A PCT-based Hypothesis about Employee Engagement

[From Fred Nickols (2015.02.03.0855 EST)]

Employee engagement is a hot topic in the world of work and I’m caught up in a discussion of it on another list. I’d like to check my PCT-based hypothesis about employee engagement with members on this list.

The term “employee engagement” typically refers to what is known as “discretionary effort,” of going above and beyond merely acceptable levels of effort. Engaged employees are viewed as expending it in the service of their organizations. I think most views of employee engagement and underlying attempts to improve or increase employee engagement are rooted in a cause-and-effect perspective. From that perspective, discretionary effort is the effect and engagement is the cause. So off the world goes in pursuit of ways to engage employees and thereby bring about increased expenditures of discretionary effort.

I think a control theory perspective – in particular, a PCT-based perspective – shines a different light on the issue. From a PCT perspective, employees are living control systems and their expenditures of energy – discretionary or otherwise – serve to achieve and maintain goals they value. When employees do not expend so-called discretionary effort it is because doing so is not necessary from their perspective. Either their goals are being achieved with what others view as ordinary expenditures of energy or they have no goals warranting such an expenditure.

To “engage” employees, then, isn’t a matter of “engaging them.” Instead, it requires getting them to set or adopt goals that warrant expenditure levels of energy that are above and beyond their current levels. How to do that is, as they used to say, the $64,000 question. Suffice it to say that the value to employees of expending additional energy must be worth the effort and tie to goal states they value.

To sum it up, whatever the current levels of employee energy expenditures might be, they are consistent with what the employees are trying to achieve. To change those energy levels you have to change what they are out to accomplish.

Is what I’ve just said consistent with PCT?

Regards,

Fred Nickols, CPT

Distance Consulting LLC

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[From Rick Marken (2015.02.03.1625)]

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Fred Nickols (2015.02.03.0855 EST) –

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FN: Employee engagement is a hot topic in the world of work and I’m caught up in a discussion of it on another list. I’d like to check my PCT-based hypothesis about employee engagement with members on this list…

FN: Is what I’ve just said consistent with PCT?

RM: Absolutely! Great job.Â

RM: I just question this one statement:

FN: To “engage” employees, then, isn’t a matter of “engaging them.â€? Instead, it requires getting them to set or adopt goals that warrant expenditure levels of energy that are above and beyond their current levels.

RM: This is all correct from a PCT point of view. I just think there are more interesting conclusions about how to deal with employee “non-engagement” than saying that is requires “getting [the employee]to set or adopt goals”. This implies that the only way to deal with this “problem” is to try to control people’s behavior, which is possible but leads to problems when it is done arbitrarily (without consideration of all the other goals people might have that would be in conflict with the goals you would like them to adopt).Â

RM: I think the person who is most able to take your advice about considering a voluntary change in heir own goals is the employer who wants to see the employee being  “engaged”. I think a better way to deal with this “problem” (and it is apparently a problem for the employer) is to do an MOL session with the employer and see why the employer has this problem: what do they want that makes the perception of lack of engagement of the employee a problem for them. Indeed, you might do the session with employer and employee together to see if they can work it out cooperatively.Â

RM: One nice thing about PCT is that it points you to an understanding of why a person might want to change another person;s behavior and let’s you consider dealingl with such problems in ways other than simply trying to change the “problematic” behavior.Â

Best regards

Rick

Richard S. Marken, Ph.D.
Author of  Doing Research on Purpose
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