Is Autonomy Always Beneficial for Work Engagement? A Six-year Four-Wave Follow-Up Study

  • Piia Seppälä Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Arinatie 3, FI-00370, Helsinki, Finland https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1106-9543
  • Anne Mäkikangas Tampere University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Psychology, Kalevantie 4, FI-33014, Tampere, Finland https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0199-3609
  • Jari J. Hakanen Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Arinatie 3, FI-00370, Helsinki, Finland
  • Asko Tolvanen University of Jyväskylä, Department of Psychology, Seminaarinkatu 15, FI-40014, Jyväskylä, Finland
  • Taru Feldt University of Jyväskylä, Department of Psychology, Seminaarinkatu 15, FI-40014, Jyväskylä, Finland
Keywords: work engagement, job resources, autonomy, multilevel regression mixture modeling, longitudinal

Abstract

Work engagement is expected to result from job resources such as autonomy. However, previous results have yielded that the autonomy–work engagement relationship is not always particularly strong. Whereas previous longitudinal studies have examined this relationship as an average at a specific point in time, this study examined whether this relationship is different within individuals from one time to another over the years. Furthermore, experiences of work engagement are expected to affect how employees benefit from autonomy, but no studies have so far investigated whether the initial level of work engagement affects the autonomy–work engagement relationship. This study aimed to first identify the different kinds of longitudinal relationship patterns between autonomy and work engagement, and then to investigate whether the identified relationship patterns differ in terms of the initial mean level of work engagement. The four-wave study was conducted among Finnish managers (n = 329) over a period of six years. Multilevel regression mixture analysis identified five relationship patterns. Four of the patterns showed a positive predictive relationship between autonomy and work engagement. However, the relationship was statistically significant in only one of these patterns. Furthermore, when the initial mean level of work engagement was high, autonomy related more strongly to work engagement. However, an atypical pattern was identified that showed a negative association between autonomy and work engagement. In this pattern, the mean level of work engagement was low. Consequently, autonomy may not always enhance work engagement; sometimes this relationship may even be negative.

Published
2020-09-10
Section
Articles