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Journal of Vocational Behavior 59, 291–309 (2001)
doi:10.1006/jvbe.2001.1803, available online at http://www.idealibrary.com on
Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB) in Response to Job
Stressors and Organizational Justice: Some Mediator
and Moderator Tests for Autonomy and Emotions
Institute of Human Resources and Industrial Relations, Loyola University Chicago
Paul E. Spector and Don Miles
University of South Florida
Relations among job stressors, perceived justice, negative emotional reactions to work,
counterproductive work behavior (CWB), autonomy, and affective traits were investi-
gated. Participants representing a wide variety of jobs across many organizations were
surveyed both inside and outside a university setting. Results were consistent with a the-
oretical job stress framework in which organizational constraints, interpersonal confict,
and perceived injustice are job stressors, CWB is a behavioral strain response, and nega-
tive emotion mediates the stressor–strain relationship. Only very weak support was found
for the moderating role of affective disposition (trait anger and trait anxiety), and no
support was found for the expected moderating role of autonomy in the stressor–CWB
relationship. °C 2001 Academic Press
Recent years have seen an explosion of interest among organizational research-
ers in counterproductive work behaviors (CWB), such as aggression, interpersonal
confict, sabotage, and theft. Although most of this work has been directed toward
validating integrity tests with the objective of devising ways to identify counter-
productive employees so that companies can avoid hiring them, two streams of
research have focused on ascertaining the causes of these behaviors. Spector and
colleagues (Chen & Spector, 1992; Fox & Spector, 1999; Spector 1975, 1978;
Storms & Spector, 1987) have portrayed CWB as an emotion-based response to
stressful organizational conditions. Greenberg and colleagues (e.g., Greenberg,
1990) and Skarlicki, Folger and colleagues (Skarlicki & Folger, 1997; Skarlicki,
We thank Linda Mezydlo Subich for her most helpful substantive and editorial suggestions through-
out the process of revising this article.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to Suzy Fox, Institute of Human Resources and In-
dustrial Relations, Loyola University Chicago, 820 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. E-mail:
Copyright °C 2001 by Academic Press
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
292 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
Folger, & Tesluk, 1999) have taken an organizational justice perspective, viewing
CWB as a cognition-based response to experienced injustice. These two perspec-
tives are not incompatible, and in fact Spector (1978) noted links with the equity
(justice) concept, and Greenberg (1990) noted links with frustration theory. The
current study integrates both perspectives, assessing relations among job stressors,
perceptions of injustice, and CWB within the framework of job stress theory. It is
further proposed that, consistent with this theoretical framework, emotional reac-
tions to job stressors and injustice perceptions, affective disposition, and perceived
control over work are key links in these relations.
The Nature of Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB)
CWB is behavior that is intended to have a detrimental effect on organizations
and their members. It can include overt acts such as aggression and theft or more
passive acts, such as purposely failing to follow instructions or doing work incor-
rectly. CWB has been conceptualized in a number of ways, including organizational
aggression (Neuman & Baron, 1998; Fox & Spector, 1999), antisocial behavior
(Giacalone & Greenberg, 1997), delinquency (Hogan & Hogan, 1989), deviance
(Hollinger, 1986; Robinson & Bennett, 1995), retaliation (Skarlicki & Folger,
1997), revenge (Bies, Tripp, & Kramer, 1997), and mobbing/bullying (Knorz &
Zapf, 1996). The common theme is that these behaviors are harmful to the organi-
zation by directly affecting its functioning or property, or by hurting employees in
a way that will reduce their effectiveness. A number of researchers (Fox & Spector,
1999; Robinson & Bennett, 1995) have found evidence that perceptions of CWBs
and/or relations of CWBs to individual and organizational variables allow us to
distinguish two categories of behaviors: those targeting the organization and those
targeting other persons in the organization.
A Job Stress/Emotion/CWB Model
Integrating both the CWB and job stress literatures, Spector (1998) and Spector
and Fox (in press) developed a job stress/emotion/CWB model that suggests these
behaviors are responses to job stressors at work. According to this view, people
monitor and appraise events in the environment (Lazarus, 1991), and certain events
that are seen as threats to well-being are job stressors that induce negative emotional
reactions, such as anger or anxiety (Spector, 1998). Common examples of job
stressors are role confict and ambiguity (Kahn et al., 1964), interpersonal confict
(Spector, Dwyer, & Jex, 1998), and situational constraints (Peters & O’Connor,
1990). Strain is an outcome of the job stress process that can be psychological (e.g.,
job dissatisfaction or turnover intention), physical (e.g., somatic symptoms such
as headache, physiological changes such as increased blood pressure, and long-
term pathology), or behavioral (e.g., smoking or withdrawal from work). CWB is
a manifestation of behavioral strain.
Emotions play a central role in the job stress process. Because emotions represent
the immediate response to situations that are perceived as stressful (Lazarus, 1991;
Lovallo, 1997; Payne, 1999), and because they energize and motivate subsequent
293 COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
behavior and physiological change (Cartwright & Cooper, 1997; Spector, 1998),
we can defne their role as a mediator between job stressors and strains, therefore
serving a mediator role for CWB. In fact, Fox and Spector (1999) found evidence of
this mediating role for emotions in the relation between organizational constraints
(a stressor) and CWB. The Spector and Fox (in press) model suggests a fow from
environment to perception, to negative emotion, to CWB, but there are several
mitigating factors. Individuals vary in their propensity to appraise situations as
stressful both among one another and across time, so perceptions of control and
personality are two important factors to consider.
Much has been written concerning the importance of control as both an additive
and moderator factor in the job stress process (e.g., Frankenhaeuser & Johannson,
1986; Karasek, 1979; Spector, 1986; Thompson, 1981). The core common to this
literature is that it is not the objective events or stimuli in the environment that
cause adverse outcomes (strains), but rather the perceptions of the individual of not
having the control (which Karasek further specifes to include decision latitude and
task autonomy) to cope with these threats or demands. In the CWB arena, Allen and
Greenberger (1980) suggested that perceptions of control are an important determi-
nant of counterproductive work behavior, as nonconstructive behavioral responses
are more likely when a person perceives low control of the situation. Support for
this idea in the work context was provided by Storms and Spector (1987). Yet, it
is not control in general that is important, but rather control over the job stressor
itself. Having control over specifc tasks (i.e., task autonomy) may be helpful in
reducing the stressfulness of task-related stressors such as workload, but it will
not affect the stressfulness of unrelated stressors such as interpersonal confict.
Personality traits are also relevant factors in CWB, and an entire integrity test
industry has grown around the idea that personality tests can predict these behav-
iors (Ones, Viswesvaran, & Schmidt, 1993). Affective dispositions, the tendency
to experience similar emotions across situations, seem particularly relevant. Neg-
ative affectivity (NA), a generalized dispositional tendency for an individual to
experience negative emotions across time and situations, has been studied widely
in relation to perceptions of job stressors, injustice, constraints, and strains (Chen
& Spector, 1991; Skarlicki, Folger, & Tesluk, 1999; Spector & O’Connell, 1994).
Trait anxiety (Spielberger & Sydeman, 1994), the relatively stable tendency to
perceive stressful situations as threatening, has been used frequently in stress re-
search in place of NA (Ganster & Schoebroeck, 1991). Fox and Spector (1999)
found trait anxiety to be associated with CWB.
Another potentially important personality characteristic is trait anger, the like-
lihood that individuals perceive a wide range of situations as anger-provoking
(Spielberger, Krasner, & Solomon, 1988). Individuals high in trait anger have re-
ported experiencing more frequent and intense day-to-day anger across a wide
variety of provocative situations, stronger tendencies to respond to provocations
with physical and verbal antagonism, and lower instances of constructive coping
(Deffenbacher, 1992). Fox and Spector (1999) found trait anger to be particularly
associated with CWBs targeting persons in the organization.
