© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Aim: To critically review empirical research about work engagement in nursing and to synthesise the findings to better understand this construct. Background: Empirical research shows that engagement is positively related to work performance, workers' health and client loyalty in different professions. It is, therefore, necessary to increase our understanding about engagement in nursing. Evaluation: An integrative literature search was conducted to identify articles and studies on work engagement in nursing that were published between January 1990 and December 2013 in the following databases: PsycINFO, MEDLINE and CINAHL. Key issues: The factors that influence engagement were divided into four areas of analysis: organisational antecedents; individual antecedents; and factors related to managers' leadership and outcomes of engagement. Conclusion: There is clear evidence that the quality of care by nurses improves through engagement. However, this depends on contextual factors such as structural empowerment and social support and on dispositional factors such as efficacy and optimism. It is also evident that nurse managers are key to promoting engagement. Implications for nursing management: Nursing managers and leaders may promote improvements in leadership behaviours and a context of optimism and self-efficacy as a way of increasing work engagement.