Engagement is characterised by variety and involvement in some complexity or challenge in a clearly defined project or task rather than ongoing routines or activities, which can be delivered to a high professional


standard. Disengagement is characterised by uncertainty, unclear structure and direction, dysfunctional relationships, insularity, and lack of professionalism. Whilst working closely and openly with people is important, and she is especially disengaged when she feels excluded, she finds personal people issues especially disengaging and feels ineffectual when in activities like this that are not well structured, defined or are reactive. Concept Cards Most engaging real activity selected: Complex activity Most disengaging real activity: Being excluded First activity: Engaging The ratings of the concept cards are shown on the following graph.

The rating of concept cards shows task-related concepts for the engagement activity being rated as either higher or slightly below the disengagement activity. Challenge is shown to be influenced more by the engagement activity, indicating that the loss of challenge from disengagement is not as important for EG 4 than the gain of challenge for engaging activity. This may be explained by challenge being a driver of behaviour when it is present but does not cause disengagement when it is absent. Likewise connection is rated higher for engagement than disengagement and may again reflect the need EG 4 has for good team relationships as a driver of engagement but that when these are not present she is not disengaged. Disengagement has been reported as being related more to having to be involved with people dealing with issues of a personal, problematic nature, not simply when she is not working with others. Having feedback is important to EG 4, and these ratings indicate the greater importance of feedback when she is involved in positive, engaging activities than when in disengaging activities, and is consistent with her reported view that she wishes for more feedback and positive encouragement when things go well and less when things go badly. Worthwhileness is slightly higher for the engaging than the disengaging activity and emphasises EG 4’s strong sense that she needs to feel that she is doing things for a reason and to deliver positive results. The high rating for purpose for both engaging and disengaging activities illustrated the strong need that EG 4 has to know the reason and application of the activities she is involved with. This is the only concept that is rated at the highest level for both engaging and disengaging activities. The other two constructs that are rated higher for engaging than disengaging activities are authenticity and values. EG 4 indicates that she feels that her sense of authenticity and ability to live closely to her internal values is affected more by the engaging activity than the disengaging activity. She does have a strong sense of loyalty and professionalism and these ratings may indicate the sense that she is able to work these out positively through engaging activity, but that disengagement does not actively undermine her authenticity or ability to live closely to her values. It may be expected that this would have been different if she was compelled to work in activities that undermined her deep-held personal principles and sense of self.


A striking finding is the very great difference between the engagement and disengagement experiences relating to the self-related concepts. Self-expression shows the lowest difference with the disengagement activity being influenced just a littler more than the engagement activity. This may be because the experience of self-expression can be influenced either positively or negatively and this indicates that whilst a positive engaging experience has some influence on her ability to express herself, the disengaging activity appears to have a slightly greater influence, perhaps reflecting EG 4’s sense that she feels that more attention is paid to those tasks that go wrong than go right, reflecting on her own input. The difference between the engagement and disengagement activities in relation to the other self-related concepts is however almost as great as it could be, indicating a very strong response to with respect to self-esteem, worth, identity and efficacy. Her sense of self is clearly impacted deeply by the disengaging activity and this is consistent with her report that she feels deeply affected personally when she is deeply disengaged, in this case by being excluded. On the other hand she seems to indicate that these central self-related attributes are not affected very much at all by engaging activities. She seems to indicate that she is not built up very much at all when she is in an engaging activity such as that noted here – a complex project activity. This is consistent with what she reported, and the general tone of the interview, which was negative, in that not only did she feel that more notice was paid by others to negatives than positives but that she feel as a sense of ineffectual uncertainty and not acknowledged or appreciated as a person. In summary, many task-related concepts are influenced more by the engaging than the disengaging activity and self-related concepts are influenced very much more by disengaging than engaging activities. CONCLUSION EG 4 has been a member of staff in [R]HA for many years and has seen many changes to the organisation and culture. With the large number of people employed now, she experiences a more siloed approach between divisions, which she finds frustrating. She has a strong desire for openness and especially for working closely together between divisions in a collaborative approach. She feel unappreciated and unacknowledged especially when things go well, but criticised when there are mistakes, which she acknowledges can happen more often in her teams work than some other functions. This clearly affects her sense of self, in particular in disengaging activities. She tends to have a negative approach and whilst negatives associated with disengaging activities tend to pull her down, it appears that positive associated with engaging activities do not compensate sufficiently. The most disengaging experiences for EG 4 are around people issues, especially having to deal with personal issues on a day-to-day basis, which add frustration by not allowing her to engage properly in her own work and in developmental activities. She is most engaged by activities that involve others, where she has a clear input into a project-related task that is varied and complex, involves learning and development, with effective and positive collaboration, and allows her to experience closure in delivering a professional outcome to a high standard.


Work Engagement, Disengagement and Meaningfulness  

A Doctoral Dissertation by Dr Trevor Long