294 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
Organizational Justice as a Stressor
Organizational justice is concerned with employee perceptions of fair or just
treatment on the job. It fts defnitions of job stressors as being situations that elicit
an adaptive response (Jex & Beehr, 1991) or situations that elicit negative emotional
reactions (Spector, 1998). For example, the seminal equity theory and empirical
work by Adams (1963) suggests that inequity (injustice) motivates people to make
adaptive responses in a variety of ways, both cognitive and behavioral. More
recent work on justice has linked perceptions of injustice to negative emotions
(e.g., Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). Zohar (1995) specifcally demonstrated the role
of organizational justice in the job stress process as a role stressor, in the elicitation
of both negative emotion and consequent strain responses, but did not link stress
to counterproductive behavior.
Two major forms of justice have been studied. Distributive justice relates to
people’s perceptions of the fairness of the outcomes they receive relative to their
contributions and to the outcomes and contributions of others. Procedural jus-
tice involves people’s perceptions of the fairness of procedures used to deter-
mine those distributions (Folger & Greenberg, 1985; Levanthal, Karusa, & Fry,
1980). Several studies have linked both forms of justice perceptions with coun-
terproductive organizational behaviors. Skarlicki and Folger (1997) summarized
research that indicates employees may respond to perceptions of unfair treatment
with negative emotions, such as anger, outrage, and resentment (Folger, 1993);
desire for retribution; and a range of direct and indirect behavioral responses
such as theft (Greenberg, 1990), vandalism, sabotage, reduction of citizenship
behaviors, withdrawal, and resistance (Jermier, Knights, & Nord, 1994). Skar-
licki, Folger, and Tesluk (1999) further demonstrated that the relation between
perceived injustice and what they call organizational retaliatory behavior (ORB)
is moderated by personality factors such as negative affectivity and agreeable-
ness. Cropanzano and Baron (1991) linked injustice to emotions and workplace
Indeed, many parallels have emerged between the job stress and organizational
justice explanations of counterproductive organizational behavior, including the
central roles of emotional responses and affective dispositions. By viewing per-
ceived injustice as a type of job stressor, we arrive at a unifying framework for
understanding CWB that incorporates constraints, confict, justice perceptions,
control (autonomy), emotional responses, and affective dispositions as antecedents
of distinct categories of behavioral responses.
The Current Study
The purpose of the current study was to explore this unifed job stress/injustice/
emotions approach to counterproductive work behavior. Our primary objective
was to investigate whether job stressors and organizational justice relate in a sim-
ilar fashion to CWB. The job stressor/emotion/CWB model posits a mediating
role for emotions. Thus we set out to investigate the extent to which relations of
job stressors (interpersonal confict and organizational constraints) and organiza-
tional justice with CWB are mediated by negative emotions. We also looked at the
295 COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
possibility suggested by the job stress literature that employee control (autonomy)
and affective dispositions moderate the relations between job stressors/organi-
zational justice and CWB. Throughout, we looked for distinct patterns of relations
with CWB behaviors targeting the organization versus people. Specifcally, we
hypothesized the following:
Hypothesis 1: High levels of confict and organizational constraints and low levels of per-
ceived justice are associated with high levels of negative emotions and CWB.
Hypothesis 2: High levels of negative emotions are associated with high levels of CWB.
Hypothesis 3: Negative emotions mediate the relation between stressors/injustice and
Hypothesis 4: Perceived task autonomy, trait anxiety, and trait anger moderate the rela-
tions between job stressors/injustice and CWB. Those individuals perceiving low autonomy
and those individuals who are high in these affective traits are more likely to respond to job
stressors/injustice with CWB.
Participants were 292 employees at a variety of organizations in southern and
central Florida. Of these, 214 (73%) were University of South Florida psychology
and management students who also were employed, and 78 (27%) were nonstudent
employees from manufacturing, fnancial, utility, entertainment, and academic
organizations in Tampa. The nonstudent employees were given the questionnaire
booklets on a strictly voluntary basis by their supervisors. The supervisors who
distributed the surveys were part-time graduate students in a Human Resource
Management class designed for practicing managers. Participants returned the
surveys directly to the researchers by U.S. mail or in sealed envelopes in sealed
containers at work. Of the 292 participants, 109 (37%) were men and 183 (63%)
The anonymous self-report survey included measures of job stressors (auton-
omy, constraints, confict, and justice), affect (positive emotions, negative emo-
tions, trait anger, and trait anxiety), and counterproductive work behaviors (CWB).
These measures were ordered following the model from left to right, that is, stres-
sors, affective responses, and behavioral responses.
Job stressors. Work constraints were measured by the Organizational Con-
straints Scale (OCS; Spector & Jex, 1998), an 11-item scale based on constraint
areas identifed by Peters and O’Connor (1980). Respondents indicated the fre-
quency with which their job performance was hindered by constraints such as
rules and procedures, availability of resources, co-workers, interruptions, and in-
adequate training. Spector and Jex (1998) reported a mean Cronbach’s ® of .85
across eight samples. Predictive validity was demonstrated with mean correlations
of .26 with physical symptoms across fve studies and ¡.38 with job satisfaction
across seven studies.
296 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
Confict was assessed with Spector and Jex’s (1998) four-item Interpersonal
Confict at Work Scale (ICAWS), which measures how often the employee expe-
rienced arguments, yelling, and rudeness in interactions with co-workers. For the
confict scale (ICAWS), Spector and Jex (1998) reported a mean Cronbach’s ® of
.74 across 13 samples. Predictive validity was demonstrated with mean correla-
tions of .26 with physical symptoms across 7 studies and ¡.32 with job satisfaction
across 10 studies. For both the OCS and ICAWS measures, fve response choices
range from 1 D Less than once per month or never to 5 D Several times per day.
High scores represent high levels of constraints or confict.
Work autonomy was measured with the Factual Autonomy Scale (FAS; Fox,
Spector, & Van Katwyk, 1997), which was developed with the objective of provid-
ing items that are factual in nature and resistant to affective bias. Six items begin
with “Do you have to ask permission to : : :” and end with an aspect of scheduling,
such as “take a rest break” or “change the hours you work.” Three items begin with
“Does someone tell you : : :” and end with “what,” “when,” or “how” the person
was to work. The fve response choices range from 1 D never to 5 D always. Fox et
al. found a Cronbach’s ® of .81; they found the self-reported FAS to correlate sig-
nifcantly (r D .22) with supervisory ratings of job performance (which the more
commonly used autonomy subscale of the Job Diagnostic Survey failed to do).
Perceptions of organizational justice were assessed with distributive and proce-
dural justice scales reported in Moorman (1991). The Distributive Justice Index,
consisting of 6 items tapping the extent to which the employee is fairly rewarded
considering work inputs, was developed by Price and Mueller (1986). Five response
choices range from 1 D very unfairly to 5 D very fairly, with a high score repre-
senting a high level of distributive justice. The 12-item procedural justice scale,
which Moorman (1991) based on Levanthal’s (1980) rules of procedural justice,
was designed initially to assess two factors, fairness of formal procedures and
interactional justice. The present data confrm Moorman’s (personal e-mail corre-
spondence, February 3, 1999) fndings that these factors are highly intercorrelated
and lack an interpretable factor structure. Therefore we combined the 12 items into
a single Procedural Justice scale (as did Moorman et al., 1998). Response choices
range from 1 D strongly disagree to 5 D strongly agree, with high scores represent-
ing high levels of procedural justice. Moorman (1991) found Cronbach’s ®s of .94,
.94, and .93 for the distributive, procedural, and interactive justice scales. He re-
ported that distributive justice predicted the altruism, courtesy, sportsmanship, and
conscintiousness components of organizational citizenship behavior (r D .15, .18,
.22, and .23, respectively); procedural justice predicted courtesy, sportsmanship,
and conscientiousness (r D .17, .16, and .22, respectively); and interactive justice
predicted altruism, courtesy, sportsmanship, and conscientiousness (r D .16, .32,
.29, and .32, respectively).
Affect. A wide range of emotions experienced in response to the job was mea-
sured with the Job-Related Affective Well-Being Scale (JAWS), developed by Van
Katwyk, Fox, Spector, and Kelloway (2000). Items on the JAWS ask employees
to indicate how often any part of the job has made them feel each of 30 emotional
297 COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
states. The fve response choices range from 1 D almost never to 5 D extremely
often or always. High scores represent high levels of each emotion. A positive
emotions score was obtained by summing the scores on the 13 positive affect
items; a negative emotions score was obtained by summing scores on the 17 neg-
ative affect items. Only the negative emotions score was used in the current study.
