Employee Engagement: Living a Purposeful Life


Employee engagement is such a buzzword that it makes headlines in newspaper columns, scholarly reviews and a HR practitioner’s concern.

Engaging Staff

Businesses everywhere want to get more out of their employees in terms of quantity and quality of work. It is harder in the service and knowledge based jobs and industries than for factory production jobs.

We cannot motivate people. We can only try to inspire them. People have to motivate themselves. Those who thinks that people can be motivated probably never heard of the Chinese proverb “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink the water.”

All of us want to live a purposeful life. If people can find purpose in their work, they naturally will be engaged.

Hitting the Brick Wall

Employee engagement is nothing new. I have been trying to look for the elixir called purposeful work to cure this problem ever since I started my journey as a HR practitioner 25 years ago.

I found that it cannot be done if the business’ vision is either muddled (hazy) or self-centered (some employees like to call it “selfish purposes”). It could be higher revenues (some employees called it “lining the pocket-book of management executives”) or expansion (building the empire) or anything that revolves around material wealth.

Doing community voluntary work helps to a limited extent. It should continue because it builds the character of the employee.

The Secret

In a presentation at a Peter F. Drucker centennial celebration on 1 September 2009, held in Los Angeles, USA, Charles Handy in his segment titled “Qualities of Vision and Leadership” lamented the death of the great American management culture (The American Dream) that lasted from 1920 to 1970.

In that presentation, spoke of the high quality of leadership vision in the bygone era, that came to be synonymous with the American Dream:  “ A business should be a community with a purpose to improve, to add wealth and benefits to society; a community in which individuals would be prepared to subordinate their own needs for the greater good of the community and society; one in which demarcated chain of responsibilities and accountabilities; one in which if you want to keep your customers, you have to continuously innovate, rely on creativity and constant improvements on high quality.”

Here is the video of that long presentation “Charles Handy on Qualities of Vision and Leadership”

The title of the book that he spoke in the video is The Puritan Gift: Reclaiming the American Amidst Global Financial Chaos, written by Kenneth Hopper and William Hopper. It talks about the great American management culture that lasted from 1920 to 1970. You can watch video interviews with the 2 authors in Youtube by searching for Kenneth & William Hopper – The Puritan Gift – Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4.