Exploring the Job Demands–Resources Model of Work Engagement in Government: Bringing in a Psychological Perspective

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
AuthorPeter M. Kruyen,Christiaan J. Lako,Rick T. Borst
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2019, Vol. 39(3) 372 –397
© The Author(s) 2017
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X17729870
Exploring the Job Demands–
Resources Model of Work
Engagement in Government:
Bringing in a Psychological
Rick T. Borst1, Peter M. Kruyen1,
and Christiaan J. Lako1
Work engagement refers to an active energetic state of mind that is characterized
by vigor, dedication, and absorption. Despite practitioner’s attention for work
engagement, few public administration scholars have studied public servants’ work
engagement empirically. The goal of this study is to extend the job demands–resources
(JD-R) model of work engagement using insights from the public administration
literature. The analysis of a large-scale survey (N = 9,465) shows that (a) work and
personal resources, including public service motivation, are positively related to work
engagement; (b) red tape moderates these relationships; and (c) work engagement
mediates the relationship between JD-R and job outcomes. In conclusion, public
organizations can potentially increase work engagement and inherently employee
outcomes by increasing work-related resources (autonomy, cooperation with
colleagues) and selecting personnel with a proactive personality and high levels of
public service motivation.
work engagement, job demands–resources, positive psychology, public service
motivation, red tape
1Institute for Management Research, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Rick Borst, Department of Public Administration, Thomas van Aquinostraat 5.0.12c, P. O. Box 9108,
6500 HK Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Email: R.Borst@fm.ru.nl
729870ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X17729870Review of Public Personnel AdministrationBorst et al.
Borst et al. 373
Work engagement—defined as “[ . . . ] a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind
that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption” (Schaufeli, Salanova,
González-Romá & Bakker, 2002, p. 74)—has become a popular research topic within
the management literature (Albrecht, Bakker, Gruman, Macey, & Saks, 2015; Saks &
Gruman, 2014). Studies show that employees who experience high levels of work
engagement are physically healthier, experience more satisfaction of their psychologi-
cal needs, are more satisfied, and are more committed than employees with little work
engagement (Barret-Cheetham, Williams, & Bednall, 2016; Ryff, 1989). Vigoda-
Gadot, Eldor, and Schohat (2012) therefore argued that work engagement is an impor-
tant complement to this field of research. Despite the attention for work engagement
in public organizations across the world (e.g., Cotton, 2012; Jansen, Van den Brink, &
Kole, 2010; Kernaghan, 2011; Lavigna, 2013), there is a dearth of research examining
work engagement in the public administration literature (Kernaghan, 2011; Tummers,
Steijn, Nevicka, & Heerema, 2016; Vigoda-Gadot et al., 2012).
The work engagement concept was developed in combination with the job
demands–resources (JD-R) model (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). At the heart of this
model lies the assumption that all aspects in work environments can be categorized
into job demands and job resources that either positively or negatively affect work
engagement (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). From the main idea of the JD-R model, it
can be deduced that it is a general model developed within the realm of “positive psy-
chology” (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008).
Interestingly, studies applying the JD-R model in combination with work
engagement do not take the specific circumstances of certain occupations and con-
texts into account (Bakker, Demerouti, & Sanz-Vergel, 2014; Bickerton, Miner,
Dowson, & Griffin, 2015; Gorgievski, Moriano, & Bakker, 2014). However,
Lavigna (2013, 2015) argued, for example, that the complex bureaucratic organiza-
tional structures in public organizations, the frequent changes of political leader-
ship, and specific motivations to work as a public servant might influence work
engagement. Several public administration scholars therefore call for more thor-
ough scholarly attention to analyze the meaning and practical usage of work
engagement in the public sector context (Kernaghan, 2011; Lavigna, 2015; Perry &
Vandenabeele, 2015; Vigoda-Gadot et al., 2012). The goal of this study is to extend
the JD-R model of work engagement by introducing insights from public adminis-
tration literature. Simultaneously, by introducing work engagement in public
administration literature, we bring in a “positive psychology” perspective into pub-
lic administration (Tummers et al., 2016).
Specifically, our contribution to the JD-R model of work engagement is three-
fold. First and foremost, we extend the JD-R model by clustering job resources into
two levels—organization-related resources and work-related resources. The prem-
ise of existing studies is that the more job resources employees have, the more
engaged they will be (Saks & Gruman, 2014). Although clusters of job resources
are proposed by some scholars (Schaufeli, 2015), all resources are treated as equally

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