Year

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Management and Marketing

Abstract

The significance of the role of employee engagement in organisations has been reported and discussed extensively in the practitioner and academic literature. Academic studies conducted across different contexts have examined various antecedents of employee engagement, and the influence these antecedents have on employee engagement and organisational productivity. Although leadership and meaningful work have been highlighted in the practitioner literature as factors that have a significant influence on employee engagement, little attention has been devoted to linking employee engagement with transformational leadership, meaningful work and job related outcomes. The purpose of my thesis is to address this gap by developing and testing a model on employee engagement to examine the influence of transformational leadership on employee engagement through meaningful work, and identify the resulting impact on job outcomes.

Specifically, the proposed model examined the direct impact of transformational leadership on followers’ engagement at work and the mediating role of employees’ experiences of meaningful work between transformational leadership and employee engagement. The model also determined the indirect impact of transformational leadership on two job related followers’ attitudes: general job satisfaction and intention to quit by integrating sequential mediating mechanisms of employees’ perceptions toward the job (i.e., the experience of meaningful work) and employees’ perceptions toward own-self (i.e., employee engagement) as underlying mechanisms to understand transformational leadership impact in the Australian context.

Three key industry findings supported the motivation for developing and testing the proposed model of employee engagement in Australia. First, 80% of losses in Australian companies are generated from disengaged employees. Second, annual productivity losses to the Australian economy from disengaged employees amount to billions of dollars. Third, in 2011, nearly 40% of Australian workers seriously considered leaving their organisations and searched for jobs in the upcoming year, a sharp increase of 25% from 2003 (Mercer, 2011). These figures for Australia are higher than in other countries. For example, in the USA, only 32% of employees were planning to leave their jobs in 2011 (compared to 23% in 2005).

The proposed model was tested using a heterogeneous sample of employees working in various Australian sectors. A web-based survey was electronically mailed to 4200 employees. A total number of 530 surveys were returned, with an overall response rate of 12.6%. Participants responded to scales measuring transformational leadership, meaningful work, employee engagement, general job satisfaction and intention to quit.

Twelve hypotheses were developed to examine the thesis aims. Structural Equation Modelling technique was used to test the proposed hypotheses. The results of SEM provided support for twelve hypotheses. The significant findings of the study were threefold. First, transformational leadership behaviours were positively and significantly related to employee engagement at work. The results suggested that transformational leadership behaviours provided a significant and unique influence on employee engagement at work. Second, the results indicated that experiencing meaningful work partially mediates the effects of transformational leadership on employee engagement, meaning that a portion of the transformational leadership impact on employee engagement stemmed from its indirect impact through employees’ experience of meaningful work. Third, the results support the hypotheses that meaningful work and employee engagement partially and sequentially mediate the relationship between transformational leadership on the one hand, and job satisfaction and intention to quit on the other. Thus the findings suggest that transformational leadership behaviours are positively related to employees’ experience of meaningful work. This in turn results in higher feelings of engagement, which are positively associated with employee feelings of job satisfaction and negatively associated with employees’ intention to quit the job. Further results of sequential mediation analysis revealed that meaningful work and employee engagement carry a reasonable amount of mediational effect between transformational leadership and related outcomes with a higher percentage for meaningful work.

The reported findings provide valuable insights by corroborating and extending prior empirical and theoretical research in several ways. First, the study is one of the first reported studies to test the direct and indirect relationship between transformational leadership and employee engagement with an Australian sample. Second, it empirically tests an underexplored assumption of transformational leadership theory by examining the role of experiencing meaningful work in the proposed relationships between transformational leadership and engagement at work. Third, the proposed model in this thesis is one of the first to examine what has been referred to as the “black box of transformational leadership influence” or, how and why transformational leadership influences different job related outcomes by integrating two different types of mediations (employee perceptions of own-self and perceptions of the job) in a sequential manner. Fourth, several implications for practice can be highlighted including designing employee training programs to promote transformational leadership skills among managers, positioning employee engagement as an important organisational strategy when re-designing jobs and recruitment processes, and developing ways to enhance meaningful work during job design through job crafting. In the concluding section to the thesis, limitations of the study are presented along with useful paths for future research.

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