Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Communication and Information

Major Professor

Michael J. Palenchar

Committee Members

Daniel J. Flint, Joan R. Rentsch, Sally J. McMillan

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to better understand how employees perceive and experience engagement and participate in its meaning-making process. While employee engagement has been primarily explored within the business, the human resources, and management disciplines, public relations research has only recently taken an interest in furthering its understanding.

Within these disciplines, the functional perspective has dominated employee engagement research, which has potentially limited theoretical developments. In response to the current literature being inundated with a rational, functional approach, the following dissertation attempts: (1) to examine employee engagement from an array of organizational voices using phenomenological methods; (2) to examine how employees contribute to the meaning-making process of employee engagement (32 participants); and (3) to inductively understand the presence of internal communication in the reconstruction of employee engagement.

The phenomenological approach is the most appropriate methodology to study employee engagement experiences because phenomenology is concerned with what it means to feel and experience the phenomenon and uses participants’ everyday lived experiences to uncover the meaning-making associated with the phenomenon.

The dissertation developed the zones of engagement, which offer a new way to conceptualize employee engagement in public relations, shifting to a deeper comprehension and understanding. The six zones of engagement include: (1) employee engagement experiences occur from non-work related experiences at work, (2) employee engagement is freedom in the workplace, (3) employee engagement is going above and beyond roles and responsibilities, (4) employee engagement occurs when work is a vocational calling, (5) employee engagement is creating value, and (6) connections build employee engagement experiences.

The findings from this dissertation show that employee experiences align to the initial personal engagement model (Kahn, 1990). Specifically, the psychological conditions of meaningfulness and safety emerged as important factors in defining the employees’ lived experiences. Also, this dissertation offers a new definition of disengagement. Last, dialogue is repositioned as the precursor to employee engagement instead of the product of engagement, suggesting a reconceptualization of a dominant public relations theory. This dissertation extends understanding of employee engagement meaning-making and provides insight for practitioners who develop public relations strategies for internal audiences.

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