Are you engaged at work? If not, have you ever thought that it might be you rather than the company who is at fault? In How To Increase Employee Engagement I talked about the role managers play in having an engaged workforce. But it is only half of the story.
Viktor E. Frankl in his thought-provoking book Man’s Search For Meaning talks about his experience in Auschwitz. He describes the life in the concentration camps and the psychological effect it had on people. He sees three sources for meaning in life, and none of them is a pursuit of pleasure. Frankl postulates that you can find meaning in work by doing something worthwhile, in love by caring about other people, and in courage, you show in difficult times. He also believes it is a responsibility of each individual to find the meaning in their lives even in the harshest of circumstances.
Find personal meaning
Many employees expect that meaning in their work should somehow come from their bosses. That it is a responsibility of the manager to give them a job that is meaningful and if the employee doesn’t see the meaning they have the right to complain and be disengaged.
Guess what. Any work that helps someone else has a meaning! It is meaningful to that person who is going to benefit. You don’t need to be trying to put humanity on Mars to have meaningful work. Regardless of whether you are managing people, cleaning toilets, selling the newspaper, typing letters, or doing some book-keeping your work has meaning. Especially in a capitalistic society. Anything that someone is willing to pay for is meaningful work.
If you believe your work doesn’t have meaning it only tells you that you didn’t look hard enough to see it, not that it doesn’t exist. A good manager will help you to see that meaning, but you can as well find it on your own.
Just stop obsessing with happiness and find meaning in what you do. Happiness, or success for that matter, is not something you should pursue as then you never reach it. It is not the goal of life. It is a byproduct, a side-effect, of dedicating your life to doing a good job and helping others.
As Frankl writes, in a survey run among his European students, 25 percent showed a degree of existential vacuum. Among the American students, it was 60 percent. The existential vacuum shows as a state of boredom.
Boredom is an enemy of a meaningful life. People who get bored fill their lives with trivial pursuits, with a very passive approach to life. They don’t have a purpose. They don’t have a guiding star, a true North, that would focus them on what is essential. And so they pursue short-term pleasurable activities while being bored and deep down unhappy with their lives.
Learn to be engaged
Even though it is undoubtedly true that a company can do many things to help employees to stay engaged, it is ultimately up to the employee to figure it out. Managers can provide meaningful work and explain why it is meaningful, they can empower employees, they can reward and praise, they can help to chart a career path, and many other things that to some extent impact the morale and the engagement.
However, how do you explain that two people working for the same company, the same manager, doing the same job for the same money, can have a radically different attitude towards the work? How come that one is engaged, while other is not?
Employee engagement is not just about the company and the manager, it is also a reflection of their own personality and attitude towards life. Some people just take motivation and engagement with them as they go through life. They own their lives. They are not dependent on someone else to motivate them or on the company to get them engaged.
Researchers have recently conducted a study of data from 114 independent surveys of employee engagement and came up with an interesting observation. Personality traits explained 48.1% of the variance in engagement with positive affect and proactivity leading the pack of characteristics that lead to engagement. These characteristics lead to bigger resilience, hard work, and ability to work with others.
Here you go. Half of the engagement comes from your own inner self, and only half is based on what the company and your manager do.
Hire the right people
If you are in a managerial role or you are an individual contributor who is invited to interview candidates for jobs at your company, make sure you hire the right people. You can improve the engagement by hiring people who are more easily engaged. It is obviously not enough, about 50% of engagement still comes from the environment you create and the management team, but it makes a difference.
Just be careful not to hire copies. If all the people you hire will have the same characteristics then the diversity of thought will suffer, the innovation will suffer, and ultimately the performance will suffer.
At the end when it comes to the individual employee. It is always your responsibility to get engaged. By taking your future in your own hands, by being self-aware and emotionally intelligent, by having a positive attitude and growth mindset you will be engaged regardless of circumstances.
What are your thoughts? How do you build employee engagement? Do you believe that it is in each employee’s hands whether they decide to be engaged? Or do you believe it is the company and the manager to engage the workforce?
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