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Alienation and its correlates: A meta-analysis

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European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36

Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect

European Management Journal

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/emj

Alienation and its correlates: A meta-analysis

Dan S. Chiaburu ⇑, Tomas Thundiyil, Jiexin Wang
Texas A&M University, Mays Business School, College Station, TX 77843-4113, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Keywords: We provide a meta-analysis of alienation, outlining the extent to which it is predicted by individual differ-
Employee alienation ences (need for achievement), role stressors (role conflict), leader dimensions (initiating structure), and
Job attitudes aspects of the work context (formalization). We also examine its relationship with outcomes such as
Job performance employee attitudes (job satisfaction), performance (task performance), withdrawal (absenteeism), and side
effects (drinking). We examined these relationships based on data from 45 primary studies and 227 statis-
tically independent relationships. Our meta-analysis provides cumulative evidence for effect sizes across
multiple settings and respondents, clarifies ambiguous aspects of the construct, and presents more infor-
mation on the extent to which alienation can be seen as the opposite of job involvement.
Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Second, researchers have long proposed that alienation is the

‘‘Alienation as we find it in modern society is almost total; it
obverse of job involvement (Argyris, 1964; Johnson, 1973; Kan-
pervades the relationship of man to his work, to the things he
ungo, 1979; Kanungo, 1982) and have focused on examining the
consumes, to the state, to his fellow man, and to himself.’’
importance of job involvement, as opposed to alienation. However,
(Fromm, 1955, p. 124)
while scholars have called into question this assumption, this
claim has not been empirically examined (Brown, 1996). We ad-
‘‘. . . there is no philosophy or ideology that does not think that
dress this issue and, for completeness, we also compare alienation
we live in alienation’’ (Ionesco, 1968, p. 158).
and job satisfaction.
Third, alienation’s nomological network is still somewhat un-
Introduction clear. We link alienation to both individual differences (e.g., achieve-
ment, work ethic) and structural predictors such as role stressors,
For over sixty years, alienation has been a topic of interest in leader dimensions (e.g., supportive leadership), job design (e.g., task
organizational sciences (e.g., Argyris, 1964; Fromm, 1955; Podsak- variety), and work context (e.g., formalization, centralization).
off, Williams, & Todor, 1986; Seeman, 1959; Shantz, Alfes, & Truss, Researchers posit that alienation results from individual character-
accepted for publication). For the most part, researchers have pro- istics such as low self-esteem (Heaven & Bester, 1986) and reduced
vided theoretical and empirical arguments for a negative relation- self-efficacy (Marshall, Michaels, and Mulki, 2007). Conversely, tra-
ship between alienation and important outcomes, including task ditional theories use structural predictors, such as role ambiguity
performance (Banai & Reisel, 2003; Chisholm & Cummings, (Michaels, Cron, Dubinsky, & Joachimsthaler, 1988) and bureaucra-
1979), citizenship behaviors (Suarez-Mendoza & Zoghbi-Manri- tization (Kohn, 1976). We examine these relationships to offer more
que-de-Lara, 2007), absenteeism (Hirschfeld, Feild, & Bedeian, precise estimates for effect sizes, and to addresses inconsistencies.
2000), and a positive relationship with health problems (Arm- While some studies theoretically support a negative relationship
strong-Stassen, 2006). Despite some of some clear-cut examples between organizational identification and alienation (Organ &
of alienation’s negative influence in organizations, several unre- Greene, 1981), in others the theorized relationship is positive (Efraty
solved remain to be addressed. First, alienation has been measured & Wolfe, 1988). Also, despite theory and data suggesting that for-
in a number of different ways. In addition to providing a review of malization increases alienation (Markowitz, 1987; Organ & Greene,
various measures used to operationalize alienation, we meta-ana- 1981), researchers also found a negative relationship (Podsakoff
lytically examine the extent to which the five dimensions proposed et al., 1986). Other inconsistencies relate to relationships between
by Seeman (1959) – meaninglessness, powerlessness, self- alienation and supportive leadership (Bacharach, Bamberger, & Son-
estrangement, social isolation, and normlessness – are correlated nenstuhl, 2002 vs. Banai & Reisel, 2003) or job codification (Allen &
with one another. Lafollette, 1977 vs. Kakabadse, 1986).
To address these issues, we develop a model to capture
⇑ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 (202) 415 0548. the nomological network around the alienation construct. The
E-mail address: dchiaburu@mays.tamu.edu (D.S. Chiaburu). predictor categories cover individual levels, including both (1)

0263-2373/$ - see front matter Ó 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36 25

the individual him or herself and (2) his or her role, and structural ness (perception that work outputs are trivial), normlessness (con-
aspects, including (3) objective work characteristics and the job it- ditions in which traditions or norms do not apply), isolation
self and (4) social work characteristics (i.e., the leader). The predic- (unsatisfied need to affiliate), and self-estrangement (unrewarding
tor and outcome categories we refer to in our meta-analysis are work conditions).
built off influential management theories and can be seen in Fig. 1. Since Seeman’s (1959) effort to provide a systematic definition,
the alienation construct has taken discipline-specific definitions
Alienation: a literature review that ‘‘have created more confusion than clarity’’ (Kanungo, 1979,
p. 119). For example, in organization studies, alienation refers to
Alienation has a long history in the academic literature. Early a perception that work is external to the individual and employees
research has focused on alienation from religious and health stand- do not internalize their work tasks (Dubin, 1956; Organ & Greene,
points. In religion, on one hand, alienation referred to an individ- 1981). In contrast, psychologists have examined alienation by
ual’s separation from worldly existence, a sign that they are focusing on its proposed obverse, job involvement, which refers
moving toward a higher state of being. On the other hand, alien- to the psychological state of identification with work (Lodahl &
ation has also been considered from the standpoint of being sepa- Kejner, 1965). From this perspective, alienation refers to a psycho-
rated from God and the faithful, which draws its links to the notion logical state of estrangement from work (Kanungo, 1979). Even
of estrangement. In a health context, the term was used to connote though an agreed-upon definition remains elusive, at a fundamen-
mental alienation (Regis, 1895). More recently, Hegel (1977) pop- tal level, alienation refers to distancing or detachment from others
ularized the concept of alienation amongst scholars, and amongst or things. For the purposes of this paper, we refer to alienation as a
his students, two camps formed. One emphasized the religious state of estrangement whereby individuals dissociate from work
roots of the term and the other focused on the material side of (Miller, 1967; Organ & Greene, 1981).
the concept. Marx, who rejected the spiritual aspects in Hegel’s We note that although Marx had developed the concept of
work, is credited for the widespread conceptualization of alien- alienation as a normative and ethically grounded instrument that
ation, particularly in social and work contexts (Marx, 1844/1961). offered a critique of society, the concept changed depending on
Following Marx, influential studies by Fromm (1955) and See- the disciplinary focus. At about the same time, Fromm (1955) fo-
man (1959) stimulated researchers to examine alienation through cused on alienation as a social phenomenon, while Seeman
different disciplinary lenses, including sociology (Blauner, 1964; (1959) examined it from a psychological standpoint. Researchers
Dean, 1961), social psychology (Maadi, Kobasa, & Hoover, 1979), can thus take at least two positions, studying alienation as a social
and organization science (Kanungo, 1979; Korman, Wittig-Berman, symptom (i.e., individuals en masse are alienated; Fromm, 1955) or
& Lang, 1981; Podsakoff et al., 1986). From a definitional stand- as a psychological syndrome (where alienation is conceptualized
point, Seeman’s work was seminal. His conceptualization of alien- as an individual psychological state; Seeman, 1959). As
ation focused on deprivation conditions such as powerlessness Geyer (1996) notes in his postmodern take on alienation, such
(lack of control over environmental circumstances), meaningless- distinctions remain present in contemporary theorizing. For exam-

