Deciphering 39 Powerful Lessons from an Employee Engagement Textbook

39 Lessons from Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice (Part 1 of 5)

Reading time: 4 minutes

Employee engagement in theory and practice by Truss et. al.

Routledge publishing released a new employee engagement textbook, Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice edited by Catherine Truss, Rick Delbridge, Kerstin Alfes, Amanda Shantz and Emma Soane.  The range of contributors include  Wilmar B. Schaufeli, Arnold B. Bakker, and William A. Kahn, the founding father of the concept of engagement. These are just 3 of the many authors on engagement that I admire who wrote contributions for the book. I think this is a very good resource book for employee engagement and an excellent textbook for a course on employee engagement.

The book is divided into four parts:

  1. The psychology of engagement
  2. Employee engagement: the HRM implication
  3. Employee engagement: critical perspectives
  4. Employee engagement in practice

I taught Educational Psychology and Counselling Psychology at the University of Manitoba for 20 years and this predisposed me to see this book as a course, the contents as lessons, and to study rather than merely read the book. I also very much appreciate the caution exercised by academic writers and the continual referencing to other researchers and writers. I have not taught at university for over 7 years and if I was to return I would teach a course on employee engagement and this would be my choice of textbook.

Here is a statement I made about my experience studying the book in 12 secrets of being a thought leader on employee engagement:

You can never know enough, or retain enough, to stop being a student. I am enthralled by learning and learn from everyone I encounter. I default on being a student. I study rather than read. Currently, I am studying, Employee Engagement in Theory and Practice. I can’t help myself as I make notes and draw little diagrams in the margin, I argue with certain statements and put giant check marks beside other statement, and the white pages of the book are streaked with contrails of yellow highlighter.

I will be writing a five part series on the book stretching into the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. Although I am the founder and host of the 6100 member Employee Engagement Network I decided to use the book to journey again through the fundamentals of engagement and distill relevant and vital lessons. To this end, each of my posts will focus on one of the four parts of the book and will be structured around 9 lessons from each part with an additional 3 lessons to begin for the total of 39 lessons.

This specific post touches upon the introduction to the book and offers 3 lessons.  Each lesson will be composed of one sentence and a brief elaboration and questions following the lesson. The lessons are more illustrative than comprehensive and more idiosyncratic than exhaustive. I will focus on what stood our for me in each section. I assume that you would have a mix of similar and different lessons from your own reading of the textbook based on your background and current involvement in engagement. I encourage you to buy the book, study along with me, and let me know the lessons that stand out for you.

The first 3 lessons:

 1. Question the promise of engagement. On page one of the introduction the editors state:  perhaps the reason that engagement has garnered so much attention lies in its dual promise of enhancing both individual well-being and organizational performance.  I like the idea of engagement as a promise but it also leads to a number of questions we can use to reflect upon our approach to engagement. Do you see engagement as a promise? Are you keeping your promise? In what ways has the promise been broken? Do you share an equivalent focus on individual well-being and organizational performance? How do we use employee engagement to move effectively into the trade-offs and tensions between employers and employees? I trust as we move rapidly towards 2020 that both individuals and organizations will see engagement as a promise worth keeping. The tag line of the Employee Engagement Network is “employee engagement for all.” If employee engagement is truly to be for all the promises must be kept and lived for the benefit of the individual and the organization.

2. Be thoughtful and deliberate in the words you choose to describe engagement. What is the phrase or phrases you are using for employee engagement? We need to pay special attention to the words or phrases we use around engagement. The introduction mentions ‘work engagement, ‘personal engagement’, ‘job engagement’, ‘staff engagement’, employee engagement’ and ‘engagement’. I prefer the word engagement and the phrase work engagement but tend to use employee engagement because of its wide usage and acceptance. As I move fully into 2014 I will be using the word engagement and the phrase work engagement more frequently than employee engagement. I would love to see a much wider acceptance and usage of the phrase work engagement in place of employee engagement.

3. We must develop a better and more complete understanding of engagement because it is a significant and growing factor in work and the management of people. The breadth and depth of this book attest of the third lesson. This lesson sets the stage for the next 36 lessons on engagement psychology, practice, criticism, and ties to human resource management (HRM). In the words of the editors this book raises “awareness of the rich potential of the engagement subject area for practitioners and academics alike.”

Next post in this series: The psychology of engagement (Part 2 or 5)

David Zinger Employe Engagement Coach - King

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert currently working on a 12 module course on employee engagement based on his 10 block  pyramid of engagement.

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