What if we treated people as people, instead of employees?

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readJun 27, 2022

I see a lot of posts and articles at the moment about ‘employee engagement’, particularly in the context of ‘but won’t we lose employee engagement, if people work from home more’?

Well, yes, you might.

But if your view of how to get people motivated and engaged to do their work is based on the assumption that they are contracted on a permanent basis, sitting in a place you control for eight hours a day, and someone leaving or not being at their desk is a dangerous exception, then I think you are in the mindset of a late 19th Century mill owner.

What if you thought of people as autonomous individuals and the work they do for you only as part of their complex lives?

Where would you start from then with ‘employee engagement’?

It’s actually a tough question because our assumptions about work are so tied to a shared identity and ‘culture’ tied to an ancient form of contracting and a workplace.

Well, my suggestion is that you might start with an understanding that you are ‘contracting’ every time you ask someone to do something. That there will be give and take, but that if you start from the assumption that they need to do whatever you ask, the relationship will be a short one.

It might mean that you take responsibility for agreeing that work to be done is a fit for their skills, current mental capability, workload, timelines, and motivation.

It might mean you shift — or want to shift — from being the one who hands out the tasks, to gathering a group of people and saying ‘do we agree to make this our challenge? Well, then what shall we do about it?’

Actually, all the things good leaders and managers *should* be doing.

We try to do a version of this in RedQuadrant — I’m not saying it’s easy. And we have some employees, too.

I’m going to talk about it at Future of Work Scotland on 13 July — https://www.meetup.com/the-future-of-work-in-Scotland/events/282806249/

If you treated ‘employees’ as ‘people’, how would you think about employee engagement?

What would you gain? What would be lost?