Individual Role Stressors Leader Dimensions Job Design Work Context

Characteristics Role Ambiguity Supportive Leadership Task Variety Formalization
Need for Achievement Role Conflict Individual Consideration Job Feedback • Rule Observation
Locus of Control Autonomy • Job Codification
Protestant Work Ethic Bureaucratization
Task Significance
PREDICTORS Task Identity
• Hierarchy of Authority
• Decision Participation
Organizational Support


Attitudes Withdrawal Employee Performance Side Effects

Job Satisfaction Absenteeism Task Performance Drinking
Job Involvement Intent to Quit OCB
OUTCOMES Organizational Identification Antagonistic Behavior
Organizational Commitment Health-Related
Job Insecurity Burnout
Health symptoms

Fig. 1. Theoretical model.

26 D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36

Table 1
Summary of alienation scales.

Dimension Scales used to measure alienation # of Studies

Meaninglessness Mottaz (1981), Rotter (1966), Shepard (1972) 7
Powerlessness Bacharach and Lawler (1980), Dean (1961), Kohn (1976), Kakabadse (1986), Kohn and Schooler (1983), Mottaz (1981), 12
Pandey and Kingsley (2000), Pearlin & Schooler (1978), Rotter (1966), Shepard (1972), Yang, Yang, & Kawachi (2001)
Self estrangement Bacharach et al. (2002), Grandey (1999), Kohn (1976), Korman et al. (1981), Mottaz (1981), Vallas (1988), Yang et al. (2001) 10
Social isolation Connaughton and Daly (2004), Dean (1961), Golden (2008), Korman et al. (1981), Marshall (2007), Yang et al. (2001) 6
Normlessness Dean (1961), Kohn (1976), Shepard (1972) 6
Composite alienation Dean (1961), Korman et al. (1981), Lodahl and Kejner (1965), Miller (1967), Pandey and Kingsley (2000), Pearlin (1962), 16
Ray (1982), Seeman (1967)
Uni-dimensional Banai and Reisel (2007), Hirschfeld et al. (2000), Hirschfeld and Feild (2000), Howard and Cordes (2010), Lang (1985), 6
alienation Maadi et al. (1979)

Table 2
ple, in a recent review, Yuill (2011) argues that the final ‘‘coup de
Meta-analytic estimates of inter-correlations among alienation dimensions.
grâce’’ (p. 112) for alienation as a sociology-based construct came
from the assimilation of sociology of work into business schools, 1 2 3 4 5
where ‘‘attention is drawn away from critical explorations of dee- 1 Meaninglessness
per generative historical and social structures to be replaced by 2 Powerlessness .41
k 7
conservative appeals to therapeutic cures and job redesign’’ (p.
N 6900
112). Despite these distinctions and the importance of macro social 3 Self-estrangement .46 .43
conditions, the current analysis is based on alienation as a psycho- k 7 9
logical state, as operationalized in the primary studies used in our N 6900 10585
meta-analysis. 4 Social isolation – .67 .50
k 0 3 1
N 0 1204 725
Alienation: construct operationalization 5 Normlessness .16 .29 .26 .38
k 4 6 4 2
Despite having its roots in sociology, as noted above, in organi- N 5162 5983 5162 821
6 Composite alienation .47 .76 .77 .80 .35
zational research alienation has been measured primarily as a psy-
k 4 6 5 3 6
chological construct. Based on Seeman’s (1959) five dimensions of N 5162 5983 5887 1546 5983
alienation, most studies have examined individual dimensions,
with only a few studies trying to capture multiple measures of Note. Composite alienation refers to a composite measure consisting of two or more
alienation. However, little to no research has examined the extent
to which the dimensions proposed by Seeman are related. One of
our objectives is to clarify this issue.
are conceptually distinct from job involvement. For example, there
Also, as is common in immature areas of research (Greenberg,
is no reason to believe that a person cannot identify with aspects of
1993), in the earlier days of the organizational sciences, authors
their job (i.e., job involvement) when they are unfulfilled socially at
developed their own alienation measures (e.g., Dean, 1961; Pearlin,
work (i.e., isolation). Despite this and other conceptual differences,
1962; Rotter, 1966). However, with a maturing field, several mea-
no study has been able to examine the empirical difference be-
sures became more popular, and scholars began to settle in on a
tween job involvement and alienation. We aim to accomplish this
few different construct measurements (e.g., Dean, 1961; Maadi
by comparing effect sizes and confidence intervals drawn from our
et al., 1979). However, when different measures capture the same
results on alienation with Brown’s (1996) meta-analytic results on
construct, lack of convergence across findings can be attributed to
job involvement.
a number of sources, including variations in construct operational-
Similarly, it has become customary in psychology to assess
ization. To offer guidance on this issue, another objective is to
whether an attitude is in fact different than job satisfaction. How-
examine which measures were used in existing research, and
ever, given the clear conceptual distinction between alienation and
which are the most frequent. We analyze this issue later, based
job satisfaction, we expect differential relationships. For example,
on data from our primary studies.
there is no reason to believe an individual’s affective response to
their job (i.e., job satisfaction), would in fact be related to his or
Alienation and ‘‘competing constructs’’
her beliefs that standards or norms are lacking (normlessness).
Therefore, we extracted effect sizes from several meta-analyses
When a construct is introduced in psychology, it is important to
on job satisfaction and compared them to our results on alienation.
assess whether or not construct proliferation occurs (Le, Schmidt,
Performing these analyses will be important in demonstrating the
Harter, & Lauver, 2010). This is another objective of the current
utility of alienation as a distinct construct. The following sections
study, where we contrast alienation with job involvement and
provide arguments for connecting alienation with its predictors
job satisfaction. We examine the relationship between alienation
and outcomes, following the outline of the model presented in
and job involvement, because theory has suggested that they are
Fig. 1.
obverse constructs. As Kanungo (1979) notes, ‘‘in the social science
literature of the past two decades, one encounters very often the
usage of the concept alienation and its obverse, involvement. . . the Predictors of alienation
terms alienation and involvement have been used so often and in
so many contexts that they have acquired an aura of equivocal- Individual differences and alienation
ity. . . [And] indicate bipolar states of the same phenomena’’ (p.
119). As a result, much of the psychological literature shifted focus Research has identified at least three individual difference char-
from alienation to job involvement (e.g., Brown, 1996). However, acteristics that are associated with alienation, namely, need for
the claims were often unwarranted, as many facets of alienation achievement (the willingness of a person to exert effort towards
D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36 27

