Exploring the Relationships among Internal Branding, Work Engagement, and Turnover Intention in Public Sports Organizations after the Pandemic

Exploring the Relationships among Internal Branding, Work Engagement, and Turnover Intention in Public Sports Organizations after the Pandemic

1. Introduction

Recently, organizations emphasize not only focusing on customer-oriented external branding, but also internal branding (IB) that seeks to effectively communicate their strategic visions, values, culture and identity to internal employees. Basically, IB strengthens the motivation and sense of belonging of employees, ultimately helping the organization’s growth [1,2]. In particular, IB is essential for service-based companies or organizations that place more importance on the favorable attitudes and behaviors of internal employees [3]. Given the recent importance of administrative services in the public sector [4], the need for effective IB is also emphasized in public sports organizations (PSOs).
In the 2020s, the role and status of Korean PSOs are growing socially due to the enactment of the Framework Act on sports, the Sports Club Act, and the legalization of local sports associations. In addition, the capacity and expertise of PSOs are required as the public’s interest in human rights in sports increases, along with participation in Sport for All [5,6]. In this context, IB should be considered important for employees who must convey the values and visions pursued by each PSO to the people at the closest point through administrative services. However, Korean organizations in the public sector traditionally tend to have a value-oriented hierarchical culture and vertical collectivism [7,8,9]. The nature of PSOs is not much different from that of public organizations [10]. It might not be easy to expect bottom-up communication based on the active participation of employees in this organizational culture [11]. Therefore, the establishment of an organizational management culture (OMC) and the activation of internal communication (IC) are considered important factors for effective job performance and the organizational productivity of employees in these organizations [12,13].
In fact, such IB activities can result in employees’ dedication and commitment to the organization, which is related to the work engagement of employees [2,14]. Work engagement (WE) refers to the continuous experience in which employees do their best in their jobs with a positive mindset [15]. Due to the recent experience of a new working environment following the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are paying much more attention to creating an internal environment where individuals can work hard on their WE [16]. A high level of WE enhances the quality of work for employees, and helps them feel a sense of pride for their jobs [17,18,19]. In other words, it might be important for PSOs to increase the work productivity of their employees through IB so that they can improve their organizational performance.
Meanwhile, WE can affect an employee’s intention to turnover [20]. Turnover intention (TI) indicates a voluntary intention to give up being an employee of the organization and leave one’s current job [21]. TI does not immediately lead to a certain action, but job negligence, absenteeism, and reduced morale of employees may appear over a long time [22]. TI is directly related to the organization’s human resource management, which can determine organizational effectiveness [23]. As such, a strategic approach at the organizational level, such as IB, is needed to lower the TI of employees in PSOs.
Recently, a study on employees of PSOs in South Korea reported that organizational fairness and incentive have a positive effect on job satisfaction and TI [24,25]. Also, it was mentioned that organizational justice has a significant impact on the defensive and silent behavior of employees [26]. Oh [27] attempted to understand the relationship between transformational leadership, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. Thus, studies dealing with overall changes in the attitude and behaviors of employees of PSOs have been steadily conducted. Nevertheless, prior studies on the importance of OMC and IC in PSOs is currently very limited. Most PSOs operate their own education and training, compensation, and communication programs for employees, but academic discussions on their effectiveness have been insufficient so far. PSOs should support the government’s implementation of sports policies and strive to realize social values through sports. In this context, a study that identifies the structural relationship between WE and TI focusing on IB is regarded to be of considerable significance.

Therefore, the purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between IB of PSOs, WE and TI of employees, and to examine the mediating effect of WE. This study is expected to remind us of the importance of improving OMC and IC, and to provide empirical basic data to help induce positive work performance and behavior in employees. Lastly, this study tries to expand and apply the concept of IB to PSOs to present related theoretical and practical implications.

3. Methods

3.1. Participants and Procedures

This study collected data from 305 employees working for PSOs in 2022 by using the convenience sampling method. PSOs indicate Korea Sports Promotion Foundation (KSPO), Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC), Athletic organizations, Taekwondo Promotion Foundation, Korea Paralympic Committee (KPC), KSPO & CO. (Seoul, Republic of Korea). Prior to the distribution of the questionnaire, the purpose of this study was sufficiently explained to each PSO. It was advised in advance to immediately stop the survey or replace it with an online survey, considering that the content and response of the survey can be burdensome in that it reveals the individual’s perception and attitude toward the organization’s IB activities.

Upon screening the responses for reliability, 57 copies were excluded such that data from only 248 employees were used for data analysis. Those that were deleted either had a missing response or had at least 9 consecutive questions responded to by the same scale rating according to the list-wise deletion method suggested by DeSimone and Harms [74]. The respondents’ rating according to the list-wise deletion method suggested by DeSimone and Harms consisted of 177 males (71.4%) and 71 females. The age groups in the study were as follows: 30s (44.8%), followed by 40s (23.4%), 20s (16.5%), and 50 and over (15.3%). The specific profile of the respondents is presented in Table 1, and a table crossing gender, age, and other characteristics is shown in Appendix Table A1, Table A2 and Table A3.

