Enhancing Employee Engagement via Leaders’ Motivational Language in times of crisis: Perspectives from the COVID-19 outbreak

Weiting Tao, Yeunjae Lee, Ruoyu Sun, Jo Yun Li, Mu He

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


By bridging theoretical perspectives from diverse disciplines including public relations, organizational communication, psychology, and management, this study advances a sequential mediation process model that links leaders’ motivational communication—specifically, direction-giving, empathetic, and meaning-making language—to employees’ organizational engagement during times of crisis. The model incorporates employees’ psychological needs satisfaction and their subsequent crisis coping strategies so as to explain the process that underlies the effects of leader communication on employee engagement. We tested the model in a unique yet underexplored crisis context: organizational crises triggered by the global pandemic of COVID-19. The results of an online survey of 490 full-time U.S. employees provide strong support to the model's predictions. Our research extends internal crisis communication scholarship in public relations by addressing what types of leader communication strategies as well as how these strategies contribute to employee engagement in a holistic fashion. It also advances theoretical development of the motivational language theory, self-determination theory, transactional model of stress and coping, and organizational engagement—the four theoretical bases of our study—in the context of organizational crises. Lastly, the study results provide timely practical insights on effective internal crisis communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102133
JournalPublic Relations Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Crisis coping
  • Leader communication
  • Motivational language
  • Organizational engagement
  • Psychological needs satisfaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Marketing


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