A true issue in the social and organizational sciences is construct proliferation: when scientists believe they have identified/discovered an entirely new, un or understudied construct, when in fact, it is an old construct with a new name. It’s the “old wine in a new bottle” issue: researchers think they have something new, but really it’s something old and has been studied to death.
My I/O grad class and I read an article by Nimon et al examining the redundancy between work engagement and job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and job involvement. There is a lot of overlap between these constructs to the point that many academic researchers think work engagement is basically these other constructs called by a new name whereas practitioners consider them different and engagement as the most important. That is certainly how I have thought of them.
Nimon et al though provide some empirical analysis that while they do overlap they are distinct constructs with different outcomes and processes of interest for employees, researchers, and practitioners. They demonstrate that positive affect underlies all of these constructs and the distinct overlap between these constructs and engagement is less than 10%. Positive affect, on the other hand, explains nearly 50% of work engagement and it’s not clear how much variance it explains of these other constructs, but let’s say, it’s about the same amount.
In our discussion, we asked if we should just look at PA or the distinct constructs? Paul Spector has addressed this issue with negative affect and has concluded that we are “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” by focusing on negative affect instead of the more proximal constructs of interest in our research.
As we began to discuss the contributions of engagement to our understanding compared to commitment and satisfaction along with the concerns of construct proliferation, I had a thought. So of course I have to share it.
In linguistics and psychology of linguistics, we believe that language has an effect on our experiences and we need to “name” or label our experiences in order to better understand them. For example and as verified by my German goddaughter, Waldeinsamkeit means “the feeling one has of standing alone in the woods.” It’s a good feeling and is quite spiritual. OK. I get that but it’s not something I have ever named. And I’m not even sure she has stood alone in the woods, she certainly understood what this feeling was and it’s a commonly understood emotional experience for Germans.
Perhaps construct proliferation is an effort to more precisely label these abstract constructs that we study. Yes, some of these new constructs are redundant. But some may be attempts to more precisely define and distinguish our understanding of Waldeinsamkeit. I think we might determine that there are broadly defined emotional and individual characteristics (PA, NA, etc) that underly many of our constructs. Nonetheless, these distinct constructs still provide us with more nuanced and precise understanding of our phenomena.
It’s a thought. I want to think about it some more. What do you think?