In accordance with the expanding global economy, researchers in occupational health psychology have begun to conduct cross-cultural studies. This article focuses on work engagement from a cultural perspective and addresses basic measurement issues in cross-cultural research on work engagement.
Work engagement: an emerging concept
Psychology has recently been criticized as primarily dedicated to addressing mental illness rather than mental "wellness". Since the beginning of this century, however, increased attention is paid to what has been coined positive psychology: the scientific study of human strengths and optimal functioning [1
]. This advocated positive turn is also relevant for occupational health psychology. It has been proposed that in addition to focus on employees' poor functioning as a result of stress and burnout, occupational health psychology should look at optimal functioning and the role of a positive mental state therein, such as work engagement [2
Work engagement is a psychological state assumed to be negatively related to burnout. While burnout is usually defined as a syndrome of exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy [3
], engagement is defined as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption [4
]. That means that engaged employees have a sense of energetic and effective connection with their work activities. Vigor
is characterized by high levels of energy and mental resilience while working. Dedication
refers to being strongly involved in one's work and experiencing a sense of significance and pride. Finally, absorption
is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one's work.
Work engagement is found to be positively associated with job resources; that is, to those aspects of the job that have the capacity to reduce job demands, are functional in achieving work goals, and may stimulate personal growth, learning, and development [4
]. For instance, work engagement tends to be positively related to social support from co-workers and from one's superior, as well as to performance feedback, coaching, job control, opportunities for growth and development, task variety, and training facilities [5
]. Hence, the more job resources are available, the more likely it is that employees feel engaged.
Work engagement has also been found to be positively related to personal resources, such as self-efficacy [15
], which according to Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is the "belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainment" [16
]. Quite interestingly, it seems that self-efficacy may precede as well as follow engagement [13
]. This may point to the existence of an upward spiral: self-efficacy fuels engagement, which, in turn, increases efficacy beliefs, and so on [19
]. This is in line with SCT [20
], which holds that there are reciprocal relationships between self-efficacy and positive affective-cognitive outcomes such as work engagement. Moroever, this reciprocal relationship is also compatible with the notion of so-called "gain spirals" as described by the Conservation of Resources (COR) theory [21
The possible consequences of work engagement pertain to positive job-related attitudes, employee health, extra-role behaviors, and performance. Compared to those who do not feel engaged, those who feel engaged seem to be more satisfied with their jobs, feel more committed to the organization, and do not intend to leave the organization [5
]. Also, engaged workers seem to enjoy good mental [23
] and psychosomatic health [22
]. Furthermore, they exhibit personal initiative, proactive behavior, and learning motivation [28
], and engagement seems to play a mediating role between the availability of job resources and these positive organizational behaviors [5
]. Taken together, the results concerning positive organizational behavior suggest that engaged workers seem to be able and willing to "go to the extra mile."
Most importantly for organizations, those who are engaged seem to perform better. For instance, Salanova et al. [30
] showed that the levels of work engagement of contact employees from hotels and restaurants were related to service quality, as perceived by customers. More specifically, the more engaged the employees were, the better the service climate was, and the more loyal the customers were. In addition, a study in a fast-food restaurant found that the financial return of a particular shift was positively related to the level of work engagement of the employees who worked in that shift [31
]. Finally, Harter et al. [32
] showed that levels of employee engagement were positively related to business-unit performance (i.e., customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, productivity, turnover, and safety) across almost 8,000 business units of thirty-six companies.