In the movie Sudden Impact, Harry Collins, played by Clint Eastwood, points his Smith & Wesson revolver at a robber holding a waitress as hostage and punctuates the scene with the infamous line, “Go ahead, make my day.” It works well in the movies, but in the workplace, we shouldn’t have to be cajoled by Clint Eastwood or have a gun pointed at us to make our own day.
Whose job is it to engage employees?
There are still many misconceptions surrounding employee engagement. For example, some companies think it is something they either do to employees or for employees. They believe if they pull the right levers or push the correct drivers, engagement will increase.
Many think if the employees only had a better manager, they would be more engaged. Yet, if individuals think someone else is responsible for their own engagement it leaves them feeling helpless – and even hopeless – in challenging work situations.
Taking charge of your own engagement
Employees can and should experience the benefits of being more engaged in their work. When individuals take personal responsibility for their own engagement they’re less likely to feel like a victim at work. Don’t get me wrong, there are bad bosses and toxic workplaces, but if we let external factors rule us, work will never measure up.
Engagement can help us progress in our career and also contribute to our wellbeing. When employees are engaged at work, they have a sense of contribution and meaning, and can leave work with an energy gain as opposed to an energy drain. Engagement builds strong and lasting work relationships and friendships, fosters career development and career advancement, and serves as a positive model of work to our children.
Our engagement is also portable; meaning that if we are in a bad workplace or managed by a difficult person, we can engage fully in trying to change our circumstances or make changes to find or create other opportunities.
Here are 6 ways employees can improve their own work and engagement:
1. Get WITH it.
Think differently about your relationship with your organization. I believe far too many of us say we work for a company or organization rather than with a company. See yourself as a partner so that you don’t dwell in fear or subservience. Muster more courage to be visible with both your concerns and contributions. Be willing to voice your perspective. Follow the mantra: Contribute – support - challenge.
2. Treasure your first hour at work.
Make the first 60 minutes at work count. For many of us this is when we have our most energy and are fresh for the challenges of the day. Attend well to the first hour of the day as it sets the stage for much of what is to follow.
If the first hour is the time of day with your highest level of energy, focus on priorities and important tasks rather than frittering the time away with incessant email and inane chit chat. Perhaps as a manager or team leader the first hour is best devoted to connecting with your team and ensuring they are ready, able, and willing to work.
3. Trigger good work on cue.
Willpower frequently fades or dissipates over time. We have so much on the go that we can simply “forget to engage.” Use structures and triggers to cue engaging actions. You could use time to trigger engagement, such as the first five minutes after lunch to reflect on engagement in the morning and determine what you can do to improve after lunch. You could have an object or image on your desk to cue you to connect with others, or pre-program notifications or reminders in your smart phone or calendar to assess your engagement level and take action to re-engage.
4. Study the owner’s manual to your brain.
Learn about how your brain works so that you can work better or healthier. There are many sources available, but I personally find David Rock’s Your Brain at Work to be a great brain user’s manual. This can help you to move through your day with your brain in mind and get the most out of your biological center of engagement.
5. Foster friends and annex allies without being creepy.
There has been much controversy surrounding Gallup’s survey question: Do you have a best friend at work? On the surface, this can seem a little creepy and you certainly want to avoid creating superficial friendships as a magical pathway to engagement.
I have been fortunate to work for the past 40 years with a friend I’ve known since grade nine. It makes a huge difference in my work and engagement. It was also various friends at work who helped me weather stress and move through tough setbacks. I believe if you have a good friend at work you are very fortunate, and if you don’t have a good friend, think about how you might cultivate one without being either weird or creepy.
6. Play with loaded dice.
Work is much like a game of snakes and ladders as we climb and soar with progress (ladders) and lose motivation and engagement with setback (snakes). The naturally occurring experiences and management of progress and setbacks make up the fabric of employee engagement for knowledge workers.
If you were just playing the actual game of Snakes and Ladders, playing with loaded dice is cheating. But at work you need to load the dice in favor of progress fused with the recognition and celebration of progress. You want to load the dice so you don’t roll snake eyes and get lost in setbacks or experience a hopeless and helpless sense of work. Know that bad days are inevitable, but bad months or years are intolerable, so ensure your setbacks are unsustainable.
In 2016, engage along with me because the best is yet to be. Go ahead and make your own day – day after day – at work for an engaging and successful career. We’ll all be better for it.