goal accomplishment; Barrick, Mount, & Strauss, 1993), locus of description). The existing literature presents some interesting con-
control (the extent to which individuals believe that they can influ- trasts. On one hand, formalization provides important guidance for
ence events that affect them; Rotter, 1966), and Protestant Work an employee (e.g., reducing role ambiguity; Podsakoff et al., 1986);
Ethic (a belief that work is desirable and rewarding; Furnham, on the other hand, it can serve as a coercive force limiting a work-
1990). Research has revealed a negative association between these er’s ability to exert control (Organ & Greene, 1981). As Kanungo
three antecedents and alienation (e.g., Banai, Reisel, & Probst, (1982) stated ‘‘most sociological approaches consider the presence
2004; Hirschfeld & Feild, 2000; Hirschfeld et al., 2000), and we like- of individual autonomy, control, and power over the work environ-
wise expect to confirm this negative relationship meta- ment as basic preconditions for removing the state of alienation at
analytically. work’’ (p. 30). We thus expect – because of its facets, job codifica-
tion and rule observation – formalization to be seen as coercive
Stressors and alienation (Organ & Greene, 1981) and positively associated with alienation.
Similarly, bureaucratization refers to the tendency to manage by
Role stressors – including role ambiguity and role conflict – can adding more controls and procedures (Kohn, 1971), leading us to
be positively related to alienation (Michaels et al., 1988). Role predict a negative relationship, because bureaucratization can be
ambiguity refers to the lack of clear information in regards to the seen by employees as limiting their autonomy.
expectations of a role, methods for fulfilling expectations or the Centralization refers to the process where activities (e.g., plan-
consequences of role performance; role conflict refers to the incom- ning and decision-making) become concentrated within a particu-
patibility among the role expectations (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, & lar group (Weber, 1926/1947; Weber, 1902/1948). It consists of
Snoek, 1964). Consistent with the view that the occurrence of role hierarchy of authority (power is unevenly distributed among social
stress will influence psychological distraction and discomfort, we positions) and decision participation (existence of mechanisms to
also predict that this will lead to increased alienation from work voice opinions). As authority becomes centralized, it limits the
(Michaels et al., 1988). worker to exert self-control, which increases alienation. Decision
participation provides employees an opportunity to take owner-
Leadership and alienation ship of their projects, which increases their engagement in the
organization and their task, which ultimately leads to lower
Leadership can be seen as an influence process aimed at fulfill- alienation.
ing a collective task (Adair, 1988), and current research shows that Finally, employees develop global perceptions of their work,
leaders can influence subordinate alienation (Banai & Reisel, 2003; including organizational support (the employees’ perception of the
Banai & Reisel, 2007). There have been two primary types of lead- degree to which their contribution is valued and the organization
ership examined in the alienation literature: supportive leadership committed to them; Eisenberger, Fasolo, and Davis-LaMastro,
(facilitating goal accomplishment through guiding subordinates 1990). It has been suggested that increased organizational support
toward effective actions and learning roles (Fiedler, 1996; House provides cognitive, emotional, and physical resources to an em-
& Mitchell, 1974) and individual consideration (concern and re- ployee, which would be expected to decrease alienation, leading
spect for the followers; Judge, Piccolo, & Ilies, 2004). Both promote us to expect a negative relationship.
employee participation, clarify expectations, and resolve conflicts
(Michaels et al., 1988). Because these leader behaviors can reduce
Alienation and outcomes
follower role ambiguity and provide followers with needed instru-
mental and emotional resources, they can also diminish followers’
Alienation and employee attitudes
alienation; we therefore propose a negative relationship with fol-
lower alienation.
Alienation can influence important job attitudes (Armstrong-
Stassen, 2006). Job satisfaction is based on employees’ assessment
Job design and alienation
of their job (Brief & Weiss, 2002), job involvement refers to the ex-
tent to which individuals psychologically identify with their job
Job characteristics make a workplace more or less satisfying for
(Lassk, Marshall, Cravens, & Moncrief, 2001), organizational identi-
individuals (Hackman & Oldham, 1975) and can influence alien-
fication is the degree to which an individual defines their self-con-
ation. Initial attempts to capture JCM covered task variety (range
cept by the organization, which differs from organizational
of competencies used on job), job feedback (clear and timely com-
commitment, an individual’s psychological attachment (O’Reilly
ments and reactions to work), autonomy (freedom and discretion to
and Chatman, 1986). Job insecurity signifies the extent to which
perform job), task significance (the impact work has on the com-
an individual worries about being laid off (Armstrong-Stassen,
pany and others), and task identity (extent to which employees
2006). We propose that alienated employees will experience lower
can distinguish an identifiable piece of their work). Increases in
job satisfaction, involvement, identification and commitment and
these five work aspects are posited to decrease alienation. The
higher job insecurity, because they are estranged from their jobs
rationale is that perceptions of the work environment influence
and less attached them and their organizations (Armstrong-Stas-
employee attitudes and therefore a well-designed job can influence
sen, 2004; Marshall et al., 2007).
positive psychological states (Banai & Reisel, 2007), which would –
predictably – decrease alienation (i.e., Allen & LaFollette, 1977). We
thus expect a negative relationship between the aforementioned Alienation and employee withdrawal outcomes
job characteristics and alienation.
In addition to attitudes, alienated employees may exhibit with-
Work context and alienation drawal symptoms. Absenteeism refers to a behavioral withdrawal
where employees miss work (Cummings & Manring, 1977). Since
In addition to individual factors and job characteristics, work- alienation is considered a psychological form of dissociation, we
places present structural constraints that can influence alienation propose a positive relationship with absenteeism. Similarly, a posi-
(Podsakoff et al., 1986). Formalization refers to the use of rules, pol- tive relationship is posited for intent to quit the job because alien-
icies and procedures, and consists of rule observation (supervision ated employees are less fulfilled in the human need of belonging
in conforming to rules) and job codification (specification of job and have less reason to stay (Golden, Veiga, & Dino, 2008).
28 D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36