3.2. Measures

The instrument for measurement was a questionnaire in which all questions, except for those about demographics, were measured using a 5-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly disagree, 5 = Strongly agree). Before its distribution, a draft consisting of 26 questions was examined for content validity by an expert group formed by one professor, three researchers with a Ph.D. degree, and five employees working for PSOs. The resulting final questionnaire consisted of 31 questions, including 13 for OMC, 4 for IC, 5 for WE, and 4 for TI.

OMC and IC related questions consisted of those used by Choi [75], Barlow and Stewart [76], Ind [77], and Upshaw [78]. The questions, such as ‘I know the core values and visions that my organization pursues’ and ‘I think my organization’s internal publications are efficient for understanding its values and visions’, were included. WE was adopted from Bae et al. [57]. Questions such as, ‘I enjoy going to work’ and ‘I work passionately in my duties’ were included. TI related questions consisted of those used by An and Kim [41], which included ‘I feel like quitting the current organization’ and ‘I want to work for another organization’.

6. Conclusions

The purpose of this study is to identify the impact of IB of PSOs on WE and TI, and to verify the mediating effect of WE. This study aims to present theoretical and practical implications which can contribute to improving OMC and strengthening IC by understanding the attitudes and behaviors of employees in PSOs. The main results of this study are as follows.

Firstly, OMC had a significant positive effect on WE, but there was no significant relationship between IC and WE. Secondly, while OMC had a negative effect on TI, IC had a positive effect on TI. Thirdly, WE had a significant negative effect on TI. Lastly, WE has been shown to partially mediate the relationship between OMC and TI. The most striking result of this study is that the effectiveness of IC currently carried out by PSOs is questioned. In other words, it implies that IC felt by employees does not contribute to the improvement of their work performance and organizational productivity. Thus, PSOs need to review the overall efficiency of their activities to improve the quality of IC. These efforts are expected to contribute to enhancing WE and satisfaction by helping employees clearly understand the core vision and values of PSOs. This can have a positive effect on improving the organizational culture of PSOs in South Korea that value vertical hierarchy.

6.1. Theoretical Implications

Previous studies in Korea have tended to deal with organizational culture, communication, mentoring, and leadership separately to verify the organizational effectiveness of PSOs. This study is significant in that it applied the concept of IB to PSOs and attempted to comprehensively grasp its effectiveness through two types of OMC and IC. Secondly, this study suggests that employees can differently perceive the effectiveness of OMC and IC within IB activities. In particular, it was found that IC of PSOs can even increase the intention to turnover. Therefore, the results of this study reminds us that IB of public organizations is essential for the operation of the organization, but the outcomes may not necessarily result in the direction the organization pursues. Lastly, this study confirmed the partial mediating role of WE in the relationship between OMC and TI. Organizations may have the desire for their employees to have WE which includes commitment, enthusiasm, and spontaneity. Therefore, if studies to identify factors affecting employees’ WE are conducted in the future, it can be of considerable significance in terms of strengthening organizational effectiveness.

6.2. Managerial Implications

Firstly, PSOs should create an organizational culture in which employees can properly reflect and practice the values and visions of the organization in their work. To this end, it might be important to clearly figure out how much value the organization shares with its employees. For instance, PSOs should prioritize setting target values so that their employees can use the organization’s values as guidelines for action. After that, organizations will have to establish a transition plan by comparing and grasping the degree difference between the target organizational culture level and the current organizational culture level. Furthermore, the top management should play a role in establishing an active organizational culture by proactively practicing the vision and value pursued by their organization. Secondly, it is necessary to examine whether the purpose of IC in PSOs is now well communicated to employees or whether employees are dissatisfied with the activities. In other words, PSOs need to actively collect opinions from employees and listen to requirements during IC activities. Accordingly, PSOs should actively utilize bottom-up communication so that the opinions of employees can be reflected in the development and implementation of education and training programs. Also, PSOs will have to strengthen IC so that employees can concentrate on themselves in a new work environment after the pandemic. Lastly, organizations should make efforts to provide conditions for its employees to work with a sense of calling. For example, organizations should check human resource management processes to create an environment where employees can immerse themselves in their work with enthusiasm. In addition, if an organization helps increase the closeness between its employees’ jobs and the organization’s values and visions, and strives to create a smooth communication culture between colleagues and managers, it will eventually increase organizational efficiency.

6.3. Limitations and Future Research Directions

Firstly, since this study was conducted on only 305 employees in PSOs in Korea, it is somewhat difficult to generalize the results of this study to all employees of PSOs. In future studies, it is expected to be more meaningful if the scope and number of samples are further expanded. Secondly, this study set only IB as an independent variable to verify WE and TI of employees in PSOs. However, since various factors can affect employee’s attitude and behavioral intentions, it might be necessary to apply various predictors that can affect strengthening organizational effectiveness in future studies. Lastly, employees may have different perceptions and attitudes toward IB depending on gender, age, job, position, and wage satisfaction. Thus, it might be meaningful to compare and analyze differences between groups by classifying employees based on specific demographic characteristics in future studies.

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