For most of us, “the love economy” suggests the unpaid labour associated with volunteering, caring for the young, old and sick, and managing the household. In short, it’s all those things that we’re motivated to do for the “greater good.” It may provide balance in life and personal growth, but, for the most part, it’s the antithesis of what we do in the workplace—or is it?

The field of employee engagement has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years. Barely a decade old, the concept of employee engagement has swiftly moved beyond HR discussion groups and gained currency in the executive suite—and with good reason. There’s a growing body of research linking increased employee engagement with organizational success. Engaged employees, it seems, are not merely a nice-to-have—they are a clear impact on the bottom line.

What is engagement?
While definitions of employee engagement vary from one expert to another, the U.S. Conference Board has developed a “blended” definition that seems to work in most situations. This definition states that employee engagement is a “heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.”

In a world in which competition is tough, budgets are constrained and productivity reigns supreme, the ability to elicit discretionary effort from employees is one of the few levers left in the management tool kit. An organization’s skill in motivating employees to give more of themselves on a day-to-day basis—without the benefit of increased compensation or additional resources—is the key differentiator.

So what’s the difference between a “heightened emotional connection” that leads to “discretionary effort” and “things that we’re motivated to do for the greater good”? Both involve engaging hearts and generating unpaid labour. But where the love economy is a natural human response to an emotionally compelling cause, employee engagement largely depends on the organization’s ability to create that emotional connection—and that’s where the challenge lies.

Leadership is key
For many organizations, this kind of touchy-feely stuff is way outside of their comfort zone. It has no place in the workplace, least of all among the leaders, who are hard-wired to view the world through a financial lens. The irony is, it has to start at the top. It’s up to leadership to do the following:

  • develop an emotionally compelling vision;
  • establish a clear line of sight to help employees understand how their personal actions support that vision; and
  • embed the policies, practices and procedures needed to make it happen.

The winning organizations of the future will be the ones that get this. You may want to start your next management meeting by breaking outside your comfort zone and looking at how you can connect with your employees’ hearts—as well as their minds.

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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