Alienation and health-related outcomes Criteria for inclusion and exclusion

Alienation can also cause health-related problems. Burnout (a To determine which articles to include, we read the abstract and
state of mental weariness; Maslach & Jackson, 1981) and strains examined the content of each of the 1200 studies and excluded
(adverse reactions from stressors) can be exacerbated by alienation those without data or did not include data that could lead to the
because alienated employees believe they lack the resources (i.e., calculation of an effect size (correlation coefficient). Studies were
social support) at work to deal with stressors, which can lead not included only if they (a) included our construct of interests exam-
only to increased strain and burnout but also to other health symp- ined in a work context (i.e., field settings) and reported correlation
toms (i.e., headaches, pain in chest heart, nervousness; Armstrong- coefficients or information allowing its calculation. Even though a
Stassen, 2004; Bhagat, McQuaid, Lindholm, and Segovis, 1985). dimensional view of alienation (Seeman, 1959) posits five dimen-
sions (powerlessness, meaninglessness, normlessness, isolation,
and self-estrangement), some authors did not include all these
dimensions. We included studies as long as (a) the constitutive def-
Alienation and employee on-the-job performance and side effects inition provided in the theoretical part referred to alienation and
(b) the definitions of any sub-dimensions were consistent with
Lastly, when individuals become more alienated, it can affect Seeman’s conceptualization. For example, Bacharach and col-
their behaviors, including work performance (Armstrong-Stassen, leagues (2002) included autonomy, employee power and self-
2006; Erickson, 1987). Three forms of performance have drawn sig- estrangement. For the purposes of our study, self-estrangement
nificant attention: task performance, organizational citizenship and powerlessness, were included in our analysis as they are rep-
behaviors (OCBs), and counterproductive work behaviors (Berry, resented in Seeman’s conceptualization of alienation. We also in-
Carpenter, & Barratt, 2012; Campbell, 1990; Organ, 1988). Task per- cluded primary studies where alienation was measured as a
formance is based on job descriptions (Campbell, 1990), whereas global construct (Hirschfeld & Feild, 2000; Hirschfeld et al., 2000;
OCBs refer to discretionary performance not recognized by the for- Maadi et al., 1979). For studies that did not report a single effect
mal reward system but necessary for organization functioning (Or- size for alienation, we calculated an overall average. With one
gan, 1988). We propose that alienation decreases accessibility to exception (individual consideration), our effect sizes were calcu-
resources and connection to coworkers, with corresponding reduc- lated based on three or more studies. Based on these criteria, 45
tions in task performance and OCBs (Armstrong-Stassen, 2006). primary studies and 226 bivariate relationships were identified.
Counterproductive performance refers to intentional behaviors
aimed to harm the organization (Sackett, 2002); we posit that Coding procedure
alienated employees are discontent with their job and are more
likely to complain or intentionally avoid or skip work. Consistent with our theory, we classified predictors based on
Concerning side effects, theory suggests that alienated employ- five categories: individual differences, role stressors, leader dimen-
ees are more likely to experience negative effects outside of work sions, job design, and work context (see Fig. 1). Noticeably, we used
(e.g., Erickson, 1987). They may abuse alcohol to compensate for an aggregate form of formalization, based on research that has pro-
their lack of connection with the job (Erickson, 1987). We thus pre- posed job codification, rule observation, and job specificity as its
dict alienation to be a positive predictor of employee drinking. sub-dimensions (Aiken & Hage, 1966). Similarly, we considered
Although alienation has also been theoretically linked to other det- participation in decision-making and hierarchy of authority as
rimental outcomes, such as drug use (Gupta & Jenkins, 1984; Leh- sub-dimensions of centralization (Aiken & Hage, 1966). We re-
man & Simpson, 1992), there were not enough empirical studies to verse-coded decision participation as low decision participation,
include these in our meta-analysis. We also note that it is plausible to reflect the construct of centralization in the same direction as
for alienation to influence attitudes to a greater extent than perfor- (high) hierarchy of authority. Criteria were likewise classified into
mance, because the latter is constrained by a number of structural five categories: work attitudes, withdrawal, health-related, em-
contingencies. Alienation may also have a stronger relationship ployee performance, and side effects. Our coding process was rela-
with outcomes employees have control on (citizenship), than out- tively straightforward since most constructs are well established.
comes where their control is limited (e.g., task performance). Two authors independently coded all studies for the predictor
and criteria construct categories, effect sizes, estimated reliabili-
ties, and sample sizes. When comparing the coding results in an
early stage, failing to reverse the sign for one variable contributed
Methods to one discrepancy. After resolving this discrepancy, the final
agreement between coders was 100%.
Identification of studies
Meta-analytic procedures
We started by identifying studies examining alienation in the
management, social psychology, psychology, and sociology litera- We used the Hunter and Schmidt’s (2004) meta-analytic proce-
tures. We first conducted a search for relevant published and dures. For both predictors and criteria, effect sizes were corrected
unpublished studies using the PsycInfo database. We used a range for sampling and measurement error. The sample-weighted corre-
of keywords in our search, including alienation and the dimensions lation (r) and the estimate of the fully corrected population corre-
proposed by Seeman (1959) to comprise it (meaninglessness, isola- lation (q) are reported. We ensured that effect sizes were
tion, powerlessness, normlessness, estrangement). This led to the statistically independent by computing a composite correlation.
identification of more than 1200 potential studies. Second, we per- When estimated reliability was not reported, we calculated the
formed a similar search for dissertations through the ProQuest mean of reliability reported from other primary studies. Based on
database. The search generated 100 potential dissertations. Third, the standard error of corrected mean correlations, we report 95%
we searched for unpublished studies in conference proceedings confidence intervals (CI). Predicted relationships are not statisti-
and soliciting unpublished studies from scholars who have pub- cally significant when 95% CI includes zero. We also report credi-
lished in this area. Last, we manually searched through key studies bility intervals based on the standard deviation of the estimate of
for references to supplement the results of our electronic search. fully corrected mean effect size (sd q) to capture generalizability.
D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36 29

Moderator and post hoc robustness test Predictors of alienation

We further considered the moderating role of composite vs. glo- The results for the relationships between alienation and its pro-
bal measures of alienation. Specifically, we treated the measure- posed antecedents are presented in Table 3. For individual charac-
ment as ‘composite’ when there were different alienation sub- teristics, need for achievement and locus of control were
dimensions involved (e.g. meaningless, powerless, isolation, and negatively related to alienation (q = .31; k = 4; N = 575 for need
self-estrangement; see Dean 1961 scale as an example). We aggre- for achievement; q = .48; k = 4; N = 1160 for locus of control),
gated different alienation measures in one study and considered it whereas Protestant work ethic had an estimated true effect size
‘composite’ whenever there were more than one alienation mea- of almost zero (q = .01) with the 95% CI including zero, indicating
sures being used for the same sample. Conversely, ‘global’ mea- that it is not a significant predictor. Concerning stressors, role
surement indicates the cumulative scale referring to overall ambiguity was positively related to alienation (k = 11, N = 2356,
alienation without indicating specific content or sub-dimension q = .54, and 95% CI from .45 to .63) whereas role conflict has a
(e.g., Pearlin 1962). smaller estimated true effect size than role ambiguity (k = 12,
We also note that some primary studies (although not many) N = 5748, q = .28, and 95% CI = .21, .35). As to leadership predictors,
measure alienation through a proxy, using other constructs (e.g., supportive leadership and individual consideration were found to
job involvement, see Lodahl & Kejner, 1965; alienation from share a negative relationship with alienation (for supportive lead-
expressive relations, measured as satisfaction with coworkers ership, q = .44, 95% CI = .46, .27; for individual consideration,
and the supervisor; Aiken & Hage, 1966). By conducting post hoc q = .35, 95% CI = .45, .25).
robustness tests comparing studies where alienation was assessed Based on samples from at least three studies, and on more than
directly vs. through a proxy, we examined whether the relation- two thousand and six hundred respondents, job design character-
ships between alienation and its correlates are affected by its oper- istics including task variety (q = .16; k = 5; N = 3073), job feed-
ationalization. As we discuss below, results did not differ based on back (q = .32; k = 6; N = 3400), autonomy (q = .12; k = 7;
how alienation was operationalized. N = 7555), task significance (q = .18; k = 4; N = 2721), and task
identity (q = .12; k = 3; N = 2612) were negatively correlated with
alienation and their 95% CI did not include zero. The corrected
mean correlation for job feedback ( .32) was somewhat higher
than other job characteristics while task variety, autonomy, task
Measures of alienation
significance and task identity exhibited similar patterns.
At the bottom of Table 3 we report effect sizes for contextual
For comprehensiveness, in our Table 1, we summarize how
variables. Interestingly, we found that some contextual variables
researchers measured alienation in their primary studies. In addi-
were weak predictors of alienation. The true correlation estimates
tion to the Seeman dimensions of alienation and to other measures
for formalization (q = .05; k = 16; N = 4000) and bureaucratiza-
created by researchers, we included two additional dimensions.
tion (q = .07; k = 3; N = 3302) were close to zero and 95% CIs in-
The first is a composite alienation similar to the description above.
cluded zero (95% CI = .19, .10 for formalization; 95% CI = .14,
The second is unidimensional alienation, which captures several
.00 for bureaucratization), indicating that these two contextual
different aspects of Seeman’s alienation dimensions in a single
variables were not significant predictors. However, we found larger
measure (e.g., Lang, 1985). As Table 1 reveals, there is considerable
relationships between alienation and the sub-dimensions of for-
variance in how alienation is operationalized. Two observations are
malization: rule observation (q = .25; k = 7; N = 2065; 95%
notable. First, researchers do not operationalize alienation based
CI = .08, .42) and job codification (q = .17; k = 7; N = 1839; 95%
only on Seeman (1959). At times, they introduce proxy measures,
CI = .06, .28), with the confidence intervals not including zero.
which we discuss and provide sensitivity analyses for in Section 5.5
The 95% CI of centralization excluded zero (q = .27; k = 8;
below. Second, in contrast with the ‘traditional’ multidimensional
N = 2223; 95% CI = .14, .40), indicating that the relationship be-
view based on Seeman (1959), more recently – with most studies
tween centralization and alienation were significant. The sub-
published in the last decade or so – researchers have also created
dimensions of centralization, hierarchy of authority (q = .35;
(a) unidimensional and (b) work-specific measures of alienation
k = 5; N = 1451; 95% CI = .22, .47) were moderately strong and re-
(e.g., Hirschfeld et al., 2000). We return to this issue in the Discus-
verse-coded decision participation was not statistically significant
sion section, where we suggest the need to use measures that dif-
in predicting alienation (q = .21; k = 4; N = 1125; 95% CI = .03,
ferentiate dispositional (within-individual) and structural (e.g.,
.45). Organizational support negatively predicted alienation, with
work-based) sources of alienation.
q = .37 and 95% CI excluded zero (from .46 to .28).

