Hidden in Plain Sight: Manager-Employee Social Engagement Strategies
Employee engagement occurs at the ‘swirling intersection’ (Kahn, 1990, p. 719) of the manager-employee relationship; a multidimensional engagement relationship. However, research to date has focused on examining employees’ engagement relationships with their role, work or organisation, emphasising linear and transactional aspects of engagement. Interpersonal oriented research has been under-used to explore engagement. In this study, attachment theory is used as a social systems theory to examine the manager-employee interpersonal relationship as a means to understand engagement. Attachment theory research has identified strategic patterns of interaction within close relationships that have been associated with optimising the quality of exploration outside of these relationships. Attachment theory informed workplace research has identified individual differential use of attachment patterns at work with differences in engagement. However, different patterns of attachment in relation to engagement (a potential form of exploration) have yet to be examined within the interpersonal context of the manager-employee relationship. In this study it is proposed that managers and employees might: socially interact with each other when under pressure in unique and strategically patterned ways; and that these interaction patterns might also influence engagement. This thesis asks: how do managers and employees strategically manage their relationship to optimise their engagement at work? A sequential explanatory mixed methods design study is conducted. Attachment theory methods inform the development of a new concept and measure: manager-employee social engagement strategies. This measure is quantitatively tested in a survey study with managers (n=200) and employees (n=200). The quantitative survey is used to generate qualitative and interpersonal data about manager-employee social engagement strategies and engagement within a series of five qualitatively oriented case studies with manager-employee dyads. Quantitative analysis indicates three manager and three employee social engagement strategy measures. These measures each uniquely correlate with perceptions about engagement, such as job and organisation engagement. Qualitative findings from the manager-employee dyads show (when under pressure) that they employ various combinations of social strategies to engage with each other; including a possible fourth strategy. In turn, these strategies are both influenced by, and influence, engagement. In conjunction with the literature, these findings are formulated into the central contribution of this study: an attachment theory informed framework of manager-employee engagement. This multidimensional framework reconceptualises engagement as a dynamic system and centralises the interpersonal dimension; represented by the manager-employee relationship. This framework specifies simultaneous and multi-directional associations between (a) how managers and employees engage with each other, (b) their perceptions of engagement and attachment, and (c) their engagement. This research has theoretical and practical implications for the training and coaching of managers and employees. It highlights knowledge currently hidden in plain sight within the engagement field that can be used to change: how we interact with each other when under pressure and stress as a route to changing our perceptions about engagement; and our engagement. This research confirms the relevance of a future research agenda that places the manager-employee relationship at the centre of engagement.