The concept of engagement emerged in recent years as a key to effective work and learning. Engagement occurs when people undertake tasks related to their competence, learn continuously, immerse themselves and persist because of the value they attribute to the work.
This is part 5 of a 7-part article series titled "Forget Motivation: It's Time to Engage".
The concept and theory of engagement emerged in recent years as a key idea in work and learning. Essential points of the concept include:
- Self-determination: one chooses to engage; assignment invalidates the process
- Direct participation is essential: observation does not suffice
- Activity is assumed (it is not the goal), as is some measure of interest or pleasure
- A delicate balance between sufficient competence and expertise to engage with components of challenge is important
- An open-ended situation is key; collaborative problem-solving is ideal
- Routine work is not engaging
- Persistence is characteristic
- Coercion destroys engagement while communication regarding intent and purpose is fundamental
Engagement is a process and ongoing activity, not an event. Learning and involvement are its determining characteristics. Applying the concept to information management, Davenport and Prusak (1997) utilize a sliding scale of engagement starting out with passive observation, moving to discussion, to presentation or teaching, and finally to use in practice. This mechanism serves to handle information overload, an ongoing problem, and complements the activity-engagement approach.
Engagement is very similar to intrinsic motivation (IM). IM fundamentals, according to Kenneth Thomas (2009) include meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress. But rewards also remain central in “managing” IM, as does a focus on leadership qualities to make motivation “happen.” There remains an inescapable desire on the part of the “motivation industry” to assume it can be taught and managed. The assumption here is that engagement cannot be “made to happen.” The initiative remains with the individual, be it worker or student. Engagement is a “bottom up,” grassroots phenomenon that cannot be directed from above.
Engaged agents choose to participate because they can influence the choice of subject and method. And engagement is ongoing rather than episodic; learning and increased knowledge and skill are the goal. Knowledge, skill, and engagement resides in the individual ultimately; they cannot be compelled or made to happen. With motivation the goal is to initiate some pre-determined activity. Engagement involves meaning for the participant; motivation seeks to entice others to achieve the motivator’s goal. To repeat, motivation amounts to manipulation (which can be quite sophisticated) while engagement is about the agent’s goals, learning, growth, and improved knowledge and skills. The engagement motif has a fundamental distinctiveness in that it begins and ends with the individual who chooses to engage, for whatever reason. It is not something that can be initiated or managed by anyone other than the active agent.
To summarize: Engagement occurs when an individual or group undertake tasks related to their interests and competence, learn about them continuously, participate freely with (equal) associates, immerse themselves deeply, and continue the task with persistence and commitment because of the value they attribute to the work.