Intercorrelations among alienation dimensions Outcomes of alienation

Meta-analytic data on intercorrelations among alienation Concerning alienation outcomes, in Table 4, meta-analytic re-
dimensions are provided in Table 2. Because Seeman (1959) pro- sults show that alienation has the strongest association with orga-
posed that alienation can be thought of consisting of five dimen- nizational commitment (q = .46; k = 22; N = 5109; 95% CI = .61,
sions, we sought to empirically establish their intercorrelations. .31), intention to quit (q = .45; k = 4, N = 1064; 95% CI = .22, .67),
As visible in Table 2, some intercorrelations are high (i.e., power- and burnout (q = .48; k = 4; N = 904; 95% CI = .34, .63). For employ-
lessness and social isolation; r = .67) and others are low, and almost ee performance, alienation was a strong predictor of OCB
independent of one another (i.e., normlessness and meaningless- (q = .50; k = 3; N = 297; 95% CI = .60, .40) and antagonistic
ness; r = .16). We speculate that high correlations may point to- behavior (q = .50; k = 3; N = 752; 95% CI = .44, .56). The effect size
ward alienation dimensions seen as more central to the construct for task performance was smaller in magnitude, with q = .13;
(Geyer, 1996). Provisionally, when remaining within the dimen- k = 9; N = 1624; 95% CI = .22, .04. All three effect sizes were in
sional view proposed by Seeman, based on the current meta-ana- the expected direction.
lytic matrix, self-estrangement, powerlessness, and social Modest corrected mean correlations exist between alienation
isolation may capture alienation to a greater extent than meaning- and job satisfaction (q = .25; k = 18; N = 4429; 95% CI = .41,
lessness and normlessness. .10), job involvement (q = .25; k = 13; N = 2409; 95% CI = .50,
30 D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36

Table 3
Meta-analysis results for the relationships between antecedents and alienation.

Variables k N r sdr q sdq CILL CIUL CVLL CVUL

Individual characteristics
Need for achievement 4 575 .23 .04 .31 .12 .40 .23 .36 .27
Protestant work ethic 4 760 .02 .26 .01 .28 .27 .25 .34 .32
Locus of control 4 1160 .38 .19 .48 .21 .68 .28 .73 .23
Role stressors
Role ambiguity 11 2356 .42 .14 .54 .16 .45 .63 .35 .72
Role conflict 12 5748 .22 .12 .28 .13 .21 .35 .12 .44
Leader dimensions
Supportive leadership 6 1613 .37 .10 .44 .09 .46 .27 .52 .35
Individual consideration 2 678 .30 .05 .35 .08 .45 .25 .42 .28
Job design
Task variety 5 3073 .12 .12 .16 .13 .27 .05 .32 .01
Job feedback 6 3400 .26 .05 .32 .07 .37 .27 .39 .26
Autonomy 7 7555 .10 .11 .12 .12 .21 .04 .26 .02
Task significance 4 2721 .13 .04 .18 .06 .23 .13 .23 .14
Task identity 3 2612 .09 .09 .12 .11 .24 .01 .24 .01
Work context
Formalization 16 4000 .03 .28 .05 .30 .19 .10 .41 .32
Rule observation 7 2065 .20 .23 .25 .24 .08 .42 .04 .54
Job codification 7 1839 .14 .14 .17 .16 .06 .28 .01 .34
Centralization 8 2223 .22 .17 .27 .19 .14 .40 .03 .50
High hierarchy of authority 5 1451 .29 .13 .35 .15 .22 .47 .18 .52
Low decision participation 4 1125 .18 .21 .21 .25 .03 .45 .09 .51
Bureaucratization 3 3302 .05 .05 .07 .07 .14 .00 .14 .00
Organizational support 3 523 .32 .04 .37 .09 .46 .28 .42 .32

Note. k = number of effect sizes; N = number of employees; r = the mean, sample-weighted correlation, q = the estimate of the fully corrected population correlation; sdq is the
standard deviation of the estimate of the fully corrected population correlation; CI is the 95% confidence interval around the mean sample-weighted correlation (CILL and
CIUL = the lower and upper bounds, respectively); CV is the 80% credibility interval around the corrected mean population correlation (CVLL and CVUL = the lower and upper
bounds, respectively); sdr is the sample-size-weighted observed standard deviation of correlations.

Table 4
Meta-analysis results for the relationships between alienation and consequences.

