This blog summary is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center
As we seek to further our understanding of the communication-related factors that bring out the best and the worst in employees, one model from the management literature offers promise.
The job demands-resources (JD-R) model is gaining momentum among communication scholars, and for good reason. This framework holds that job demands are environmental/contextual factors associated with work that require responses and attention from employees. This can make it harder for employees to do their work, thus psychologically taxing them.
Conversely, job resources are those organizational, physical, social, or psychological factors that enable employees to complete tasks. Resources can counter job demands. Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) argue that resources have a motivational impact on individuals, either by fostering personal growth (intrinsic) or helping them achieve work goals (extrinsic).
The model often posits burnout as an outcome of job demands and lack of resources. Engagement is also seen as an outcome in this model for the opposite reasons. Job resources contribute to engagement and job stressors can preclude engagement (see Schaufeli’s chapter in the edited volume by Truss et al. from 2013).
The model, in various incarnations with burnout and engagement at its center, is well-established in multiple pieces of literature. For those with an interest in this area, I direct you to a seminal 2001 study by Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner and Schaufeli as a starting point.
The model’s value is its completeness, as it accounts for both positive and negative organizational forces that may influence employee behavior and organizational outcomes. It also recognizes the powerful impact that burnout and engagement have on employees. The model can – should be—expanded through a focus on communication.
Linking Demands and Resources to Internal Communication
With my professional background in public relations, I am fascinated by internal communication practitioners’ many responsibilities. I view the practice of internal/employee communication as not just as employee-centered branding but as a vital conduit for information exchange in organizations.
An emphasis on strategic internal communication can lead to the integration of the JD-R model into relationship management theory (as we indirectly did in a 2017 study on Millennials) —and potentially into situational crisis communication theory and social exchange theory, among other perspectives.
PR practitioners ensure adequate information flow through organizations and work with managers on important organizational communication initiatives. The transparent communication and delivery of helpful job-related information represent job resources.
On the flip side, we might see the delivery of too much information as a job demand. Likewise, the use of communication technologies leads to interruptions and can contribute to burnout in some contexts (Ter Hoven et al., 2016).
There are numerous communication outcomes to be linked to the JD-R model.
I am working on a study with University of Florida Ph.D. candidate and IPR OCRC editor April Yue and my NDSU colleague Dr. Cheng Zeng on the predictors of employee voice. (The project is supported by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at The Pennsylvania State University. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Penn State.)
The study emerged from a post this year to this blog about the need to study teleworkers. The sample is compelling, given that Covid-19 is expected to keep us working from home for a long time.
What excites me beyond the sample is that we hope to further bring the JD-R model into the communication fold by examining employee voice as an outcome of job engagement.
Just as engagement positively impacts employees’ task completion, we anticipate that engagement will predict employees’ willingness to speak out about work-unit and organizational issues. The more we throw ourselves into our work, the more inclined we should be to express our views that matter to our units and organizations. Our study looks at some of the communication demands and resources that I referenced earlier in this post as drivers of engagement and voice behaviors.
Certainly, this is not a comprehensive literature review. I have overlooked some important ideas on measurement and application. Still, the JD-R model can be a viable tool for advancing communication theory and an understanding of it has the potential to improve communication within organizations at a practitioner level.
Justin Walden, Ph.D., is an associate professor of organizational communication and public relations in the Department of Communication at North Dakota State University. His research primarily addresses flexible work, employee commitment/engagement, and technology adoption.