Van Katwyk et al. (2000) reported a Cronbach’s ® of .95 for the overall JAWS scale;
this score was related to organizational constraints (r D¡.39), confict (r D¡.34),
turnover intentions (r D¡.60), and physical symptoms (r D¡.33). Negative item
subscales (Cronbach’s ® D .80) predicted these variables as well, with r ’s ranging
from .34 to .58.
Spielberger’s (1979) State-Trait Personality Inventory was used to measure af-
fective disposition. The 10-item Trait Anxiety scale measures a generalized ten-
dency to experience anxiety across time and situations. The 10-item Trait Anger
scale assesses the likelihood of perceiving a wide range of situations as anger-
provoking. Four response choices range from 1 D almost never to 4 D almost al-
ways, with high scores representing high levels of trait anxiety or trait anger.
Spielberger (1979) reported ® coeffcients ranging from .80 to .92 for Trait Anx-
iety and .82 to .92 for Trait Anger across different ages and genders. In a prior
study, Fox and Spector (1999) found trait anxiety and trait anger to be among
the strongest predictors of counterproductive work behavior (r D .36 and .59,
Counterproductive work behavior (CWB). Counterproductive work behaviors
were assessed with a behavioral checklist based on a master list compiled from a
number of existing measures (Fox & Spector, 1999; Hollinger, 1986; Knorz & Zapf,
1996; Neuman & Baron, 1998; Robinson & Bennett, 1995, Skarlicki & Folger,
1997; Spector, 1975). Our goal was to avoid duplication while including as many
distinct behaviors as possible. We put the resulting 64-item list into a scale format,
asking participants to indicate how often they had done each of the behaviors on
their present job. The fve response choices range from 1 D never to 5 D every day,
with high scores representing high incidence of counterproductive behaviors. In
addition to an overall counterproductive behavior score, subscores were provided
for behaviors targeting the organization or productivity (e.g., “Tried to look busy
while doing nothing,” “Put in to be paid for more hours than you worked,” “Came
to work late without permission,” and “Told people outside the job what a lousy
place you work for”) and those targeting other persons in the organization (e.g.,
“Insulted someone about their job performance,” “Made fun of someone’s personal
life,” “Refused to help a coworker,” and “Started an argument with a coworker”).
This classifcation was consistent with Robinson and Bennett’s (1995) taxonomy of
organizational deviance and Fox and Spector’s (1999) earlier measures of personal
and organizational CWB. Fox and Spector (1999) reported a Cronbach’s ® of .86
for their earlier version of the CWB measure. Organizational CWB was related to
constraints, locus of control, job satisfaction and frustration (r D .37, .32, ¡.45, and
.36, respectively), and Personal CWB was related to constraints, locus of control,
and frustration (r D .26, .19, and .23, respectively).
298 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
To determine if we were justifed in combining the student and nonstudent
samples, zero-order correlations were run separately for the two samples. The z
tests comparing the resulting correlations for the two samples found differences in
only 3 of the 55 correlations among the study variables, perhaps the level expected
by chance. Differences were found for trait anger and procedural justice, CWB
targeting the organization and procedural justice, and constraints and positive
emotion. In all three cases, the relations were stronger for the nonstudent samples.
The overall consistency between the results for the two samples was perhaps due
to the nature of the University of South Florida, a primarily commuter university
with an unusually high proportion of nontraditionally aged, employed students.
Therefore for this study, the student and nonstudent samples were combined for
Means, standard deviations, Cronbach’s alphas, and zero-order correlations for
all study variables are presented in Table 1.
To test Hypothesis 1, we looked at the relations between the four job stres-
sor variables (confict, constraints, distributive justice, and procedural justice) and
negative emotion and between the four stressor variables and the two categories
of CWB. Confict was related signifcantly to negative emotion (r D .49), organi-
zational CWB (r D .32), and personal CWB (r D .40). Organizational constraints
were related signifcantly to negative emotion (r D .47), organizational CWB (r D
.32), and personal CWB (r D .25). Distributive justice was related signifcantly to
negative emotion (r D¡.38) and organizational CWB (r D¡.17) but not personal
CWB. Procedural justice was related signifcantly to negative emotion (r D ¡.44),
organizational CWB (r D ¡.26), and personal CWB (r D ¡.15). To rule out the
possibility that these results capitalize on chance effects, we adjusted the alpha
for the number of signifcance tests. Based on a corrected ® of .004, all the above
relations remained signifcant with the exception of that between procedural jus-
tice and personal CWB (paralleling the nonsignifcance of distributive justice to
To test Hypothesis 2, we looked at correlations between negative emotion and
the two categories of CWB (organizational and personal). Both were signifcant
(r D .45 and .30, respectively).
Hypothesis 3 predicted that negative emotion mediates the relations between
job stressors and CWB. In each case mediation was tested following the procedure
recommended by Baron and Kenny (1986) in which three regression models are
investigated: the CWB on the stressor, the proposed mediator (negative emotion)
on the stressor, and the CWB on the stressor and negative emotion together. If
the beta of the stressor variable is signifcant in the frst model but nonsignifcant
or substantially reduced in the combined model, we have a pattern consistent
with mediation. Results of this analysis are presented in Table 2. Except for the
nonsignifcant personal CWB–distributive justice relation (for which a mediation
test is meaningless because it fails Kenny’s frst test of a signifcant predictor–
criterion relation), mediation of negative emotion in all CWB–justice relations
was indicated, as the beta of the stressor became nonsignifcant when emotion was
COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
300 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
Analysis of Mediating Role of Negative Emotion
Organizational CWB Personal CWB
Independent variables Step 1 Step 2 Step 1 Step 2
R2 at each step
R2 at each step
R2 at each step
R2 at each step
Note. Standardized parameter estimates are shown. The Distributive Justice–Personal CWB media-
tion test is not meaningful, as the original relationship is nonsignifcant. In all cases, the beta of negative
emotion regressed on the stressor variable (constraints, confict, procedural justice, and distributive
justice) was signifcant at the p < :0001 level.
¤ p < .05.
¤¤ p < .01.
¤¤¤ p < .001.
added to the regression model. A similar pattern of reduced but still signifcant
stressor betas is shown for each of the remaining four CWB–stressor relations.
Thus, a pattern emerged in all seven signifcant stressor/CWB relations, suggesting
a mediating role of negative emotion.
Hypothesis 4 predicted that perceived control over work tasks (autonomy), trait
anxiety, and trait anger moderate the relations between stressors (constraints, con-
fict, and justice) and CWB (personal and organizational). Tables 3, 4, and 5 present
results of moderated regression analyses. Alphas for these hypothesis tests were
corrected for multiple tests to p < .01.
Contrary to expectations, the only signifcant autonomy–stressor interaction was
for personal CWB. Even more puzzling, the direction of the moderating effect of
autonomy was contrary to prediction, in that a higher level of interpersonal confict
is associated with personal CWB when autonomy is high. In contrast, a signifcant
and expected trait anxiety–stressor interaction was found for personal CWB. Trait
301 COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
Results of Moderated Regression Analysis for Autonomy as Moderator
CWB organizational CWB personal
Step Independent variable Total R2 mR2 Total R2 mR2
1 Org. Constraints .10¤¤¤ .10¤¤¤ .06¤¤¤ .06¤¤¤
2 Autonomy .14 .03¤¤¤ .06 .06
3 Org. Con. £ Autonomy .14 .00 .07 .01
1 Confict .11¤¤¤ .11¤¤¤ .16¤¤¤
2 Autonomy .14 .03¤¤¤ .16 .00
3 Confict £ Autonomy .14 .00 .18 .02¤¤
1 Procedural Justice .07¤¤¤ .07¤¤¤ .02¤ .02¤
2 Autonomy .11 .04¤¤¤ .02 .00
3 P. Just. £ Autonomy .11 .00 .03 .01
1 Distributive justice .03¤¤ .03¤¤ .01 .01
2 Autonomy .08 .05¤¤¤ .01 .00
3 D. Just. £ Autonomy .08 .00 .03 .02¤
Note. N D 292.
¤ p < .05.
