'Engaging for Success: the McLeod report' is a piece of work commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Its subtitle, 'enhancing performance through employee engagement' describes how, amongst other things, UK business can pull through the recession by recognising the value of engaged employees in the workplace. To support this argument, it cites a range of research which quantifies the relationship between engagement and performance, retention, innovation, customer satisfaction, etc.
This is music to the ears of an advocate for engagement - not so much that employee engagement is a 'good thing' because that seems to me to be self-evident - but that it is now receiving official backing. Alain de Botton's latest book, 'The Joys and Sorrows of Work' takes a much more personal and eclectic look at the nature of work and what we get out of it. He's not concerned with the survival of capitalism so much as the splendour, strangeness and banality of modern work, trying to discover in the process why we do what we do and what it means to us. His conclusion - that we work not just to put food on the table but ultimately to distract ourselves from the inevitability of death - may not be what BIS had in mind when it commissioned McLeod's report.
Nevertheless, it does illustrate that as human beings we are extremely good at looking for and investing meaning in what we do. Most of us like our jobs; some of us love our jobs. And some of us hate our jobs. The reasons why we might hate our jobs is a huge subject in itself. Low pay, poor or harsh management and unpleasant working conditions are all obviously very big factors. But essentially, we hate going to work (and do a bad job when we're there) if our jobs seem pointless - if even being able to put food on the table and keep the roof over our heads in insufficient compensation for turning up every day. Low pay and unpleasant working conditions are sometimes unavoidable. Poor management is unnecessary and something can be done about it. Feeling like there's a point to the work we do is more intangible, but that's what I'd like to get a discussion going about. What makes you and me get out of bed in the morning? What turns a bad day into a good day? Aside from money (in short supply, and trailing a bad rep right now), what's the ultimate reward for doing a good job? Answers on a postcard please.