Discretionary Effort is Theft

The holy grail of employee engagement. Get better at it and what do you get? More discretionary effort from your staff. Get better and better at employee engagement and you get more and more discretionary effort.

Work Life Balance

Except…the last time I looked we only have 24 hours in any one day, and we can only function productively and meaningfully for so long. So for employees to give more of that discretionary effort to their employer, well that means they have less to give to themselves, their family and their friends. and that doesn’t sound much like a balance to me.

Unpaid Overtime

How much is enough? Workers in the UK already work among the longest hours in Europe. And according to the TUC, around five million UK workers contribute over seven hours extra a week without pay. They estimate that to be worth upwards of £4,500 ($7,200) a year in extra pay.

If employers are really serious about engaging, then more consideration should be applied to binning bonuses and distributing some of that pot and the savings that come from no longer having to frig the figures, sorry I mean administer the bonus scheme, as an increase in pay. And perhaps overlay an across the company flat rate profit share scheme to distribute part of the extra benefit gained from better work?

Acceptable Discretionary Effort

So if there are only 24 hours in a day, and we’re already working long hours and making unpaid contributions already, is there a case for acceptable discretionary effort? Perhaps there is. Let’s say your team has a major project to deliver within a certain time, and things are tight. If you work for an employer who already treats you right then perhaps being asked for a burst of extra effort to get something specific done is fine, so long as a) we can be clear on how much extra we think is needed and b) for how long. If discretionary effort becomes any more of an expectation that that, then it’s not discretionary effort, it’s theft.

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