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Open Access Open Badges Review

Why Japanese workers show low work engagement: An item response theory analysis of the Utrecht Work Engagement scale

Akihito Shimazu1*, Wilmar B Schaufeli2, Daisuke Miyanaka3 and Noboru Iwata4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Mental Health, The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan

2 Department of Social and Organizational Psychology, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

3 Rating and Investment Information, Inc., Tokyo, Japan

4 Department of Clinical Psychology, Hiroshima International University Graduate School of Integrated Human Sciences Studies, Higashi-Hiroshima, Japan

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BioPsychoSocial Medicine 2010, 4:17  doi:10.1186/1751-0759-4-17

Published: 5 November 2010


With the globalization of occupational health psychology, more and more researchers are interested in applying employee well-being like work engagement (i.e., a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption) to diverse populations. Accurate measurement contributes to our further understanding and to the generalizability of the concept of work engagement across different cultures. The present study investigated the measurement accuracy of the Japanese and the original Dutch versions of the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (9-item version, UWES-9) and the comparability of this scale between both countries. Item Response Theory (IRT) was applied to the data from Japan (N = 2,339) and the Netherlands (N = 13,406). Reliability of the scale was evaluated at various levels of the latent trait (i.e., work engagement) based the test information function (TIF) and the standard error of measurement (SEM). The Japanese version had difficulty in differentiating respondents with extremely low work engagement, whereas the original Dutch version had difficulty in differentiating respondents with high work engagement. The measurement accuracy of both versions was not similar. Suppression of positive affect among Japanese people and self-enhancement (the general sensitivity to positive self-relevant information) among Dutch people may have caused decreased measurement accuracy. Hence, we should be cautious when interpreting low engagement scores among Japanese as well as high engagement scores among western employees.