Mind the context gap: a critical review of engagement within the public sector and an agenda for future research

Luke Fletcher*, Catherine Bailey, Kerstin Alfes, Adrian Madden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this review paper, we critically examine the evidence base relating to engagement within the public sector given a wide range of public services have faced acute human resource challenges over recent years. Our review of 188 empirical studies reveals that much of the evidence focuses attention on individual and job level factors, such that specific public sector contextual contingencies have rarely been considered. Through identifying significant ‘context gaps’, we present a future research agenda addressing the following key areas: i) clarifying the relationship between engagement and public service motivation, ii) further contextualizing general engagement models, iii) exploring cultural, socio-political, and institutional factors in more depth, iv) encouraging a more critical perspective on engagement, v) understanding the variation in the experience of engagement across different public services/delivery models, and vi) connecting more strongly with practical concerns and initiatives within public organizations. In presenting this agenda, we highlight how engagement and HRM scholars can more strongly embed their research within a sectoral context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-46
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
Issue number1
Early online date15 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is partially based on independent research funded by the National Institute for Health Research (Health Services and Delivery Research, 12/5004/01). We also acknowledge the help of the Institute of Employment Studies and Jasvinder Gill who assisted in the data sifting and extraction phases.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • contextualization
  • employee engagement
  • public services
  • research agenda
  • systematic review
  • work engagement

Cite this