¤¤ p < .01.
¤¤¤ p < .001.
Results of Moderated Regression Analysis for Trait Anxiety as Moderator
CWB organizational CWB personal
Step Independent variable Total R2 mR2 Total R2 mR2
1 Org. Constraints .10¤¤¤ .10¤¤¤ .06¤¤¤ .06¤¤¤
2 Trait Anxiety .15 .05¤¤¤ .10 .04¤¤¤
3 Org. Con. £ T. Anxiety .15 .00 .13 .03¤¤
1 Confict .11¤¤¤ .11¤¤¤ .16¤¤¤ .16¤¤¤
2 Trait Anxiety .15 .04¤¤¤ .18 .02¤
3 Confict £ T. Anxiety .15 .00 .19 .01¤
1 Procedural Justice .07¤¤¤ .07¤¤¤ .02¤ .02¤
2 Trait Anxiety .12 .05¤¤¤ .07 .05¤¤¤
3 P. Just. £ T. Anxiety .12 .00 .07 .00
1 Distributive justice .03¤¤ .03¤¤ .01 .01
2 Trait anxiety .10 .07¤¤¤ .07 .05¤¤¤
3 D. Just. £ T. Anxiety .10 .00 .07 .00
Note. N D 292.
¤ p < .05.
¤¤ p < .01.
¤¤¤ p < .001.
302 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
Results of Moderated Regression Analysis for Trait Anger as Moderator
CWB organizational CWB personal
Step Independent variable Total R2 mR2 Total R2 mR2
1 Org. Constraints .10¤¤¤ .10¤¤¤ .06¤¤¤ .06¤¤¤
2 Trait Anger .17 .07¤¤¤ .15 .09¤¤¤
3 Org. Con. £ T. Anger .17 .00 .16 .01
1 Confict .11¤¤¤ .11¤¤¤ .16¤¤¤ .16¤¤¤
2 Trait Anger .18 .07¤¤¤ .23 .07¤¤¤
3 Confict £ T. Anger .18 .00 .26 .03¤¤¤
1 Procedural Justice .07¤¤¤ .07¤¤¤ .02¤ .02¤
2 Trait Anger .16 .09¤¤¤ .14 .12¤¤¤
3 P. Just. £ T. Anger .17 .01 .14 .00
1 Distributive justice .03¤¤ .03¤¤ .01 .01
2 Trait anger .14 .11¤¤¤ .14 .13¤¤¤
3 D. Just. £ T. Anger .14 .00 .14 .00
Note. N D 292.
¤ p < .05.
¤¤ p < .01.
¤¤¤ p < .001.
anxiety did not moderate relations between stressors and organizational CWB.
Also, a signifcant trait anger–stressor interaction was found for personal CWB, but
not organizational CWB. In each of these last two cases, the pattern of signifcant
moderation revealed that when the trait was high, there was a steeper slope between
stressor and CWB than when the trait was low. That is, for individuals high in trait
anxiety, but not for individuals low in trait anxiety, higher levels of constraints were
associated with higher levels of personal CWB. Similarly, for individuals high in
trait anger, but not for those low in trait anger, higher levels of confict were
associated with higher levels of personal CWB. Thus, only very limited support
was found for Hypothesis 4. Personality characteristics (trait anger and anxiety)
interacted as expected with stressors for personal, but not organizational, CWB,
and weak evidence suggested that autonomy moderated the confict–personal CWB
relation in the opposite direction as hypothesized.
Results of the current study provide some support for predictions derived from
the stress/emotion/CWB model (Spector et al., 1998). Specifcally, it was found
that job stressors, including perceived injustice related to both negative emotions
and CWB (Hypothesis 1); that negative emotions related to CWB (Hypothesis 2);
and that in most cases there was at least partial mediation of emotions in the
relations between job stressors and CWB (Hypothesis 3). This last test is critical
to the model and suggests emotions play a central role in the process from stressor
to strain in general and CWB in particular.
303 COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
Indeed, inspection of the mediator analyses in Table 2 shows patterns of relations
that are generally supportive. In seven of the eight cases, the stressor variable was
correlated signifcantly with CWB. Negative emotion was correlated signifcantly
with all stressor and CWB variables. The regression results for all seven cases
in which the stressor was related signifcantly to CWB showed a reduction in the
regression coeffcient when emotion was added to the equation containing only the
stressor as a predictor. In three cases the coeffcient for the stressor lost signifcance,
and in fve of seven cases, the magnitude of the coeffcient was reduced by more
In general, organizational stressors (such as constraints and injustice) were more
closely associated with organizational than personal types of CWB, and interper-
sonal confict was more closely associated with personal than organizational CWB.
Yet, the results of post hoc z tests showed these differences to be signifcant only in
the cases of autonomy and procedural justice being more strongly associated with
organizational CWB and confict being more strongly associated with personal
CWB. Similarly, support for mediation was somewhat stronger for organization-
targeted than person-targeted CWB. Altogether, the tighter linkage between con-
straints inhibiting job performance and CWB directed at the organization rather
than other people, suggests the two types of CWB may follow somewhat separate
The failure to fnd more evidence for complete mediation is also not unexpected.
Spector and Fox (in press) discussed how causality is likely multidirectional, with
background mood or emotional state predisposing people to perceive or not per-
ceive job stressors. Thus, people experiencing high levels of negative mood may
be hyperreactive to job stressors. This can result in a cycle in which background
mood predisposes a person to perceive the work situation as a job stressor, which
further induces negative mood and heightened strain.
In general, our results for Hypotheses 1 and 2 were consistent with prior re-
search in showing a relation of justice with negative emotions (Skarlicki & Folger,
1997; Zohar, 1995), and with CWB (Skarlicki & Folger, 1997). Justice also was
correlated signifcantly with both of the other job stressors (interpersonal confict
and organizational constraints). These fndings lend further support to the idea that
perceptions of injustice can be conceptualized as a form of perceived job stress.
Situations seen by people as unfair are stressors that may lead to negative emo-
tions and presumably to subsequent strains beyond CWB. For example, justice
has been shown to relate signifcantly with job (dis-)satisfaction (e.g., Moorman,
1991). Subsequent work should expand this area of inquiry to look at other types
of strains (e.g., physical symptoms and ill health) that have been linked to stressors
at work (Jex & Beehr, 1991).
Our proposed model suggested a moderating role for trait anger and anxiety. In
general, the data were nonsupportive of moderation. Using a conservative (.01) ®
(corrected for multiple signifcance tests), only the interactive effects of autonomy
and confict, trait anxiety and constraints, and trait anger and confict for per-
sonal CWB remained signifcant. Using a more liberal ® of .05, however, patterns
304 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
emerged which suggest the usefulness of further investigation of moderating roles
for trait anger and anxiety in stressor-personal CWB relations. In these cases, as
expected, individuals higher in the affective trait reported being more sensitive
to stressors in their personal CWB reactions. There was no evidence of modera-
tion for organizational CWB or with the justice variables. Perhaps organizational
CWB is more affected by environmental variables than personality, whereas per-
sonal CWB is affected by both. Indirect support for this idea comes from work
with organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), which in some ways is the op-
posite of CWB. McNeely and Meglino (1994) found that the personality trait of
empathy predicted OCB directed toward other people at work but not toward the
organization. Of course, it should be kept in mind that we looked at only two
personality variables and four stressors, and it is conceivable that results would
differ for other variables. Furthermore, moderated regression is known to suffer
from low statistical power, so future tests should have larger samples.
One of the most surprising fndings was the failure of the data to support the
predicted moderating role of job control (autonomy), particularly in the relations
between task-related stressors (constraints and injustice) and task-related (organi-
zational) CWB. It may be that the category of organizational CWBs is too broad,
and contains many behaviors that are not task-specifc, such as destroying com-
pany property. To explore this possibility, the moderator analysis was performed
using a subset of the organizational CWB items, which appear to directly in-
volve work sabotage. This post hoc test revealed a signifcant interaction effect
of distributive justice by autonomy on work sabotage behaviors, in the expected
direction. That is, for individuals who perceived low autonomy, but not those who
perceived high autonomy, low distributive justice was associated with high lev-
els of work sabotage behaviors. Future studies might systematically divide the
CWB items into subscales according to their relevance to task performance, inter-
personal relations, withdrawal, and so forth in order to determine more specifc,
differential patterns of relations to organizational antecedents such as job charac-
Autonomy was found to moderate the relation between interpersonal confict
and personal CWB, but closer examination revealed the direction of interaction
to be opposite the hypothesized relation. For individuals who perceived high but
not low autonomy, higher confict was associated with higher personal CWB.
