Topic: Engagement and Leadership Communication

Author(s), Title and Publication

Welch, M. (2011). The evolution of the employee engagement concept: Communication implications. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 16(4), 328-346.


This essay and research review clarified the concept of employee engagement. The author provided an overview of employee engagement related research and identified stages in the evolution of the concept. The literature review showed that employee engagement has attracted interest from business and consultancies since the 1990s, and began to attract academic attention in the later half of the 2010s. The review distinguished employee engagement from organizational commitment, and suggested that though both concepts note positive relationships between employees and their organizations, employee engagement is usually considered an antecedent or a component of commitment.

The review also explored the role of internal communication in enhancing employee engagement and proposed a conceptual model. The model suggests that employees’ organizational commitment is associated with their engagement levels and is affected by leadership communication. To be specific, supervisory communication that encourages a sense of belonging to the organization may enhance employees’ emotional engagement (dedication). Supervisory communication that informs employees with the changing organizational environment and evolving goals may increase employees’ cognitive engagement level (absorption). As a result, high levels of emotional engagement and cognitive engagement may lead to higher levels of physical engagement (vigor behavior) and strengthen organizational performance.

Implications for Practice

Communicators should consider appropriate communication strategies to engage employees. These may include: 1) taking care of the tone of communication; 2) providing highly emotionally engaged employees with information validating their sense of belonging to the organization; and 3) providing highly cognitively engaged employees with materials that help them better understand organizational goals and how their work supports achieving the goals.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)


Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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One thought on “The evolution of the employee engagement concept: Communication implications

  1. Recently, I’ve been working on a project about internal communication channels and employee engagement in China, and used this article as my reference. I found this review particularly interesting and informative. Although employee engagement has been examined across various disciplines, there is limited literature on this topic in the communication field.

    I like how the author defined engagement and distinguished between cognitive, emotional, and physical engagement. Indeed, different types of engagement could be driven by different factors. The author specifically discussed the role of supervisory communication (content) in driving each type of engagement. I agree that message content and sources determines communication effectiveness, but what is equally (if not more) important is the medium used to deliver the message. In my recent study, I looked at how Chinese organizations and leaders’ use of different communication channels (i.e., print media, employee meetings, email, phones, intranet, video conference, instant messengers, blogs, social networking sites, mobile apps, text messages) influence employee engagement. The results concurred with my previous findings from the U.S. data: face-to-face channels such as employee meetings and supervisor-follower one-on-one meetings and social media platforms (i.e., SNSs, blogs) stood out as the most effective channels in engaging employees. Also, the more that employees perceive the organization’s communication as transparent and authentic, the more they feel engaged.

    Communication arguably plays a central role in engaging employees. We realize there’re so many things to consider about communication, such as communication strategies (e.g., transparent, symmetrical, authentic, responsive, etc.), message content, message format (textual, visual, audio), message sources (who delivers the message, CEO, leaders, PR managers, or peer employees), and communication channels. Each could influence the engagement process to some extent. While I was looking into how exactly these communication factors could have effects, and through what mechanics, I found little empirical evidence in the literature. I think this points us to an important new research direction on communication and engagement. If anyone is interested in related topics, please kindly contact me. I’m happy to discuss with you and possibly conduct collaborative research to solve some of these problems.

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