There is no single definition of employee engagement because it’s lots of things depending on what you’re selling, what you want, and what matters at the time. Often though, employee engagement is defined as some version of commitment to the organization and a willingness to give discretionary effort at work. See here, here, here, and here. Sometimes “discretionary effort” is called “going the extra mile,” like here.
The problem with defining engagement as employees giving something extra is that it’s too easy to expect them to work for free. Expecting discretionary effort for every employee subject to overtime becomes a wage hour issue.
If discretionary effort means time working, then it’s not really discretionary. Employers have to pay nonexempt employees for all the time they spend working. Period. And most employers do not want to pay for overtime unless it is both necessary and approved. The extra mile is truly extra and not discretionary.
The definition of engagement as discretionary effort started out as an academic description of employees wanting to do a really great job instead of just a good job. This idea makes sense in an academic setting where the A students and the C students both attend class, do the same homework, and both pass. No one would argue that it usually takes extra time, effort, and skill to earn an A. But this model does not extend to work.
Employers generally don’t want mediocre employees. Doing the bare minimum or dialing it in is usually grounds for improvement plans, counseling, and even getting fired. Implicit in the executive coach boston ma is the agreement that employees have an obligation to give their best efforts and employers have an obligation for pay them for all of that effort.
Working harder and working better often mean working more, especially in our current workaholic, cult-of-busy culture.
If employers want employees to do their best, stop looking at “discretionary effort” and start looking at factors employers actually can influence and control.
Instead, show employees how their work matters to the organization, to others, to the world. Give people the resources they need to do great work and the authority and autonomy to do that work. Allow them to try new things and make mistakes. Create a workplace where it is safe and encouraged for everyone to be themselves. Tell people they matter. Say thank you directly, in person, and often.
Engagement is not a way to manipulate employees into doing more or better. It is an outcome of creating a caring and human friendly place to work.
In Defense of Employee Engagement by Jason Lauritsen
Fear: The Real Challenge to Employee Engagement by Jason Lauritsen
Engagement and Passion by John Sumser
The Engagement Epidemic: Why it Begins and Ends with Leadership by Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
The Engagement Answer by Heather Bussing
Engagement: Lipstick for Pigs by Heather Bussing