The Energizing Nature of Work Engagement: Toward a New Need-Based Theory of Work Motivation

Green, Paul, Eli Finkel, Grainne Fitzsimons, and Francesca Gino. "The Energizing Nature of Work Engagement: Toward a New Need-Based Theory of Work Motivation." Research in Organizational Behavior 37 (2017): 1–18.

63 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2018

See all articles by Paul Green

Paul Green

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business; Harvard Business School

Eli Finkel

Northwestern University - Department of Psychology

Grainne Fitzsimons

University of Waterloo

Francesca Gino

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Date Written: November 22, 2017

Abstract

We present theory suggesting that experiences at work that meet employees’ expectations of need fulfillment drive work engagement. Employees have needs (e.g., a desire to be authentic) and they also have expectations for how their job or their organization will fulfill them. We argue that experiences at work that confirm employees’ need fulfillment expectations yield a positive emotional state that is energizing, and that this energy is manifested in employees’ behaviors at work. Our theorizing draws on a review of the work engagement literature, in which we identify three core characteristics of work engagement: (a) a positive emotional state that (b) yields a feeling of energy and (c) leads to positive work-oriented behaviors. These key themes provide the foundation for further theorizing suggesting that interactions at work confirm or disconfirm employees’ need fulfillment expectations, leading to different levels of engagement. We extend our theorizing to argue that confirmation, or disconfirmation, of different need expectations will yield emotional experience of varying magnitudes, with confirmation of approach oriented need expectations exerting stronger effects than the confirmation of avoidance oriented need expectations. We close with a review suggesting that organizational contextual features influence the expression of these needs, sustaining or undermining the positive emotional experiences that fuel work engagement.

Keywords: needs, motivation, work engagement, disengagement, authenticity, self-expression

Suggested Citation

Green, Paul and Finkel, Eli and Fitzsimons, Grainne and Gino, Francesca, The Energizing Nature of Work Engagement: Toward a New Need-Based Theory of Work Motivation (November 22, 2017). Green, Paul, Eli Finkel, Grainne Fitzsimons, and Francesca Gino. "The Energizing Nature of Work Engagement: Toward a New Need-Based Theory of Work Motivation." Research in Organizational Behavior 37 (2017): 1–18.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3079016

Paul Green (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - Red McCombs School of Business ( email )

Austin, TX 78712
United States

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Eli Finkel

Northwestern University - Department of Psychology ( email )

Evanston, IL
United States

Grainne Fitzsimons

University of Waterloo ( email )

Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1
Canada

Francesca Gino

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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