A possible explanation is that autonomy gave individuals latitude to respond to
confict with personal retaliatory behaviors. That is, those individuals who had
high autonomy were in powerful enough positions that they had the latitude to
engage in personal CWB without having to fear retribution. This may explain the
lack of overall moderation by autonomy. In a previous study, Fox and Spector
(1999) found the belief that one has the ability to harm the organization without
being punished to be one of the strongest predictors of CWB. This may con-
found the theorized relationship, that individuals with greater job autonomy are
less likely to experience stress and thereby less likely to respond counterproduc-
305 COUNTERPRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
Limitations of the Study
Reliance on cross-sectional, self-report methodology is always problematic. It
is an ongoing concern in organizational behavior research that the use of a single
source of data, such as self-report questionnaires, may result in an overstatement
of relationships among the variables. However, given our focus on affective and
behavioral responses to the perceived rather than “objective” environment, the
diffculty of obtaining uncontaminated measures of counterproductive behavior,
and ethical concerns with the possibility of putting research participants at risk
in the accumulation of evidence of CWB, we believe that anonymous self-reports
provide the closest available approximation of these relations (for a more extensive
discussion of these issues, see Fox & Spector, 1999).
At the same time, we recognize the need for creative research designs using
nonincumbent or more objective sources of data. Good examples of such studies
include Perlow and Latham’s (1993) longitudinal study using recorded instances
of abusive behavior as the dependent variable; and Robinson and O’Leary-Kelly’s
(1998) use of peer ratings of workgroup climate as the measure of environmental
factors. Yet, each of these designs is able to measure only a subset of the model
we are considering. Future research might incorporate peer, subordinate, and su-
pervisor reports of the incumbent’s counterproductive work behavior (see Heacox,
1996), such as survey dyads consisting of an employee’s self-report of perceptions
of stressors and a co-worker’s reports of behaviors by that employee. An alterna-
tive might be self-reports of being the target of CWB, as in the mobbing research
of Knorz and Zapf (1996). As the models become more complex, tests of the data
certainly will require more rigorous analytic tools, such as Structural Equation
Modeling. Finally, insights might be gained from a policy-capturing investigation
of the circumstances under which employees would fnd various forms of CWB
to be justifed or acceptable.
A further limitation to the generalizability of the results of the study was the
use of a convenience sample of nonstudent employees and the combination of that
sample with a sample of employed students. Yet, there was little evidence that the
student sample responded differently than did the nonstudent sample. Furthermore,
generalizability was enhanced in that the populations from which the participants
were drawn were highly heterogeneous, covering quite a few organizations and a
wide range of organizational conditions.
Finally, at the current time the model underlying this research is rather general.
We chose specifc job stressors and other variables that prior research suggested
might be important. We recognize that this was a piecemeal test of parts of the
model. As evidence for linkages among specifc variables is uncovered, it might
prove useful to conduct a more complete test rather than investigating individual
linkages. Structural equation modeling could accomplish this objective.
Nevertheless, the current study provides evidence to support some of the link-
ages suggested by our job stress/emotion/CWB model. Perhaps most importantly,
results for all signifcant stressor/CWB relations supported the hypothesized me-
diator role for emotions, either fully or partially. The results, however, do suggest
306 FOX, SPECTOR, AND MILES
the need to refne the model; for example, personality seemed more important as a
moderator of personal CWB than organizational CWB, and did not seem relevant
for justice. The Spector and Fox (in press) model may provide a general frame-
work, but additional work is needed to uncover specifc linkages among variables.
Above all, this cross-sectional study cannot provide a causal test.
Still, our fndings suggest that organizations may be able to reduce the levels
of work behaviors that undermine their effectiveness by developing human re-
source policies and practices that take into consideration their possible emotional
effects on employees. This is not to say that all negative situations can or should be
avoided, but rather that attempts to manage actively the emotional effects of human
resources, operations and resource allocation systems are likely to result in lower
CWB. The implications of this study suggest an alternative to the predominant “se-
lection” solution to CWB, in which individuals with certain personality tendencies
that may predict CWBs are screened out of the organization during the selection
process. Consideration of justice, autonomy, and employees’ feelings needs to be
included in the design of jobs and human resource systems—not because it is “the
nice thing to do,” but because of its ramifcations in the kinds of behaviors that,
even in covert or subtle ways, may do serious harm to the organization and its
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Received January 18, 2000; published online June 1, 2001
- TABLE 1
- TABLE 2
- TABLE 3
- TABLE 4
- TABLE 5
Work & Stress
Vol. 22, No. 3, July�September 2008, 187�200
Work engagement: An emerging concept in occupational health psychology
Arnold B. Bakkera, Wilmar B. Schaufelib, Michael P. Leiterc and Toon W. Tarisd
aInstitute of Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands; bDepartment of Social and
Organizational Psychology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands; cDepartment of Psychology, Acadia
University, Canada; dBehavioral Science Institute, Department of Work and Organizational Psychology,
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
This position paper introduces the emerging concept of work engagement: a positive, fulfilling, affective-
motivational state of work-related well-being that is characterized by vigour, dedication, and
absorption. Although there are different views of work engagement, most scholars agree that engaged
employees have high levels of energy and identify strongly with their work. The most often used
instrument to measure engagement is the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, a self-report instrument that
has been validated in many countries across the world. Research on engagement has investigated how
engagement differs from related concepts (e.g., workaholism, organizational commitment), and has
focused on the most important predictors of work engagement. These studies have revealed that
engagement is a unique concept that is best predicted by job resources (e.g., autonomy, supervisory
coaching, performance feedback) and personal resources (e.g., optimism, self-efficacy, self-esteem).
Moreover, the first studies have shown that work engagement is predictive of job performance and client
satisfaction. The paper closes with an account of what we do not know about work engagement, and
offers a brief research agenda for future work.
Keywords: burnout; job resources; performance; workaholism; work engagement
Recently, psychology has been criticized as primarily dedicated to addressing mental illness
rather than mental ‘‘wellness.’’ This prevailing negative bias of psychology is illustrated by the
fact that the number of publications on negative states exceeds that on positive states by a
ratio of 14:1 (Myers, 2000). The purpose of Positive Psychology is ‘‘ . . . to begin to catalyze a
change in the focus of psychology from pre-occupation only with repairing the worst things in
life to also building positive qualities’’ (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000, p. 5). This
advocated positive turn is also relevant for occupational health psychology. Failing to
recognize the positive aspects of work is inappropriate and, as Turner, Barling, and
Zacharatos (2002, p. 715) have argued, ‘‘ . . . it is time to extend our research focus and
explore more fully the positive sides, so as to gain full understanding of the meaning and
effects of working.’’
