Employment is a transaction, a contract, an exchange.
Of course we all expect to be paid for our work. That is just a fact of life. We all have to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table and for all but a fortunate few that means we have to work to do so.
So yes, there can be no getting away from the fact that fundamentally employment is a contract. But does that have to mean that you have to work under sufferance? Does it mean that you have to assume that for most people that means they would rather be somewhere else?
Apparently, according to a recent article I read, it does. As a result the writer disputes the validity of a new report that proposes two different levels of employee engagement – “transactional engagement” and “emotional engagement.” He makes the point that many people whose work goes beyond their job description may not be people who tick all the right boxes in an employee engagement survey.
He is almost entirely right in this. Therefore he is probably also right in challenging the use of the phrase “discretionary effort” that “creeps into so many definitions of employee engagement.” His argument is that people do whatever it is they do in this regard for some other personal reason. Yet doesn’t that, paradoxically, validate the concept of emotional engagement?
And have we not already recognised this by referring to efforts to build employee engagement as "winning hearts and minds"? Surely to be engaged you have to emotionally committed to what it is you are doing? If so, then any effort to define a level of transactional engagement is a futile exercise. You already have a name for this. It is called competency. Isn’t it? And you only start to measure competency as a level of engagement when performance regresses; something which can happen when people become bored with their work – either because they are over-qualified for what they are doing or because they have been doing it for too long (which may arguably be the same thing.)
In any event, this whole debate shows just how futile efforts are to find a perfect definition of employee engagement. That is not to say you do not need to inspire a more engaged workforce. But for me the issue begins with the premise that we work because we have to. If you start from that premise you are doomed before you begin. Why? Because work is a part of life. If you are working only to earn then you are not making the best of your life.
To be fully engaged your work has to be integral to who you are; it has to be fulfilling. If it isn’t - if you don't have work-life integrity - you are basically wasting your life. Consequently, the real challenge in creating employee engagement is to enable your employees to be the best they can be – as a complete human being. So the key is simply to make your employees feel human! Isn't that what winning hearts and minds really means? Yes they still need to earn, but if they feel fulfilled and that what they are doing has a purpose, then they will feel more human and be much more likely to be engaged. You can do that. Can’t you?