Deconstructing the meaning of engagement: an intersectional qualitative study

Nicole Dillard, Kobena Osam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Employee engagement has generated much interest among researchers and practitioners. Since the early 1990s, there have been hundreds of scholarly publications examining the subject. Unfortunately, even with the volume of information available, there is very limited understanding on the role that identity plays in the experience of engagement at work. If engagement research is centered on bringing and being ourselves at work, then we must not ignore the significant role that identity plays in one's development of self. Therefore, pursuing an intentional analysis of how identity (e.g., race and gender) informs engagement experiences in the workplace is necessary. Thus, this study explored how critical HRD research that centers intersectional identities could help broaden the meaning and understanding of the experience of engagement in the workplace. Using an intersectional qualitative framework and a sample of diverse public service employees, we answered the following research question: in what ways does an employee's identities inform their experience of engagement? Our research found that identity has a profound impact on the conditions of engagement and must be considered to examine the full potential across multiple contexts. Implications and suggestions to advance identity-based research and engagement theory and practice are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-532
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Resource Development International
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to acknowledge funding from the Northern Kentucky University College of Arts and Sciences Collaborative Faculty-Student Project Award. We also want to acknowledge and express our gratitude to Dennia Palmer, MPA graduate student at NKU, who provided invaluable assistance with the data collection.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • availability
  • Employee work engagement
  • identity
  • intersectionality
  • meaningfulness
  • psychological safety


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