This special issue responds to the call for more research into positive psychology by
focusing on work engagement: a positive, fulfilling, affective-motivational state of work-related
*Corresponding author. Email: [email protected]
ISSN 0267-8373 print/ISSN 1464-5335 online
# 2008 Taylor & Francis
188 A.B. Bakker et al.
well-being that can be seen as the antipode of job burnout. Engaged employees have high levels
of energy, are enthusiastic about their work, and they are often fully immersed in their job so
that time flies (Macey & Schneider, 2008; May, Gilson, & Harter, 2004; Schaufeli & Bakker, in
press). Whereas research on burnout has produced thousands of articles during the past three
decades, research on work engagement has just begun to emerge. This is curious, in that modern
organizations expect their employees to be proactive and show initiative, take responsibility for
their own professional development, and to be committed to high quality performance
standards. Thus, they need employees who feel energetic and dedicated, and who are absorbed
by their work, i.e., who are engaged with their work (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008). As we will see
in this article, work engagement can make a true difference for employees and may offer
organizations a competitive advantage (see also Bakker, in press; Demerouti & Cropanzano,
Different views on work engagement
Interestingly, it is research on burnout that has stimulated most contemporary research on
work engagement. Contrary to those who suffer from burnout, engaged employees have a
sense of energetic and effective connection with their work, and instead of stressful and
demanding they look upon their work as challenging. Two different but related schools of
thought exist that consider work engagement as a positive, work-related state of well-being or
fulfilment. According to Maslach and Leiter (1997), engagement is characterized by energy,
involvement, and efficacy, the direct opposites of the three burnout dimensions. They argue
that, in the case of burnout, energy turns into exhaustion, involvement into cynicism, and
efficacy into ineffectiveness. By implication, engagement is assessed by the opposite pattern of
scores on the three dimensions of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach, Jackson,
& Leiter, 1996): low scores on exhaustion and cynicism, and high scores on professional
The alternative view considers work engagement as an independent, distinct concept that
is related negatively to burnout. Consequently, work engagement is defined and operatio-
nalized in its own right as ‘‘ . . . a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is
characterized by vigour, dedication, and absorption’’ (Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá,
& Bakker, 2002, p. 74). That is, in engagement, fulfilment exists in contrast to the voids of life
that leave people feeling empty as in burnout. Vigour is characterized by high levels of energy
and mental resilience while working, the willingness to invest effort in one’s work, and
persistence even in the face of difficulties. Dedication refers to being strongly involved in one’s
work, and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge.
Absorption is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work,
whereby time passes quickly and one has difficulties with detaching oneself from work.
Accordingly, vigour and dedication are considered direct opposites of exhaustion and
cynicism, respectively, the two core symptoms of burnout. The continuum that is spanned by
exhaustion and vigour has been labelled ‘‘energy,’’ whereas the continuum that is spanned by
cynicism and dedication has been labelled ‘‘identification’’ (González-Roma, Schaufeli,
Bakker, & Lloret, 2006). Hence, work engagement is characterized by a high level of energy
and strong identification with one’s work, whereas burnout is characterized by the opposite: a
low level of energy and poor identification with one’s work (see also Demerouti & Bakker,
2008). In addition, based on in-depth interviews (Schaufeli, Taris, Le Blanc, Peeters, Bakker,
& De Jonge, 2001), absorption was included as the third constituting aspect of work
189 Work & Stress
Kahn (1990) took a different approach when he conceptualized engagement as
the ‘‘ . . . harnessing of organization member’s selves to their work roles: in engagement, people
employ and express themselves physically, cognitively, emotionally and mentally during role
performances’’ (p. 694). Thus, engaged employees put much effort into their work because they
identify with it. According to Kahn (1990, 1990) a dynamic, dialectical relationship exists
between the person who drives personal energies (physical, cognitive, emotional, and mental)
into his or her work role on the one hand, and the work role that allows this person to express
him or herself on the other hand. Kahn (1992) differentiated the concept of engagement from
psychological presence or the experience of ‘‘being fully there,’’ namely when ‘‘ . . . people feel
and are attentive, connected, integrated, and focused in their role performance’’ (p. 322). Put
differently, here engagement as behaviour (driving energy in one’s work role) is considered as the
manifestation of psychological presence, a particular mental state. In its turn, engagement is
assumed to produce positive outcomes, both at the individual level (personal growth and
development) as well as at the organizational level (performance quality).
Inspired by the work of Kahn (1990, 1992), Rothbard (2001) took a slightly different
perspective and defined engagement as a two-dimensional motivational construct that
includes attention (‘‘ . . . the cognitive availability and the amount of time one spends thinking
about a role’’; p. 656) and absorption (‘‘ . . . the intensity of one’s focus on a role’’; p. 656). It is
important to note that the key reference of engagement for Kahn (1990, 1992) is the work
role, whereas for those who consider engagement as the positive antithesis of burnout it is the
employee’s work activity, or the work itself.
Most scholars agree that engagement includes an energy dimension and an identification
dimension. Work engagement is characterized by a high level of energy and strong
identification with one’s work. The perspective of this special issue is that the field is served
best by a consistent construct for work engagement, one that focuses on employees’
experience of work activity. Unfortunately, the broad exploration of constructs over the past
decade has not produced consensus about its meaning. In contrast, a recent review of Macey
and Schneider (2008) documented the proliferation of various definitions of engagement,
many of them being old wine in new bottles. These authors try to ‘‘solve’’ the conceptual
confusion by proposing employee engagement as an all-inclusive umbrella term that contains
different types of engagement (i.e., trait engagement, state engagement, and behavioural
engagement), each of which entails various conceptualizations; e.g., proactive personality
(trait engagement), involvement (state engagement), and organizational citizenship behaviour
(behavioural engagement). In contrast, we advocate the use of engagement as a specific, well-
defined, and properly operationalized psychological state that is open to empirical research
and practical application. This special issue documents the fruitfulness of this approach.
There are several instruments that can be used to assess work engagement (see Schaufeli &
Bakker, in press), but we will concentrate on the instruments that have been validated more
extensively. Those who follow Maslach and Leiter’s (1997, 2008) approach can use the
MBI (Maslach et al., 1996) to assess energy (low score on exhaustion), involvement (low
score on cynicism), and professional efficacy (high score on efficacy). An alternative
instrument for the assessment of work engagement is the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory
(OLBI; Demerouti & Bakker, 2008; Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Ebbinghaus, 2002).
This instrument was developed originally to assess burnout, but includes both positively
and negatively phrased items, and hence it can be used to assess work engagement as well
190 A.B. Bakker et al.
(see González-Roma et al., 2006). Researchers interested in assessing work engagement with
the OLBI may recode the negatively framed items. The OLBI includes two dimensions: one
ranging from exhaustion to vigour and a second ranging from cynicism (disengagement) to
dedication. The reliability and factorial validity of the OLBI has been confirmed in studies
conducted in Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, the USA, and South Africa (Demerouti &
Bakker, 2008). Results of these studies clearly showed that a two-factor structure with vigour
and dedication (referred to as exhaustion and disengagement in several of these studies) as
the underlying factors fitted better to the data of several occupational groups than alternative
The most often used instrument to measure engagement is the Utrecht Work Engagement
Scale (UWES; Schaufeli & Bakker, in press; Schaufeli et al., 2002) that includes three
subscales: vigour, dedication, and absorption. The UWES has been validated in several
countries, including China (Yi-Wen & Yi-Qun, 2005), Finland (Hakanen, 2002), Greece
(Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, & Kantas, in press), Japan (Shimazu et al., 2008), South
Africa (Storm & Rothmann, 2003), Spain (Schaufeli et al., 2002), and the Netherlands
(Schaufeli & Bakker, 2003; Schaufeli et al., 2002). All investigations used confirmatory factor
analyses and showed that the fit of the hypothesized three-factor structure to the data was
superior to that of alternative factor models. In addition, the internal consistencies of the
three subscales proved to be sufficient in each study. It should be noted, however, that some
studies failed to replicate the three-factor structure of work engagement (e.g., Shimazu et al.,
2008; Sonnentag, 2003). This may be attributed partly to translation problems when it comes
to items that contain metaphors (e.g., ‘‘Time flies when I am working’’). Furthermore,
Schaufeli and Bakker (in press) have argued that the overall score for work engagement may
sometimes be more useful in empirical research than the scores on the three separate
dimensions of the UWES. Schaufeli, Bakker, and Salanova (2006) developed a 9-item version
of the UWES, and provided evidence for its cross-national validity. They showed that the
three engagement dimensions are moderately strongly related.
What we know about work engagement
Previous research on work engagement has primarily used the well-validated UWES, and
focused on the predictors of work engagement (job and personal resources), outcomes
(performance), and differences from related concepts (e.g., workaholism, and organizational
commitment). In this section, we briefly review the available evidence, and then we turn to a
research agenda for work engagement.
Work engagement is not the same as workaholism
Workaholics spend a great deal of time in work activities when given the discretion to choose
whether to do so; they are excessively hard workers. In addition, workaholics are reluctant to
disengage from work and they persistently and frequently think about work when they are
not at work. This suggests that workaholics are obsessed with their work; they are compulsive
workers (Schaufeli, Taris, & Bakker, 2006; Scott, Moore, & Miceli, 1997). Engaged employees
work hard (vigour), are involved (dedicated), and feel happily engrossed (absorbed) in their
work. In this sense, they seem similar to workaholics. However, in contrast to workaholics,
engaged workers lack the typical compulsive drive. For them work is fun, not an addiction, as
was concluded from a qualitative study among 15 engaged workers (Schaufeli et al., 2001).