Variables k N r sdr q sdq CILL CIUL CVLL CVUL

Job satisfaction 18 4429 .20 .33 .25 .34 .41 .10 .68 .18
Job involvement 13 2409 .17 .38 .25 .40 .50 .04 .74 .24
Organization identification 3 681 .17 .25 .19 .27 .49 .10 .52 .13
Organizational commitment 22 5109 .38 .28 .46 .35 .61 .31 .90 .02
Job insecurity 5 710 .24 .00 .31 .06 .24 .38 .31 .31
Intent to quit 4 1064 .37 .22 .45 .23 .22 .67 .16 .73
Absenteeism 4 905 .06 .20 .08 .22 .13 .28 .17 .33
Health related
Health symptoms 4 1020 .39 .14 .48 .15 .33 .62 .30 .65
Burnout 4 904 .40 .14 .48 .15 .34 .63 .30 .66
Strains 9 2540 .27 .25 .37 .26 .20 .53 .05 .68
Employee performance
Task performance 9 1624 .10 .10 .13 .12 .22 .04 .29 .03
OCB 3 297 .40 .00 .50 .06 .60 .40 .50 .50
Antagonistic behavior 3 752 .39 .00 .50 .00 .44 .56 .50 .50
Side effects
Drinking 11 18337 .07 .03 .10 .05 .07 .12 .05 .14

Note. k = number of effect sizes; N = number of employees; r = the mean, sample-weighted correlation, q = the estimate of the fully corrected population correlation; sdq is the
standard deviation of the estimate of the fully corrected population correlation; CI is the 95% confidence interval around the mean sample-weighted correlation (CILL and
CIUL = the lower and upper bounds, respectively); CV is the 80% credibility interval around the corrected mean population correlation (CVLL and CVUL = the lower and upper
bounds, respectively); sdr is the sample-size-weighted observed standard deviation of correlations.

.04), and strains (q = .37; k = 9; N = 2540; 95% CI = .20, .53). Alien- N = 905, 95% CI = .13, .28), indicating that alienation does not pre-
ation was positively related to employee drinking but shows a dict organization identification and absenteeism.
small effect size (q = .10; k = 11; N = 18,337; 95% CI = .07, .12); Although we did not suggest a priori relationships between
the relationship is stronger for health symptoms (q = .48; k = 4; alienation and demographic information, we report these relation-
N = 1020; 95% CI = .33, .62). Both organization identification and ships for completeness. Age was negatively associated with alien-
absenteeism have smaller corrected mean correlations and 95% ation with the fully corrected effect size quite small (q = .07;
CIs, including zero (for organization identification, q = .19, k = 3, k = 14; N = 8,757; 95% CI = .13, .02). We could not find any evi-
N = 681, 95% CI = .49, .10; for absenteeism, q = . 08, k = 4, dence regarding the existence of relationships between alienation
D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36 31

and gender, tenure, and education: effect sizes were small (i.e., N = 2409). To further examine their predictive validity we used
q = .06 for education) and all confidence intervals included zero. information from both our meta-analytic database and Brown
(1996), who reports effect sizes for job involvement correlates.
Robustness test for proxy measures Specifically, we extracted effect sizes directly from the Brown
(1996) meta-analysis and calculated the 95% confidence intervals
A post hoc robustness test was conducted to examine whether by adding and subtracting the multiple of 1.96 and the standard er-
our results were affected by alienation when it was measured ror to get the upper and lower confidence intervals respectively.
through a proxy. After thoroughly checking the scales being used We then compared the absolute values of effect sizes and confi-
in primary studies, we identified a fairly a small number of studies dence intervals across common correlates (e.g., alienation – role
using proxy measures. Studies using a proxy measure of alienation conflict vs. job involvement – role conflict) to establish whether
were uncovered for the following variables: job involvement, job differential relationships exist.
satisfaction, intent to quit, and task performance. We report the re- For individual predictors, the effect sizes for the relationship be-
sults as follows: the 95% CIs for alienation – job involvement link- tween Protestant work ethic and alienation (q = .01) and job
age changed from .50, .04 (q = .25) to .33, .16 (q = .08), involvement (q = .45) were dissimilar; however, the confidence
when Armstrong-Stassen (2006) was removed. The impact of the intervals only slightly overlapped (95% CI = .20, .69 for job involve-
study was large, possibly due to the use of Lodahl and Kejner ment; 95% CI = .27, .25 for alienation). For locus of control, both con-
(1965) scale of job involvement as a proxy of alienation. Removal structs had negative effect sizes but the one for alienation (q = .48)
of one study had less impact on job satisfaction, where the effect is less than half the effect size of job involvement (q = .18) and the
size was: q = .25; k = 18; N = 4429; 95% CI = .41, .10 for the full confidence intervals minimally overlap (95% CI = .08, .28 for job
sample vs. q = .24; k = 17; N = 4261; 95% CI = .41, .08 for the involvement; 95% CI = .68, .28 for alienation).
sample excluding Mulford, Waldner-haugrud, and Gajbhiye For role stresses, we found role ambiguity and role conflict to be
(1993), who used the Aiken and Haige (1966) scale (measuring negatively related to job involvement but positively related to
job satisfaction as a proxy of alienation). Negligible differences alienation (q = .16 vs. q = .54 for role ambiguity; q = .17 vs.
were also found for intent to quit, for which the effect size was: q = .28 for role conflict). However, the confidence intervals did
q = .45; k = 4, N = 1064; 95% CI = .22, .67 for the full sample vs. not overlap for role ambiguity (95% CI = .10, .22 for job involve-
q = .50; k = 3, N = 896; 95% CI = .25, .42 for the sample excluding ment; 95% CI = 0.45, .63 for alienation), suggesting a differential
Mulford et al., 1993, which used job satisfaction as a proxy. There relationship. For job characteristics, the effect sizes for job involve-
were almost no differences for task performance, where the effect ment were nearly twice as large as they were for alienation across
size was: q = .13; k = 9; N = 1624; 95% CI = .22, .04 for the full autonomy (q = .23 vs. q = .12), task significance (q = .34 vs.
sample vs. q = .12; k = 8; N = 1,516; 95% CI = .23, .02 for the q = .18), task identity (q = .21 vs. q = .12) but not for job feed-
sample excluding the Mulford et al. (1993) study, which relied back, where they were almost identical in magnitude (q = .28 vs.
on the Aiken and Hage (1966) proxy measure of alienation. We q = . 32). Yet for all the relationships, confidence intervals over-
note that when removing studies that used a proxy, the results lapped (95% CI = .12, .33 vs. 95% CI = .21, .04 for autonomy;
were essentially identical except job involvement. Because this 95% CI = .10, .57 vs. 95% CI = .23, .13 for task significance; 95%
practice was used infrequently, it is not a major concern for inter- CI = .10, .32 vs. 95% CI = .24, .10 for task identity; 95% CI = .13,
preting our results. .43 vs. 95% CI = .37, .27 for feedback), suggesting no difference
on how alienation and job involvement related to their correlates.
Composite vs. global measures of alienation Concerning outcomes, while Brown (1996) reported job
involvement to be positively related to job satisfaction (q = .53;
We further examined the moderating role of composite vs. glo- 95% CI = .30, .77) and organizational commitment (q = .49; 95%
bal measures of alienation for the relationships between alienation CI = .37, .60), our results show that alienation was negatively re-
and job satisfaction and organizational commitment. The reason lated to both outcomes (q = .25, 95% CI = .41, .10 for satisfac-
for considering these two criteria was that both of them have com- tion; q = .46, 95% CI = .61, .31 for commitment). A moderator
paratively larger ks (17 and 22, respectively, after excluding stud- analysis for organizational commitment (composite measure vs.
ies using proxies to measure alienation). Our results indicate that global measure) showed that organizational commitment mea-
the negative relationship between job satisfaction and alienation sured by global scores was positively correlated to alienation while
was stronger when alienation measured with a composite measured by composite scores is much less so (q = .59 and 95%
(q = .15) compared with a global measure (q = .48), although
such differences were not significant, with 95% CIs overlaps Table 5
( .38–.08 for the composite measure and .63 to .34 for the glo- Comparision of 95% confidence intervals between alienation and job involvement.

