TED Conversations

Niel Jacobsen

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Could stronger employee engagement mean that managers don't have to lay off employees?

A flurry of comments on LinkedIn followed Simon Sinek's latest TED talk, with 400 taking part in the first day. I may be naive, but was there some consensus the importance of engagement?

I found that the biggest challenges for business; retaining talented people, improving productivity and finding better ways to do things can be achieved when people are actively engaged.

Research and practice show that becoming an innovative, engaging and productive workplace is complex and multi-faceted. One area where I am noticing a positive trend in these uncertain times is that good leaders are moving from Transactional Engagement (buying support) to Transformational Engagement (fostering positive contribution).

An interesting study by Kingston University’s Centre for Research in Employment, Skills and Society (CRESS) found that; "Transactional engagement was identified as being shaped by the employees’ concern to earn a living and to meet minimal expectations of their employer".

By comparison Transformational Engagement (or as CRESS describes it, emotional engagement) was about "the desire on the part of employees to do more for the organisation than is normally expected ... and in return they receive more in terms of a greater and more fulfilling psychological contract".

Clearly, doing more than is normally expected would see the employee applying discretionary effort. A "fulfilling psychological contract" could be interpreted as balanced Employment Proposition.

In reality, it is important to understand both requirements - minimal expectations (transactional) and the drivers of discretionary effort (transformational). What do you think?


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    Mar 30 2014: Hi Bryan,
    When it comes to deciding who goes when layoffs are on, I think it goes back to the original message and the notion of engagement and discretionary effort. I should imagine that when it comes to the crunch, smart employers would look at the disengaged employee and show them the door first.
    • Apr 2 2014: You're old enough to remember the 1970s. In the USA, thousands of workers were laid off regardless of their level of engagement. In the construction industry in the present day, workers are laid off regardless of their level of engagement. It's a matter of profit, not engagement. Engagement might give some slight marginal advantage when there are few layoffs, but when it becomes a general problem, engagement doesn't matter.

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