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Employee engagement: a sceptical analysis

David Guest (Department of Management, King's College London, London, UK)

Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance

ISSN: 2051-6614

Article publication date: 27 May 2014




The purpose of this paper is to review the debates and evidence about employee engagement to assess its prospects of becoming a mainstream part of management activity in the long term. It sets out an agenda for policy and practice designed to increase its chances of sustainability.


The paper is based on a review of the research and analytic literature. It outlines the origins, reasons for growth of popularity, main forms and evidence about the antecedents and impact of employee engagement. It draws a distinction between work engagement and organizational engagement. For the former it outlines a research agenda; for the latter, it presents an extensive critique and an agenda to address the issues raised.


A distinction is highlighted between work engagement with its concern to improve employee well-being and organizational engagement with its focus on organizational performance. It is shown that these two approaches operate in “different worlds” and that this reflects a neglect of an evidence-based approach to management of employees since work engagement has much the stronger evidence base.

Research limitations/implications

As a review and analysis, the paper is inevitably selective and limited by space restrictions. However, it argues that while work engagement is now well-established among the academic community as a valid and useful construct, the same cannot be said for organizational engagement which lacks clear definition, measurement, high-quality evidence and clear policy implications. The paper therefore sets out a policy agenda and outlines how some of the shortcomings might be addressed.

Practical implications

The paper highlights the need for a viable and integrated “engagement strategy” if organizational engagement is to thrive in the future and sets out the core elements of such an approach.


The paper highlights the distinction between the two separate “engagement worlds” of work and organizational engagement and also highlights their different core aims. The problems with organizational engagement are analysed and a new agenda to improve its prospects of impact is outlined.



Guest, D. (2014), "Employee engagement: a sceptical analysis", Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 141-156.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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