Engaged employees work hard because they like it and not because they are driven by a
191 Work & Stress
strong inner urge they cannot resist. For workaholics, their need to work is so exaggerated
that it endangers their health, reduces their happiness, and deteriorates their interpersonal
relations and social functioning (e.g., Bakker, Demerouti, & Burke, in press). In short, work
engagement can be discriminated from workaholism (Taris, Schaufeli, & Shimazu, in press).
Previous studies have also shown that work engagement can be discriminated from Type-A
behaviour (Hallberg, Johansson, & Schaufeli, 2007), and from job involvement and
organizational commitment (Hallberg & Schaufeli, 2006). In addition, Halbesleben and
Wheeler (2008) have shown that work engagement can be distinguished from job
Job resources facilitate engagement
Previous studies have consistently shown that job resources such as social support from
colleagues and supervisors, performance feedback, skill variety, autonomy, and learning
opportunities are positively associated with work engagement (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008;
Halbesleben, in press; Schaufeli & Salanova, 2007). Job resources refer to those physical,
social, or organizational aspects of the job that may: (1) reduce job demands and the
associated physiological and psychological costs; (2) be functional in achieving work goals; or
(3) stimulate personal growth, learning, and development (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007;
Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004).
Job resources either play an intrinsic motivational role because they foster employees’
growth, learning, and development, or they play an extrinsic motivational role because they
are instrumental in achieving work goals. In the former case, job resources fulfil basic human
needs, such as the needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence (Deci & Ryan, 1985;
Ryan & Frederick, 1997; Van den Broeck, Vansteenkiste, De Witte, & Lens, 2008). For
instance, proper feedback fosters learning, thereby increasing job competence, whereas
decision latitude and social support satisfy the need for autonomy and the need to belong,
respectively. Job resources may also play an extrinsic motivational role, because work
environments that offer many resources foster the willingness to dedicate one’s efforts and
abilities to the work task (Meijman & Mulder, 1998). In such environments it is likely that the
task will be completed successfully and that the work goal will be attained. For instance,
supportive colleagues and performance feedback increase the likelihood of being successful in
achieving one’s work goals. In either case, be it through the satisfaction of basic needs or
through the achievement of work goals, the outcome is positive and engagement is likely to
occur (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004; Schaufeli & Salanova, 2007).
Consistent with these notions about the motivational role of job resources, several studies
have shown a positive relationship between job resources and work engagement (for a meta-
analysis, see Halbesleben, in press). For example, Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) found evidence
for a positive relationship between three job resources (performance feedback, social support,
and supervisory coaching) and work engagement (vigour, dedication, and absorption) among
four samples of Dutch employees. This study was replicated in a sample of over 2000 Finnish
teachers (Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006). Results showed that job control, information,
supervisory support, innovative climate, and social climate were all related positively to work
engagement. In addition, Koyuncu, Burke, and Fiksenbaum (2006) examined potential
antecedents and consequences of work engagement in a sample of women managers and
professionals employed by a large Turkish bank. Results showed that of the six areas of work
life (Maslach & Leiter, 1997), particularly job control, rewards and recognition, and value fit
were significant predictors of all three engagement measures.
192 A.B. Bakker et al.
Recent longitudinal research has generally confirmed the positive relationship between
job resources and work engagement. Mauno, Kinnunen, and Ruokolainen (2007) utilized a 2-
year longitudinal design to investigate work engagement and its antecedents among Finnish
health care personnel. Job resources predicted work engagement better than job demands.
Job control and organization-based self-esteem proved to be the best lagged predictors of the
three dimensions of work engagement, after controlling for Time 1 scores on the dimensions
of engagement. Further, in their study among managers and executives of a Dutch telecom
company, Schaufeli, Bakker, and Van Rhenen (2008) found that changes in job resources
were predictive of engagement over a 1-year time period. Specifically, results showed that
increases in social support, autonomy, opportunities to learn and to develop, and
performance feedback were positive predictors of Time 2 work engagement after controlling
for baseline engagement. The two longitudinal studies included in the special issue (de Lange,
De Witte, & Notelaers, 2008; Hakanen, Schaufeli, & Ahola, 2008) offer additional evidence
for a causal effect of job resources on engagement.
Job resources become salient in the face of high job demands
Hobfoll (2002) has argued that resource gain acquires its saliency in the context of resource
loss. This implies that job resources become more salient and gain their motivational
potential when employees are confronted with high job demands (Bakker & Demerouti,
2007). Hakanen, Bakker, and Demerouti (2005) tested this interaction hypothesis in a sample
of Finnish dentists employed in the public sector. It was hypothesized that job resources (e.g.,
variability in the required professional skills and peer contacts) are most beneficial in
maintaining work engagement under conditions of high job demands (e.g., workload,
unfavourable physical environment). The dentists were split in two random groups in order to
cross-validate the findings. A set of hierarchical regression analyses showed that 17 out of 40
possible interactions were statistically significant (43%), showing that variability in
professional skills boosted work engagement when qualitative workload was high, and
mitigated the negative effect of high qualitative workload on work engagement.
Conceptually similar findings have been reported by Bakker, Hakanen, Demerouti, and
Xanthopoulou (2007). In their study among Finnish teachers working in elementary,
secondary, and vocational schools, they found that job resources act as buffers and diminish
the negative relationship between pupil misbehaviour and work engagement. In addition, they
found that job resources particularly influenced work engagement when teachers were
confronted with high levels of pupil misconduct. A series of moderated structural equation
analyses showed that 14 out of 18 possible two-way interaction effects were statistically
significant (78%). Particularly, supervisor support, innovativeness, appreciation, and
organizational climate were important job resources for teachers that helped them cope
with demanding interactions with students. Taken together, these findings clearly show that
job resources may become more salient and gain their motivational potential when employees
are confronted with high job demands.
Personal resources facilitate engagement
In addition to job characteristics, several studies have focused on state-like personal resources
as predictors of work engagement. Personal resources are positive self-evaluations that are
linked to resiliency and refer to individuals’ sense of their ability to control and impact upon
their environment successfully (Hobfoll, Johnson, Ennis, & Jackson, 2003). It has been shown
193 Work & Stress
that such positive self-evaluations predict goal-setting, motivation, performance, job and life
satisfaction, and other desirable outcomes (for a review, see Judge, Van Vianen, & De Pater,
2004). The reason for this is that the larger an individual’s personal resources, the more
positive their self-regard and the more goal self-concordance is expected to be experienced
(Judge, Bono, Erez, & Locke, 2005). Individuals with goal self-concordance are intrinsically
motivated to pursue their goals, and as a result they trigger higher performance and
satisfaction (see also Luthans & Youssef, 2007).
Several authors have investigated the relationships between personal resources and work
engagement. For example, Rothmann and Storm (2003) conducted a cross-sectional study
among 1910 South African police officers, and found that engaged police officers had an
active coping style. They were problem-focused, taking active steps to attempt to remove or
rearrange stressors. Further, in their study among highly skilled Dutch technicians,
Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, and Schaufeli (2007) examined the role of three personal
resources (self-efficacy, organizational-based self-esteem, and optimism) in predicting work
engagement. Results showed that engaged employees are highly self-efficacious; they believe
they are able to meet the demands they face in a broad array of contexts. In addition, engaged
workers believe that they will generally experience good outcomes in life (optimistic), and
believe they can satisfy their needs by participating in roles within the organization
(organizational-based self-esteem; see also Mauno et al., 2007).
These findings were replicated and expanded in a 2-year follow-up study (Xanthopoulou,
Bakker, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2008). The findings indicated that self-efficacy, organiza-
tional-based self-esteem, and optimism make a unique contribution to explaining variance in
work engagement over time, over and above the impact of job resources and previous levels of
engagement. As a final example, Bakker, Gierveld, and Van Rijswijk (2006) in their study
among female school principals found that those with most personal resources scored highest
on work engagement. Particularly resilience, self-efficacy, and optimism contributed to work
engagement, and were able to explain unique variance in engagement scores (in addition to
social support from team members and colleague principals, opportunities for development,
and social support from the intimate partner). Thus, resilience is another personal resource
that may facilitate work engagement.
