Doing engagement : a study within the context of independent professionals’ everyday work : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Management at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Massey University
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Engagement is a popular topic in current management research, generally accepted as a positive phenomenon related to well-being and performance. However, in the thirty years since the concept was introduced, results experienced by organisations and individuals are mixed, questioning the relevance of engagement in everyday work. This current qualitative multiple-case study, conducted during 2021 and 2022, aims at understanding why and how independent professionals (IPros) engage and disengage with their work. The study provides an in-depth analysis of data gathered from twelve cases based in New Zealand. The study is underpinned by a process lens, using Goffman’s (1959) interactionist perspective. Goffman’s theories, specifically dramaturgy and impression management, grapple with what people do in (re)constructing their everyday reality so they can carry on with living their lives. The study demonstrates how IPros strategically construct their professional identity to secure their next contract, navigating a contradictory experience of autonomy and precarity. IPros manage their professional identity through engaging in everyday interactions intended for task performance and relationship trust. Micro-level analysis of interactions provides the study with detailed classifications of engagement practices and routines used in different work interactions. Finally, considering the ephemeral nature of interactions’ outcomes and people’s unique circumstances, findings suggest that IPros have different orientations in how they negotiate professional identity and public image congruence. This study contributes to engagement knowledge in three key areas. First, shifting the focus from studying engagement as a work-related psychological state to understanding engagement through interactions. This unique perspective led to the identification of three interrelated micro-sociological processes of doing engagement and their respective practices, providing new insights into how engagement is performed in everyday life. Second, by analysing these practices within different types of interactions, the study highlights the relevance of situational context and illuminates the processual logic of engaging and disengaging. Third, through a holistic case perspective, the study shows how doing engagement is interrelated with professional identity (re)construction through different identity work orientations. Implications for human resource management (HRM) practice and IPros work are also discussed.
Independent contractors, Self-employed, Consultants, New Zealand, Attitudes, Professions