The Ethics of Engagement in an Age of Austerity: A Paradox Perspective
Our contribution in this paper is to highlight the ethical implications of workforce engagement strategies in an age of austerity. Hard or instrumentalist approaches to workforce engagement create the potential for situations where engaged employees are expected to work ever longer and harder with negative outcomes for their well-being. Our study explores these issues in an investigation of the enactment of an engagement strategy within a UK Health charity, where managers and workers face paradoxical demands to raise service quality and cut costs. We integrate insights from engagement, paradox, and ethic of care literatures, to explore these paradoxical demands—illustrating ways in which engagement experiences become infused with tensions when the workforce faces competing requirements to do ‘more with less’ resources. We argue that those targeted by these paradoxical engagement strategies need to be supported and cared for, embedded in an ethic of care that provides explicit workplace resources for helping workers and managers cope with and work through corresponding tensions. Our study points to the critical importance of support from senior and frontline managers for open communications and dialogue practices.