There is a close link between high levels of engagement and positive discretionary behaviour. As described by Purcell et al (2003), discretionary behaviour refers to the choices that people at work often have on the way they do the job and the amount of effort, care, innovation and productive behaviour they display. It can be positive when people ‘go the extra mile’ to achieve high levels of performance. It can be negative when they exercise their discretion to slack at their work. Discretionary behaviour is hard for the employer to define, monitor and control. But positive discretionary behaviour is more likely to happen when people are engaged with their work.
The propositions made by Purcell et al (2003) on discretionary behaviour as a result of their longitudinal research were that:
- Performance-related practices only work if they positively induce discretionary behaviour.
- Discretionary behaviour is more likely to occur when enough individuals have commitment to their organization and/or when they feel motivated and/or when they gain high levels of job satisfaction.
- Commitment, motivation and job satisfaction, either together or separately, will be greater when people positively experience the application of HR policies concerned with creating an able workforce, motivating valued behaviours and providing opportunities to participate.
- This positive experience will be greater if the wide range of HR policies necessary to develop ability, motivation and opportunity are both in place and mutually reinforcing.
- The way HR and reward policies and practices are implemented by front-line managers, and the way top-level espoused values and organizational cultures are enacted by them, will enhance or weaken the effect of HR policies in triggering discretionary behaviour by influencing attitudes.
- The experience of success seen in performance outcomes helps reinforce positive attitudes.