Reengaging with Engagement
: A Reinterpretation of Kahn’s Theory of Personal Engagement in a Care Home Setting

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis qualitatively explored the personal experiences of being engaged for staff in a care home setting. This study addresses a gap in the engagement literature with regard to the study of non-professionals. Whilst engagement and related concepts such as burnout have been widely researched with healthcare, research has tended to focus on professional and managerial staff rather than the care staff who are the backbone of this sector (Knight et al., 2017b). It further addresses the call for research in different contexts and settings into engagement (Jenkins and Delbridge, 2013; Bailey et al., 2019; Borst et al.; 2019, 2020, Shuck et al 2021b) and in regard to HRM research more generally (Cooke, 2018; Dewettinck & Remue, 2011).
The thesis revisits Kahn's (1990) theory of personal engagement, in exploring the ‘lived’ experiences of engagement for care workers. Whilst Kahn’s work is the basis for most subsequent research, his original conceptualisation has been somewhat overlooked by the academic community (Shuck et al., 2011b; Guest, 2014; Fletcher, 2017).
The contribution of this research is that it explores the experiences of being engaged for an under researched group of workers and it distinguishes between the concept of ‘engagement’ as something that can be defined, measured and quantified, and the more nuanced, sensitive and ultimately more valuable understanding of individual experiences of ‘being engaged at work’. It adds to and extends Kahn’s original conceptualisation of his psychological preconditions for engagement, namely psychological availability, psychological safety and psychological meaningfulness, in demonstrating that relationships, feeling valued and finding work meaningful contribute to the whole personal engagement experience.
The methodological stance was a phenomenological, pragmatic, abductive approach using qualitative methods. Data were collected via observation and semi-structured interviews, in order to gain insights into the lived experiences of being engaged for care home staff. The data was analysed using Braun and Clarke's (2006) thematic framework, with reference to Kahn’s conceptualisation.

The significant findings confirm the premise that being engaged is an individual experience that is influenced by the quality of relationships with supervisors, co- workers and residents; feeling valued and appreciated for your individual contribution; and finding work meaningful and purposeful. These three themes influence all three of Kahn’s psychological preconditions so that staff are able to harness their personal resources that led to them being engaged at work.
The research makes recommendations for practitioners to aid them in facilitating engagement through taking a more individual approach to managing their staff. The contribution to existing knowledge provides opportunities for further research to investigate these research findings in other settings and to consider the relationship between well-being and being engaged.
Date of Award27 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorStephen Williams (Supervisor) & Peter Scott (Supervisor)

Cite this