Employee engagement and autoethnography: being and studying self

Sally Anne Sambrook (Bangor Business School, Bangor University, Bangor, UK)
Natalie Jones (Bangor Business School, Bangor University, Bangor, UK)
Clair Doloriert (Bangor Business School, Bangor University, Bangor, UK)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Publication date: 8 April 2014



Employee engagement (EE) is a highly popular topic within workplace research, but has been studied almost exclusively from a quantitative, survey based approach, both in academic and consultancy led research. Yet, employee engagement is essentially an individual concept, concerning self, and this highly personal dimension fails to be captured in positivistic surveys. This paper offers a novel methodology in an attempt to address this deficit.


This complex concept needs to be studied from a more interpretivist and ethnographic angle, acknowledging that EE exists within a cultural context. The paper proposes the use of a contemporary, and somewhat contentious, form of ethnography, autoethnography (AE) that weaves together the researcher's personal and participants' experiences to illuminate the phenomenon.


This paper briefly reviews extant literature on employee engagement, explains autoethnography and argues that AE is a highly suitable method to capture both the individual and social nature of self in employee engagement.

Research limitations/implications

To understand how employee engagement works, we need to get at the depth of the concept, and the paper offers an innovative methodological contribution to achieve this. To date, this approach has received limited attention and only minimal anecdotal evidence is presented to support the argument for AE. However, there is substantial scope for further research adopting this novel, collaborative approach.

Practical implications

An autoethnographic approach provides both emic (insider) and etic (outsider) perspectives on the phenomenon, thus harnessing both the experiences of those involved in AE initiatives (e.g. HR practitioners managing EE and employees being engaged) but also the researcher's experiences and interpretations of being engaged in their work, to elicit more rich, layered insights. Such nuanced understanding can help facilitate more appropriate, authentic and realistic interventions to harness employees' whole self and engagement.


Autoethnography provides an innovative approach to studying employee engagement, offering an appropriate alternative to quantitative, snap-shot studies and is more in keeping with the founding scholar's intentions for research on this topic.



Anne Sambrook, S., Jones, N. and Doloriert, C. (2014), "Employee engagement and autoethnography: being and studying self", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 26 No. 3/4, pp. 172-187. https://doi.org/10.1108/JWL-09-2013-0072

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