bal measure). A similar pattern was found for organizational com- Alienation Job involvement
mitment (q = .15 for the composite measure and q = .52 for the Predictors Protestant work ethic .27, .25 .20, .69
global measure) and the difference due to the measurement was Locus of control .68, .28 .08, .28
marginally significant (95% CI from .73 to .31 for the global Role ambiguity .45, .63 .10, .22
measure; 95% CI from .33 to .02 for the composite measure). Ta- Role conflict .21, .35 .10, .23
Individual consideration .46, .27 .09, .45
ken together, our results suggest that different measures may af-
Job feedback .37, .27 .13, .43
fect the relationship between alienation and its correlates, yet Autonomy .21, .04 .12, .33
the extent of the effect would depend on the linkage between Task significance .23, .13 .10, .57
alienation and the correlate being examined. Task identity .24, .01 .10, .32
Outcomes Job satisfaction .41, .10 .30, .77
Organizational commitment .61, .31 .37, .60
Comparing alienation and job involvement Intent to quit .22, .67 .18, .44
Absenteeism .13, .28 .07, .20
Another objective was to compare alienation and job involve-
Note. For job involvement, we extracted effect sizes directly from the Brown (1996)
ment. The results for this analysis can be found in Table 5. Based meta-analysis and calculated the 95% confidence intervals by adding and sub-
on information from our meta-analytic database, we found the tracting the multiple of 1.96 and the standard error to get the upper and lower
two constructs were negatively correlated (q = .25, k = 13, confidence intervals, respectively.
32 D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36

CI = .69, .48 for global measures vs. q = .04 and 95% CI = .18, establish a connection with alienation. More organization-related
.11 for composite measure). Furthermore, job involvement was constructs were however available, allowing us to examine and
negatively correlated with intent to turnover (q = .31) and absen- compare their importance. As Prasad and Prasad (1993) noted,
teeism (q = .14), whereas alienation is positively related to these after 30 years of empirical work, researchers are still ‘‘unable to de-
outcomes (q = .45 for turnover intention; q = .08 for absenteeism). scribe the organizational conditions that create alienation’’ (p.
Although, the confidence intervals overlapped for absenteeism 172). Our results provide some clarification. According to our find-
(95% CI = .20, .07 for job involvement; 95% CI = .13, .28 for ings, some contextual factors play a significant role in explaining
alienation), the relationship was not significant for alienation and alienation, with largest effect sizes for supportive leadership
weakly negative for job involvement. Although there was a non- ( .44), and organizational support ( .37). Although not necessarily
significant relationship between job involvement and strains a contextual factor, but perhaps a consequence of organizational
(q = .01), there was a moderate–strong relationship between alien- practices (House & Rizzo, 1972), role ambiguity presented a size-
ation and strains (q = .37), where the confidence intervals do not able effect size as well (.54).
overlap (95% CI = .00, .01 for job involvement; 95% CI = .20, .53 Smaller effect sizes were obtained for job characteristics (lower
for alienation). than .20), except for job feedback ( .32), which was almost twice
as large. The difference in magnitude between the respective alien-
Comparing alienation and job satisfaction ation correlations with job characteristics and supportive context
(from the organization or the leader) may indicate that job charac-
Although alienation has been theoretically linked to job involve- teristics (e.g., autonomy) are less important for alienation than so-
ment, it has become customary to also assess the difference between cially-based indicators and conveyed aspects, such as support.
any attitude and job satisfaction to understand its empirical differ- These results are consistent with the job characteristics meta-anal-
ence. Based on a comparison of effect sizes from our meta-analysis ysis of Humphrey, Nahrgang, & Morgeson, 2007. Further, the larger
and previously published meta-analyses on job satisfaction, we note effect size for job feedback is consistent with this idea, given that
that there was a considerable difference between the two. For exam- feedback has a more social component than other job characteris-
ple, alienation was only moderately related to identification tics. All this evidence seems to point toward a view of alienation as
(r = .19) and job involvement whereas job satisfaction shared a socially constructed.
strong relationship to both (identification) = .54; job involvement
(r = .53). Similarly, alienation shared a strong relationship with locus Formalization and bureaucratization: remaining paradoxes
of control (r = .48), role ambiguity (r = .54), burnout (r = .48), orga-
nizational commitment (r = .46), OCBs (r = .50), antagonistic Contrary to our expectations, relationships between formaliza-
behavior (r = .50), whereas job satisfaction shared a moderate rela- tion, bureaucratization and alienation were weak and non-signifi-
tionship with each respectively (r = .22; .30; .31; .30; .28; .37). cant when seen from the level of the broad constructs representing
Overall, alienation could be easily differentiated from job satisfaction. them. For example, formalization was weakly negatively associ-
Probably the biggest contrast in relationships was between many job ated with alienation ( .05) yet its more specific aspects (Hage &
characteristics predictors that relate modestly to alienation (task Aiken, 1967) of rule observation and job codification were positive
variety: r = .16; autonomy: r = .12; task significance: r = .18; predictors. We offer several explanations for this result, and for
task identity: r = .12), whereas job satisfaction shared stronger rela- somewhat similar patterns obtained for bureaucratization. First,
tionship to each (task variety: r = .46; autonomy: r = .48; task signif- formalization can be both an asset and a liability. As an asset, for-
icance: r = .41; task identity: r = .31). Given that alienation and job malization can consist of job descriptions, standards of perfor-
satisfaction related only moderately, we suggest that alienation mance, procedures, and audits (House & Rizzo, 1972). As a
could easily be differentiated from other job attitudes. liability, it could mean excessive monitoring of employees and
intruding upon them (Aiken & Hage, 1966). Thus, a separation of
the positive and the negative may capture how formalization, sim-
Discussion ilar to bureaucratization, serves in both enabling and coercive
capacities (Adler & Borys, 1996).
Despite its presence in research a generation ago, alienation has Second, it is possible for the extent to which jobs are objectively
all but disappeared from empirical investigations, with only a characterized by high rule observation and codification (high
handful of recent studies (e.g., Costas & Fleming, 2009; Shantz, bureaucratization) to be less important for alienation than the ex-
Alfes, & Truss, accepted for publication). Even though our search tent to which they are regarded as such. If the bars of the ‘‘iron cage’’
uncovered more than 1200 alienation articles, less than 200 were are more of a construction than an objective reality, future research
empirical studies. While there is scholarly interest at the theoreti- can assess with more precision variations in such perceptions. A
cal level (Prasad & Prasad, 1993; Seeman, 1959), empirical research similar logic can be applied to bureaucratization (Adler & Borys,
lags behind. To (a) compare how alienation and job involvement 1996). It is also possible, as noted by an anonymous reviewer, for
(Kanungo, 1979) relate to their correlates, (b) establish effect sizes such relationships (e.g., between formalization and alienation) to
across studies, (c) clarify mixed findings, and (d) to identify future evolve in time. If organizations rely to a lesser extent on bureau-
empirical research, we conducted a meta-analysis. As our findings cratic systems than in the past, encountering them in a particular
reveal, alienation is predicted by both individual (e.g., need for organization can be seen by employees as idiosyncratic, counter-
achievement) and contextual (e.g., leader behaviors) factors, and normative, and unproductive, and contribute to their alienation.
has a sizeable relationship with a number of work outcomes, And alienation in itself can also be subject to change from decade
including employees’ attitudes and work effectiveness dimensions. to decade, with employees displaying higher levels of alienation
We discuss specific results and theoretical implications. and careerism (Chiaburu, Diaz, & De Vos, 2013) in work contexts
where job security and psychological contract breaches increase.
Individual and contextual predictors of alienation
Alienation as predictor of attitudes
Only three individual differences – need for achievement
( .48), locus of control ( .31), and Protestant work ethic ( .01) Prior research has connected alienation with disengagement
– were included in a sufficient number of studies to allow us to (i.e., Argyris, 1964; Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli,
D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36 33

