PEP® Dr: treating the ‘patient’ organisation in times of crisis

It’s all hands on deck though…

During turbulent times like this, practitioners and academics should work together (in a virtual environment) to recalibrate the employment ‘deal’ in ways that reinforce engagement on a more sustainable basis. “Academics have a duty to help practitioners move away from a simplified understanding of workforce engagement, paradoxically by complexifying the topic and bringing their already well-established theoretical armoury to the party” says Professor Graeme Martin (Bakhshalian & Reddington, 2019; 2020). Paralympic Gold medallist (9 times), Lord Chris Holmes concurs that “even in swimming it may sound like an individual sport, there is no such thing as individual achievement, all there is in sport, all there is in business, all there in life is shared success and it is a great endeavour and we are all connected by being part of it” (Bakhshalian & Reddington, 2019; 2020). 

But… presented with a puzzling array of theories and consultancies, all seemingly offering ‘Best in Class’ solutions, how do you choose the most appropriate one for your organisation? 

How can you sift through it to find the best quality evidence? When I interviewed Jonny Gifford (Senior Advisor for Organisational Behaviour at the CIPD), I asked him about his thoughts on evidence-based practice and here is what he had to say:

We all use evidence to inform decisions, but one of things that we often get wrong is that we don’t take into account the quality of the evidence…don’t give more weight to the better quality evidence, the Evidence Triangle helps us think through this… 

Our evidence triangle, adapted from the works of Jonny Gifford and Professor Rob Briner can be downloaded for free from PEP® Dr Junior: Unlocking the Puzzles of Peak Engagement and Performance (Bakhshalian and Reddington, 2019). We used the framework to navigate our way through a plethora of academic and practitioner contributions related to employee engagement and performance (although not exhaustive, we hope it provides a ‘good’ flavour of the research in the past 25 years). The evidence revealed three puzzles… 

Definitional Puzzle

Despite its fame in academia and practice, “there is no one agreed definition of employee engagement” (MacLeod & Clarke, 2009). Some have even equated it with other constructs such as job satisfaction and organisational commitment, describing engagement as ‘nothing more than old wine in a new bottle’ (Saks, 2008) or a ‘new blend of old wines’ (Newham and Harrison, 2008).

Measurement Puzzle

Having looked at the evidence, we believe that it is very dangerous to rely on a single engagement score as the means by which you judge your organisation’s engagement to be good, average or poor. In fact, this approach may be no better than spinning a wheel of fortune!

Outcome Puzzle

Employee engagement has created a real buzz among consultants and academics. This should not come as a complete surprise as engaged employees have been found to be more likely to exhibit positive work outcomes such as higher job responsibility (Crawford, Le Pine &, Rich, 2010), higher organisational commitment (Rich, LePine & Crawford, 2010), better job performance and lower turnover (Wollard and Shuck, 2011). Even “as artists if you don’t have engagement, there is no such thing as your own artwork at all…without engagement you are almost telling a lie, your work will be false” (PEP® Art with Diana Ali, judge from BBC’s Big Painting Challenge). However, “the relationships among potential antecedents and consequences of engagement…have not been rigorously conceptualised, much less studied” (Macey and Schneider, 2008). “We need yet again to unlock the Black Box” (Purcell, 2014).

“In seeking to unlock the puzzles, PEP® Dr personifies the employment ‘relationship’ or ‘deal’ by embracing the concept of social exchange…that places the notion of reciprocity and mutuality at the ‘heart’ of the employment relationship” (Bakhshalian and Reddington, 2020). Managers can be viewed as ‘agents’ of social exchange…