Throughout the research literature of the past four decades, a number of different terms have been used to describe an employee’s level of involvement in his or her job; among these are work as a central life interest, occupational involvement, work role involvement, ego involvement, morale, job commitment, and, of course, job involvement. Furthermore, in the discussion of the extreme ends of an individual’s relationship (or lack of relationship) to his or her job and work, one may find discussions focusing on workaholism or alienation. This article briefly reviews the historical, conceptual, and methodological issues related to job involvement and presents various profiles of the job-involved person. Finally, several suggestions are offered for further exploration of this concept.
Thomas Lodahl and Mathilde Kejner introduced the construct of job involvement in their seminal article on the definition and measurement of job involvement. This work presented two conceptualizations of job involvement:
- The extent to which an individual’s self-esteem is affected by his or her level of job performance.
- The degree to which an individual identifies psychologically with his or her work, or the importance of work in an individual’s total self-image.
The researchers’ belief that job involvement has two different aspects or dimensions (job performance/ self-esteem connection and psychological identification with work) justified the presentation of both definitions in their article, which set the tone for decades’ worth of criticism and research on this concept.
Samuel Rabinowitz and Douglas T. Hall offered perhaps the first systematic review of the job-involvement literature. Within this review, they observed that the literature continued to describe job involvement as the two different concepts presented in Lodahl and Kejner’s pioneering work. This conceptual ambiguity (is job involvement the connection between job performance and self-esteem, is it one’s psychological identification with work, or is it both?) likely contributed to research that presented three different theoretical perspectives on how job involvement develops: (1) as a stable characteristic of a person, (2) as a reaction to the work situation, or (3) as an interaction between the person and the situation.
Rabindra Kanungo’s work identified a number of concerns raised by scholars (including himself) conducting research on job involvement. He noted that the precise meaning of job involvement lacked consensus among the researchers. This conceptual ambiguity started with the question of whether job involvement represents a psychological identification with work versus a connection between job performance and self-esteem. It continued with the confusion between job involvement and intrinsic motivation on the job; between viewing job involvement as a cognitive belief versus an affective, that is, emotional, state; and between seeing job involvement with reference to a generalized work context as opposed to one’s specific job context. Kanungo’s work ultimately led to a refinement in the way that job involvement was measured, a topic described in the next section.
In addition to introducing the concept of job involvement, Lodahl and Kejner presented both a 20-item and a 6-item short form of a job-involvement scale. The use of this scale or a variation of it has generated similar criticisms to those expressed regarding the conceptual issues discussed earlier. Kanungo evaluated the measure developed by Lodahl and Kejner, identified problems with it, and developed new scales designed to overcome his methodological concerns. For example, he noted that the words work and job were used rather loosely and interchangeably, thus leading to separate scale development for “job involvement” and “work involvement.” In addition, his scale clearly measured job involvement as a cognitive state of psychological identification with the job, while avoiding items tapping concepts outside of this definition as well as separating job involvement itself from other factors (e.g., job satisfaction) that either cause or result from job involvement. A quantitative review of the literature by Steven Brown in 1966 concluded that although there were a small number of substantive differences between the findings of studies using Lodahl and Kejner’s measure and Kanungo’s measure, the latter offered greater conceptual clarity and was preferable for future use.
Profile of the Job-Involved Person
A number of different profiles of the job-involved person have been presented in the literature. Based on their initial research on several samples, Lodahl and Kejner presented a hypothetical profile of a job-involved person as one who (a) is older; (b) is less considerate as a leader, with a preference for administrative or coordinating activities; (c) identifies with good supervisors and scores high on initiative and intelligence; (d) has more highly interdependent (team-type) jobs, while seeing a large number of people during the day; (e) expresses satisfaction with the work itself, promotional opportunities, supervisors, and coworkers; (f) feels his or her supervisor is technically proficient; (g) believes he or she has a good chance of getting two or more promotions; and (h) went to high school elsewhere than in the Eastern portion of the United States.
In the decade that followed, a considerable number of studies attempted to determine the factors that are correlated with job involvement. This led Rabinowitz and Hall to present a newer profile of the job-involved person as one who (a) is a believer in the Protestant work ethic; (b) is relatively old; (c) has an internal (versus external) locus of control; (d) has strong psychological growth needs (e.g., need for achievement); (e) has a stimulating, “enriched” job; (f) participates in decisions affecting him or her; (g) is satisfied with the job; (h) has a history of success; and (i) is less likely to leave the organization.
Some two decades passed before two additional studies applied more quantitative, meta-analytical techniques to the body of research conducted on job involvement and updated the profile of the job-involved person. In one such study, Brown concluded that the job-involved person displays the personal characteristics of a strong work ethic endorsement, a high level of internal motivation, and high self-esteem. In addition, the job characteristics and supervisory behaviors desired by the job-involved person (especially one with high growth needs) were meaningful, challenging, complex, and varied work (i.e., an enriched job) containing opportunities for participation in setting performance standards and a good relationship with an immediate supervisor who provided considerable feedback. The job-involved person is committed not only to the specific job but also to work in general, his or her career, and the organization itself. Turnover intentions are less likely to occur with the job-involved person. The job-involved individual is generally satisfied with the job situation, particularly the content of the work itself.
The other quantitative review of the literature by David Allen and Rodger Griffeth portrayed the job-involved person as being satisfied with the job in general and specifically with the work itself, promotions, the supervisor and the coworkers. The job-involved person also participates in work-related decisions, desires a job with autonomy and feedback, and is at a higher level in the organization. Finally, the job-involved person believes in the Protestant work ethic and is less likely to voluntarily quit the job.
The conceptual and methodological concerns expressed in the earlier stages of the research on job involvement appear to have lessened with the more consistent use of the “psychological identification” definition and the Kanungo measure of job involvement. The profiles of the job-involved person do not reflect a significant relationship between job involvement and demographic variables but do continue to show, as Rabinowitz and Hall and Brown had indicated relationships between job involvement and personal/ individual difference variables (e.g., work ethic endorsement); situational factors (e.g., enriching job characteristics); and correlates/outcomes (e.g., satisfaction with various job components, commitment on multiple levels, turnover intentions). Most recently, Aaron Cohen spoke of the need to integrate the study of multiple commitments (e.g., job involvement, work involvement, career commitment, and organizational commitment) rather than study any one of these variables without considering the larger picture. Further avenues of potentially interesting research might lie in understanding the distinctions between high levels of job involvement and the addictive (and negative) aspects of workaholism.
- Allen, D. G. and Griffeth, R. W. 1997. A Meta-analysis of Research on Job Involvement. Paper presented at the Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Boston, MA.
- Brown, S. P. 1996. “A Meta-analysis and Review of Organizational Research on Job Involvement.” Psychological Bulletin 120:235-255.
- Cohen, A. 2003. Multiple Commitments in the Workplace: An Integrative Approach. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Kanungo, R. N. 1982. Work Alienation: An Integrative Approach. New York: Praeger.
- Lodahl, T. M. and Kejner, M. 1965. “The Definition and Measurement of Job Involvement.” Journal of Applied Psychology 49:24-33.
- Rabinowitz, S. and Hall, D.T. 1977. “Organizational Research on Job Involvement.” Psychological Bulletin 84:265-288.