In conclusion, job and personal resources are important antecedents of work engagement.
Job resources reduce the impact of job demands on strain, are functional in achieving work
goals, and stimulate personal growth, learning, and development. These resources particu-
larly have motivational potential in the face of high job demands. Further, engaged employees
seem to differ from other employees in terms of their personal resources, including optimism,
self-efficacy, self-esteem, resilience, and an active coping style. These resources seem to help
engaged workers to control and impact upon their work environment successfully (see also
Luthans, Norman, Avolio, & Avey, 2008).
Relationship with performance
Bakker (in press) mentions four reasons why engaged workers perform better than non-
engaged workers. Engaged employees: (1) often experience positive emotions, including
happiness, joy, and enthusiasm; (2) experience better psychological and physical health; (3)
create their own job and personal resources (e.g., support from others); and (4) transfer their
engagement to others. Whereas positive emotions broaden people’s thought-action repertoire
(Fredrickson, 2003), good health facilitates performance because individuals can use all their
mental and physical resources (skills, abilities, knowledge, etc.). Further, employees who
194 A.B. Bakker et al.
create their own resources are better able to deal with their job demands and to achieve their
work goals (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). Finally, in most organizations performance is the
result of the combined effort of individual employees. It is therefore conceivable that the
crossover of engagement among members of the same work team increases performance.
Only a few studies have examined the relationship between work engagement and job
performance (see Bakker & Demerouti, 2008). Nevertheless, the results obtained so far look
promising. Bakker, Demerouti, and Verbeke (2004) showed that engaged employees received
higher ratings from their colleagues on in-role and extra-role performance, indicating that
engaged employees perform well and are willing to go the extra mile. Further, in their survey
among Dutch employees from a wide range of occupations, Schaufeli, Taris, and Bakker
(2006) found that work engagement is related positively to in-role performance. These
findings were expanded in another study among secretaries; Gierveld and Bakker (2005)
found that engaged secretaries scored higher on in-role and extra-role performance. In
addition, results suggested that engaged secretaries had more influence on daily business.
They were more often asked to carry out additional tasks, including personnel pre-selection,
the organization of trade exhibitions and conventions, and website maintenance.
Salanova, Agut, and Peiró (2005) conducted an important study among personnel
working in Spanish restaurants and hotels. Contact employees from over 100 service units
(hotel front desks and restaurants) provided information about organizational resources,
engagement, and service climate. Furthermore, customers from these units provided
information on employee performance and customer loyalty. Structural equation modelling
analyses were consistent with a full mediation model in which organizational resources and
work engagement predicted service climate, which in turn predicted employee performance
and then customer loyalty. Finally, Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, and Schaufeli (in
press) conducted a diary study among employees working in a Greek fast-food restaurant,
and found that daily levels of work engagement were predictive of objective daily financial
We can conclude that research supports the link between work engagement and
performance. Employees who feel vital and strong, and who are enthusiastic about their
work, show better in-role and extra-role performance. As a consequence, engaged workers
realize better financial results, and have more satisfied clients and customers.
What we don’t know about work engagement: a brief research agenda
Since research on work engagement has just started, there are many questions that still need
to be answered. Below we discuss five topics that seem highly relevant for further progress in
the emerging field of work engagement.
Daily work engagement
Most previous studies on work engagement have used a between-person design and cannot
explain why engaged employees sometimes show below average or poor performance. Even
engaged employees may have their off-days, and researchers have therefore begun to examine
daily changes in work engagement. An important advantage of diary research is that it relies
less on retrospective recall than regular surveys, since the questions relate to individuals’
perceptions and feelings on a certain day. Additionally, daily changes in work engagement
within persons can be related causally to daily changes in performance. Diary research may
195 Work & Stress
also reveal what the day-to-day triggers are of state engagement (Sonnentag, Dormann, &
Demerouti, in press).
Short- vs. long-term consequences of engagement
The available research evidence suggests that work engagement has positive effects in the
short- (Sonnentag, 2003; Xanthopoulou et al., in press) and the long-term (Mauno et al.,
2007; Schaufeli et al., 2008). However, a relevant question is whether there is also a dark side
of engagement. Can the level of engagement be too high if employees are in a continuous
state of high engagement (see Sonnentag, Mojza, Binnewies, & Scholl, 2008)? Engagement
may give new energy, but does it take energy in the end? Can engaged employees finally burn
out? What is the role of recovery in this process? Future studies may use multiple waves with
short and longer periods between the waves of data collection to examine the short- and long-
term consequences of work engagement. There is particularly a dearth of research on the
relationship between engagement and health.
Future research on work engagement would benefit from a resolute focus on interventions.
This research would make the most valuable contribution by not only focusing on something
positive, but also working directly on increasing the prevalence of positive relationships with
work. Moreover, from a theoretical perspective it would be interesting and important to test
the hypothesis that fostering engagement goes beyond preventing burnout. A disappointment
of the extensive research on job burnout is the dearth of research that explicitly tests
interventions to alleviate the syndrome (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). The research
literature is supplied abundantly with cross-sectional studies demonstrating burnout’s
correlates and too few demonstrating planned change. We urge researchers to go beyond
investigating work engagement’s causes and consequences. The greatest contribution will
come from systematic studies that evaluate the impact of new management procedures or
personal routines on work engagement. Interesting questions are whether engagement can be
trained, and whether the engagement frame facilitates interventions.
How do people manage their own work engagement? According to self-regulation theories,
individuals use strategies that enable them to guide their goal-directed activities over time and
across changing circumstances. For instance, regulatory focus theory (Higgins, 2000)
discriminates between two regulatory foci among individuals. When promotion focused,
individuals are motivated by growth and development needs, have strong ideals, and prefer
gain to the avoidance of losses. When prevention focused, individuals are responsive to
security needs, the responsibility for safety and protection, have strong emphasis on
obligations, and prefer the avoidance of loss to gains. The regulatory focus that people
apply is a matter of individual differences but can also be influenced by the environment
(Higgins, 2000). It would be interesting to examine the impact of regulatory foci on work
engagement and vice versa. Do work environments that emphasize growth and resources
foster a promotion focus and work engagement? Promotion-focused employees may
successfully balance such environments with themselves using eagerness and approach
strategies (Brockner & Higgins, 2001). In contrast, environments that emphasize duties and
196 A.B. Bakker et al.
demands may foster a prevention focus. Prevention-focused employees may be engaged and
function successfully in such environments using vigilance and avoidance strategies. In short,
future studies could investigate whether engagement is highest when people encounter
regulatory fit between their chronic (preferred focus) and task-induced regulatory state.
Conceptual development and integration
Further progress in research would be more effective if there were broad agreement on the
meaning of work engagement. As noted above, there is broad consensus on two dimensions of
work engagement: energy and involvement/identification, both of which are included in the
OLBI (Demerouti & Bakker, 2008), the MBI (Maslach et al., 1996), and the UWES
(Schaufeli et al., 2002). As far as the dimensions of work engagement are concerned, further
work is needed to consider whether absorption is a core aspect of work engagement or an
outcome of energy and identification, and on the role of professional efficacy. Resolving these
questions requires further development in theory and measurement. Based on theoretical
analyses and research on the construct and concurrent validity, relationships between
engagement and other established constructs such as satisfaction, organizational commit-
ment, and organizational citizenship behaviour should be specified. In this way, the added
value of the recently emerged concept of work engagement should be demonstrated.
In this paper we have shown that research on work engagement may broaden our view of the
meaning and effects of working (see Turner et al., 2002). Employees with high levels of energy
and identification with their work have many resources available and seem to perform better.
It is even conceivable that engaged workers create their own job resources over time. Our
overview suggests that a focus on work engagement may not only benefit the individual but
also offer organizations a competitive advantage. We hope that the research agenda that we
have outlined above will be a useful resource for occupational health psychologists and will
stimulate future research on work engagement.
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