Job involvement refers to a state of psychological identification with work—or the degree to which a job is central to a person’s identity. From an organizational perspective, it has been regarded as the key to unlocking employee motivation and increasing productivity. From an individual perspective, job involvement constitutes a key to motivation, performance, personal growth, and satisfaction in the workplace. Job involvement contributes importantly to organizational effectiveness, productivity, and morale by engaging employees deeply in their work and making it a meaningful and fulfilling experience. People become involved in their jobs when they perceive in them the potential for satisfying salient psychological needs (e.g., for growth, achievement, meaning, recognition, and security).
Job involvement enhances individuals’ work performance by motivating them to exert greater effort and use their creativity to solve problems and work intelligently. Job involvement and the benefits that flow from it result partly from personality and characteristics of the individual and partly from organizational context, job design, and supervisory behavior. Individuals who possess certain personality traits (e.g., internal locus of control, need for achievement, work ethic endorsement) are likely to be predisposed to become job involved. On the other hand, situational factors such as job design, organizational and psychological climate, and management style all have important influences on employee job involvement. Job design factors appear to have a stronger influence on job involvement for individuals who have a stronger drive to satisfying higher-order psychological needs (i.e., higher-order need strength).
Profile of the Job-Involved Individual
Based on a systematic review of the voluminous research on job involvement, a profile of the personal characteristics of highly job-involved individuals emerges. In terms of personality traits, job-involved people tend to be high in both internal motivation and self-esteem and to subscribe to a work ethic consistent with the view that the experience of work has value as an end in itself. In terms of demographics, however, job involvement does not depend on age, gender, education, length of service to the organization, or salary.
Job-involved individuals find work meaningful and challenging, work at complex tasks employing a variety of skills, and see complete units of work through to their completion. They participate in the setting of performance standards and maintain positive relationships with supervisors who provide them with ample performance feedback. Beyond commitment to the immediate job, job-involved people are also strongly committed to work in general and career achievement and advancement.
People who are high in job involvement typically experience high job satisfaction, especially with the content of the work, which they find intrinsically satisfying. Their job satisfaction prevails even when their supervisor lacks consideration or is uncommunicative or autocratic. Job-involved individuals tend to have strong affective ties to the organization and, as a result, are less likely than others to consider leaving it.
In general, job involvement does not appear to entail systematic negative side effects, such as psychological, social, or physical maladies resulting from strong identification with one’s job. Stress, anxiety, somatic health complaints, and work-family conflict do not appear to be systematically related to job involvement. On the other hand, job-involved individuals do not appear to be more satisfied with life in general than less job-involved individuals or especially likely to be highly involved in other activities outside of work.
Means of Fostering Job Involvement
As this profile of job-involved individuals suggests, promoting job involvement effectively can constitute a key to competitive advantage in the marketplace for organizations. Research suggests two closely related types of organizational factors that tend to promote job involvement and motivate effort toward achievement of organizational goals: psychological climate and human resource policies and practices.
Psychological climate refers to the manner in which organizational environments are perceived by their employees. More specifically, it refers to the way employees interpret features of the environment in relation to their own goals, values, and concerns for personal well-being. Two dimensions of psychological climate that have been strongly linked to job involvement are psychological safety and meaningfulness. Employees tend to perceive their work environment as conducive to the attainment of their needs and goals to the extent that they experience it as being psychologically safe and meaningful. Employee perceptions of the workplace as being psychologically safe and meaningful tend to be strongly and positively correlated, and both are strongly linked to job involvement and employee effort.
Psychological safety. Perceptions of the work environment as psychologically safe are rooted in three elements: supportive management, role clarity, and self-expression. A supportive management style allows employees to strive and possibly fail without fear of reprisals. It gives employees control over the methods they use to perform their work and allows them to bring their creativity to bear on work problems. Clear expectations and predictable, consistent work norms promote psychological safety and job involvement. And when employees feel free to express aspects of their individuality at work, they are likely to internalize the work role, personalize it, and treat it as a core aspect of the self-concept.
Meaningfulness. Employees perceive their work environment as psychologically meaningful when they regard it as challenging, worthwhile, and rewarding. Individuals find their work particularly meaningful when they have a clear sense of the contribution it makes toward the attainment of organizational goals. Similarly, the perceived meaningfulness of work increases to the extent that employees perceive their work as challenging and conducive to learning and attainment of mastery. Also, receiving recognition and rewards commensurate with one’s contributions tends to increase perceived meaningfulness of work.
Human Resource Policies and Practices
Human resource policies and practices are closely related to psychological climate and have important effects on job involvement, productivity, and organizational performance. Whereas psychological climate relates to individuals’ perceptions of how the organizational environment affects their own goals, status, and well-being, human resource practices represent concrete policies and actions of the organization with respect to their employees. Research by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Mark Huselid indicates the following human resources practices as keys to high employee involvement motivation and performance:
Hiring selectively. Individuals differ in the values and attitudes they hold and express, as well as on a great variety of other characteristics. The companies that are most successful in promoting job involvement tend to attract rich pools of job applicants, from which they are able to select those who best reflect the goals and values of the organization. In essence, they endeavor to select the small proportion of applicants with the greatest predisposition to be highly job-involved, motivated, and productive.
Training. Firms that effectively promote job involvement tend to do an unusually thorough job of training employees. In these companies, training is ongoing and continuous and not limited to initial training and orientation to the organization.
Rewarding contingently and well. Companies that foster job involvement generally pay employees well and let them share in gains and profits made by the organization. This is true even of highly cost-conscious organizations that realize that employee productivity is a key driver of cost reduction. A contingent element of employee compensation contributes to employee identification with the goals and fortunes of the organization.
Reducing status differences. A greater sense of teamwork and collective spirit in the organization results from minimizing status differences between executives and other employees. When executives forgo outsized compensation packages and conspicuous displays of status, employees lower in the hierarchy are able to identify more closely with them and, through them, with the organization.
Self-managed teams. Self-managed work teams incorporate and leverage an important motivational principle: that people identify closely with their peers and feel obligated to them by social norms and reciprocity. This means that some employees who might shirk in a hierarchical structure will not do so in the context of self-managed teams. Firms that foster high employee involvement often structure all work tasks as teamwork.
Sharing information. Employees are likely to identify to a greater extent with their work and organization when the organization freely shares information about its operations and performance. This information sharing highlights for employees their personal stake in the organization and gives them metrics by which they may steer their efforts in pursuit of organizational goals.
Job involvement—the extent to which individuals identify with their jobs and consider them central to their identities—constitutes a key to individual effort, motivation, performance, and satisfaction, as well as to organizational performance. Job involvement results from differences in individual predispositions and also from organizational characteristics, supervisory behavior, and job design characteristics. Thus, organizations can promote job involvement by selecting the right people, fostering a conducive psychological climate, and incorporating human practices and policies supportive of high employee job involvement. Such practices can hold the key to sustainable competitive advantage.
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- Pfeffer, J. (1998). The human equation. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
- Reeve, C. L., & Smith, C. S. (2001). Refining Lodahl and Kejner’s Job Involvement Scale with a convergent evidence approach: Applying multiple methods to multiple samples. Organizational Research Methods, 4, 91-111.