The possible futures of work engagement by 2030: a mixed methods study investigating strategic leadership and work engagement in Singapore. Volumes I and II

Doctorate other than PhD

Azmy, Wade. 2021. The possible futures of work engagement by 2030: a mixed methods study investigating strategic leadership and work engagement in Singapore. Volumes I and II. Doctorate other than PhD Doctor of Professional Studies. University of Southern Queensland.

The possible futures of work engagement by 2030: a mixed methods study investigating strategic leadership and work engagement in Singapore. Volumes I and II

TypeDoctorate other than PhD
AuthorAzmy, Wade
1. FirstProf Luke van der Laan
2. SecondDr Sophia Imran
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Professional Studies
Number of Pages2
PublisherUniversity of Southern Queensland
Place of PublicationAustralia
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Background. There has been little research examining how strategic leadership impacts work engagement in relation to organisational outcomes, which are heavily influenced by the actions of the organisation’s top executives. Strategic leadership theory posits those organisational outcomes reflect the organisations’ top leaders’ characteristics and abilities. The theory suggests that these characteristics and abilities can be used as proxies to determine, to some extent, how an organisation’s outcomes will turn out in the future. Studies also suggest that work engagement is related to desired organisational outcomes, including organisational commitment, citizenship behaviour, employee well-being, profitability, and competitive advantage.

The level of work engagement is reportedly declining internationally, with significant economic losses in productivity and practical implications in the workplace. In Singapore, recent reports found 77% of employees are either not engaged or actively disengaged and directly impacting productivity. The city-state faces multiple challenges; the most pressing among them are workforce shortage, an ageing population, negative productivity growth, and low engagement indicators. For a nation prioritising economic growth into the future, these concerns regarding workforce shortages and levels of engagement need to be better understood.

In response to the engagement dilemma, this study posits leadership as a key indicator for engagement, especially as it relates to the characteristics and abilities of leaders. The study drew theoretical links between strategic leadership and engagement theory to provide a framework guiding the study’s line of inquiry, culminating in the presentation of scenarios of engagement in Singapore by 2030.

Purpose. The study aimed to investigate the relationship between the key strategic leadership capabilities of foresight and strategic thinking and work engagement as an indicator of the futures of engagement. The study sought to achieve this by a) utilising the predictive value of strategic leadership theory in the context of work engagement and b) combine these insights with futures studies methods in developing a set of scenarios for the possible futures of engagement in Singapore by 2030. The study argued the need for work engagement as an important organisational capability where strategic leaders can augment foresight and strategic thinking competence as new engagement antecedents that influence work engagement and organisational outcomes.

Design/Methodology. The study adopted a pragmatic worldview which indicates that a mixed methods research methodology is appropriate. The research design was divided into four phases. The first phase produced the theoretical framework and line of enquiry for the study. In addition to a systematic review of the extant literature covering strategic leadership, foresight, strategic thinking, and work engagement, the review sought to establish the theoretical links between leadership and engagement. In addition to identifying the gaps in the literature, the review contributed to the methodology by developing a theoretical framework underpinning the main propositions of the study. The researcher developed a theoretical framework and a conceptual framework based on the review in response to the research questions. In the second phase, the study conducted an environmental scan (PESTEEL analysis) identifying drivers of change, megatrends, and wildcards that may impact Singapore’s future work engagement (Qualitative inquiry). In the third phase, the study analysed survey results measuring strategic leaders’ foresight and strategic thinking profiles in Singapore (Quantitative inquiry). The fourth and final phase of the research conducted a Delphi study to a) consider the links between the dimensions of engagement and strategic leader capability profiles, b) validate, reject, or amend the environmental scanning results, c) validate or reject the leadership capability profiles and d) develop future engagement scenarios for Singapore in 2030. This phase applied a convergent parallel method by merging qualitative and quantitative data to validate the findings from the previous phases and triangulate the data in operationalising the theoretical constructs and developing the scenarios.

Findings. The literature review revealed gaps in the literature related to the research problem. The gaps included calls to focus on the mediators and moderators between strategic leadership and organisational outcomes. In particular, the effects of leaders’ cognitions of how they value human capital and how they influence the relationships and actions of the workforce and work engagement. In addition, the literature calls for identifying new antecedents of engagement, theoretical frameworks, and contextual insights to enrich the descriptive power and applicability of antecedents of work engagement.

Previous research indicates a degree of association between strategic leadership within the context of organisational strategy and leadership and the antecedents and outcomes of engagement. The extant literature identified empirical studies of the concepts of foresight and strategic thinking leader cognitive capabilities as distinct yet highly related constructs. However, the literature review could not identify prior studies where foresight and strategic thinking capabilities are associated with work engagement.

The study confirmed a theoretical basis for the proposition that work engagement plays a mediating role between the leader’s foresight and strategic thinking capability and organisational outcomes. The research findings found tentative evidence supporting this proposition. In addition, the study also confirmed the moderating role of the drivers of change on work engagement in Singapore by 2030. The study used validly and reliably tested instruments to measure the foresight, strategic thinking, and leadership style of leaders in Singapore in a sample (n=330) reflecting a cross-section of the strategic leadership in the city-state. The study related the different dimensions of each instrument to the dimensions and outcomes of engagement at individual and organisational levels.

The study proposes four scenarios based on the Delphi study: Smart City, Ivory Tower, Shangri La, and Smart Nation as possible futures of work engagement in Singapore by 2030.

Originality/value. The contributions of this study are considered to advance current knowledge in the field of futures studies, strategic leadership theory and engagement theory.

The principal contribution is where the findings of this study can be applied to the practice of strategy and leadership, leadership recruitment and development, and organisational engagement interventions in organisations. Furthermore, the study contributes to professional practice by developing scenarios that inform organisational practitioners and policymakers. Further, it draws theoretical links between strategic leadership and engagement theory to provide a theoretical foundation for a rigorous scenario planning process. The future scenarios proposed were subjected to a rigorous iv methodology that incorporated empirical leader profiling into the construct of strategic leadership. The study provides the strategic leadership in Singapore with a baseline leadership profile and scenarios representing alternative futures of work engagement by 2030. Finally, the study also contributes cross-cultural insights concerning both strategic leadership and work engagement.

This study integrated strategic leadership theory and work engagement theory. It is proposed that this study is the first of its kind to conceptualise and investigate the influence of strategic leadership on organisational outcomes by incorporating external environmental factors and work engagement indicators as moderating and mediating variables.

Therefore, an integration of the cognitive capabilities of foresight and strategic thinking as proxies for predicting work engagement as an indicator of future organisational outcomes into a single framework could potentially enrich the body of knowledge regarding the way these variables interact with one another. Consequently, the findings would provide fresh perspectives to researchers and practitioners.

Methodologically the study contributes to futures studies methods by including strategic leadership theory in its methodology as an input to the foresight process in developing scenarios of the future. Further, the study produced the first rigorous and mixed-method research exploring the futures of work engagement in Singapore by 2030.

Finally, the study presented a significant developmental learning opportunity for the researcher towards developing as a scholarly and holistic practitioner and individual.

Keywordsstrategic leadership, foresight, strategic thinking, decision making, work engagement, futures, Singapore
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020350799. Strategy, management and organisational behaviour not elsewhere classified
520104. Industrial and organisational psychology (incl. human factors)
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