Why We Hate Work: Issues of Engagement

What percentage of Americans feel engaged when they are at work? 40%? 50% 65%?

Recent research reveals that only 30% say that their work engages them (Gallup, 2013). The global version of this research reveals that only 13% of people around the world answer ‘yes’ to this question. This issue is being called an organizational crisis and reveals both tremendous problems and opportunities in our workplaces.

So how can you personally ensure that you are increasing your level of engagement? Here are four ideas:

  1. Know thyself: Socrates is given credit for this simple advice. The better we know ourselves, the better we understand what we are good at and what we are not good at. This knowledge will guide you into work which you find engaging.
  2. Know thy organization: Tim recently told me about the biggest mistake he made. A headhunter promised to double his salary if he took a job they had been enticing him with for months. While the money was good, the organizational culture was not a good fit for him. He took the offer and as a result, discovered that he also gave up a great work-life balance, strong relationships with colleagues and a salary that was ‘enough’. The ability to assess what you have at your current organization as well as the realities of new organizations is critical. Failure to do this simply leads to a life of ‘the grass is always greener…’.
  3. Experiment: Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing and expecting different results. If you are not engaged, try something new. This doesn’t mean that you need to quit and find a new job. If you love leading but don’t have people who report to you can coach little league. Try a new hobby. Take a class. Look for a different locale to meet new people (and ideas!). I did not realize how much I enjoyed writing until I began blogging! Don’t complain – experiment!
  4. Be realistic: Work does not need to engage you 100% of the time. There are many people who expect work to make up for deficiencies of their own making. Work cannot make up for a lack of engagement in your marriage, with your children or in your community.

In addition to what we need to do individually, the engagement problem also requires employers and managers to act. A study by the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review revealed that employee engagement increases as their workplace address four core needs:

  • Physically – opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work,
  • Emotionally – feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions,
  • Mentally – opportunity to focus on their most important tasks and to define when and where they get their work done, and
  • Spiritually – doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work (NY Times).

The things noted above are not revolutionary. We know most, if not all of the things on this list. However, there is a gap between what we know and what we do. Until we learn to practice these things, we have to oversee a workforce of many people who would rather not be there. To me, this is indeed a crisis, a crisis in need of bold and fresh leadership.

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