2001; Hirschfeld, 2002; Levinson, 1976) and often forms of em- Recommendations for practitioners
ployee frustration with their career success (Lang, 1985). As pre-
dicted, alienation was found to negatively predict job In the light of our results, there are several recommendations
satisfaction, job involvement and organizational identification, for practitioners. The strength of individual difference predictors
organizational commitment, and positively predict job insecurity. (i.e., need for achievement and locus of control) suggests that com-
Interestingly, the magnitude of the relationship between alienation panies can minimize alienation through selection. We nevertheless
and both organizational commitment and intent to quit was higher recognize that such a view based on within-person predictors of
than for the rest of the relationships. This could be due to alienated alienation is limited. Ideally, based on our results, alienation is bet-
employees’ low level of shared beliefs with one’s organization ter addressed through structural interventions (e.g., leader actions,
(Meyer & Allen, 1991), in contrast with job satisfaction, which de- job design, support from the organization). Concretely, providing
pends to a lesser extent on values and beliefs. Further, as our mod- job feedback to employees decreases alienation to a greater extent
erator analyses revealed, when alienation was measured with a than other job design modifications (e.g., increasing task signifi-
global (vs. composite) measure, the relationship with commitment cance). Alienation can also be decreased by proper leadership (sup-
was stronger, pointing toward the need to explore the role of alien- portive leaders, individual consideration), and by support from the
ation measurement in future studies. organization. From a broader standpoint, our findings converge to-
ward a view suggesting that interpersonal and social exchanges
Alienation and work performance with the employees or, simplifying, supportive attention directed
toward them, may decrease their alienation. At the same time,
While alienation had only a modest negative relationship with our results reveal that more impersonal forms of intervening on
task performance ( .14), it displayed a much larger effect size the job or work context to decrease alienation are less influential
for citizenship behaviors ( .50). Provided that citizenship behav- (e.g., increasing task significance) or could even increase it (e.g.,
iors are discretionary to a greater extent than task performance higher centralization).
is, alienated employees may refrain from decreasing their perfor- From another direction, a simplistic standpoint may be that be-
mance, on which they are monitored, while diminishing their citi- cause alienation does not have a large negative impact on employ-
zenship, an extra-role behavior. In terms of job performance, given ees’ task performance ( .13), it is not consequential, and
that most studies relied on self-reported data to report task perfor- interventions to decrease it are wasteful. Yet, alienation needs to
mance, the effect size could be an overestimation of the actual re- be addressed because of its negative influence on work attitudes.
sult. However, the strong relationship with OCBs suggests that Effect sizes are particularly high, and its serious deleterious conse-
minimizing alienation will be important in creating a work atmo- quences can be notable for citizenship ( .50) and antagonistic
sphere that is conducive to the success of others. It is also consis- behaviors (.50). While alienated employees may still adequately
tent with the idea that, if they have reasons to do so, employees perform their tasks, they will be less likely to help their colleagues
will refrain to a greater extent from behaviors they have control and the organization, and may even sabotage them. Our meta-
on. Given the relationship between citizenship and organizational analysis thus can help practitioners understand why decreasing
performance (Podsakoff, Whiting, Podsakoff, & Blume 2009), alien- alienation is necessary.
ation can be damaging. The effect size for counterproductive work
behaviors was equally large (.50). Limitations

Is alienation the reverse of job involvement? Similar to other meta-analyses, this study has some limitations.
First, although we attempted to examine moderators and process
Since Argyris (1964) and Kanungo’s (1979) seminal works sug- models, our attempts fell short, as there are an insufficient number
gesting that alienation and job involvement were obverse con- of primary studies to draw on. Second, some of the results are
structs, the literature on job involvement has grown at a much based on only several studies (e.g., for organizational identifica-
faster pace than the alienation literature. However, even as recent tion; k = 3) and should be interpreted with caution. Such absence
as Brown’s (1996) meta-analysis on job involvement, scholars have of studies can guide future research to further consolidate relation-
not provided clear evidence necessary to tease apart the two con- ships examined only sporadically. Third, due to the nature of cor-
structs. Based on the primary studies used in this meta-analysis, relational analysis and the lack of longitudinal or quasi-
we uncovered that alienation and job involvement are negatively experimental designs, we cannot assess cause and effect. It could
correlated ( .25, across 13 studies and 2409 respondents). Consid- be worthwhile, for example, to consider whether alienation leads
ering that the terms are used interchangeably in the academic lit- to increased role ambiguity or the opposite is the case. Despite
erature (e.g., Argyris, 1964; Brown, 1996; Kanungo, 1979), we these limitations, this meta-analysis has several strengths. We
would have expected a stronger correlation. This was not the case. reintroduced the importance of alienation in organization studies,
Neither had we uncovered strong evidence for either construct dis- providing a more stable empirical base for relationships that have
tinctiveness or for construct overlap – based on meta-analytic rela- been theorized but were missing corresponding evidence. We pro-
tionships with common correlates of both alienation and job vide aggregated effect sizes for relationships where prior research
involvement. For most constructs, alienation and job involvement has yielded inconsistent findings. For example, for bureaucratic
could not be distinguished, which is consistent with prior con- settings, Kohn reported an effect size of .06 on the basis of the
struct overlap expectations (Argyris, 1964; Brown, 1996; Kanungo, aggregated scores of four alienation dimensions, while Ahmadi,
1979; Levinson, 1976). Yet, on the side of distinctiveness, job Speedling, and Kuhn-Weissman (1987) reported an effect size of
involvement and alienation were differentially correlated with lo- .19. We also provide empirical data allowing researchers to deter-
cus of control, role ambiguity, strains, and absenteeism. Overall, mine the extent to which alienation and job involvement represent
additional research is necessary to examine the similarity between two opposite sides of the same construct.
alienation and job involvement. From the 9 studies in our database
where both alienation and involvement were examined, factor Future research
analytic evidence was provided in only one study. In primary stud-
ies, researchers need to include both alienation and job involve- In this study we focused primarily on the antecedents and con-
ment and examine construct validity issues. sequences of alienation. However, given the limited number of pri-
34 D.S. Chiaburu et al. / European Management Journal 32 (2014) 24–36

mary studies, we were unable to parse out the different sub- connection with constructs where the empirical base is broader
dimensions of alienation. Because scholars have proposed both such as job involvement.
general/unidimensional (Hirschfeld et al., 2000) and specific/mul-
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