Is too much work engagement detrimental? Linear or curvilinear effects on mental health and job performance

Akihito Shimazu, Wilmar B. Schaufeli, Kazumi Kubota, Kazuhiro Watanabe, Norito Kawakami

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Most studies report a positive relationship of work engagement with health and job performance, but, occasionally, a “dark side of engagement” has also been uncovered. The current study examined two hypotheses: whether work engagement has (1) a U-shaped curvilinear relation with psychological distress and (2) an inverted U-shaped curvilinear relation with job performance (i.e., in-role performance and creative behavior). A two-wave longitudinal Internet survey with a time lag of seven months was conducted among 1,967 Japanese employees. To test our hypotheses, we used a two-wave panel design and examined the lagged and concurrent relations between work engagement and both outcomes. The results confirmed that work engagement had a curvilinear relation with psychological distress concurrently; a favorable effect was found initially, but this disappeared at intermediate levels of work engagement, and, at higher levels, an adverse effect became prominent. In addition, work engagement had a curvilinear relation with in-role performance both concurrently and longitudinally; the higher the levels of work engagement, the stronger the favorable effects on in-role performance. However, contrary to our expectations, work engagement had a linear relation with psychological distress longitudinally and with creative behavior both concurrently and longitudinally. Hence, our results suggest that work engagement plays a different role in health enhancement compared to performance enhancement. Leveling-off and adverse effects of high work engagement were observed for psychological distress in the short and not in a long run. In contrast, no leveling-off effect of high work engagement was observed for job performance. Thus, except for the short-term effect on psychological distress, no dark side of work engagement was observed for psychological distress and job performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0208684
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Dec
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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