Maximizing Employee Engagement: Do You Know Your E-Zone?

by David Zinger | Posted | Engagement

Maximizing Employee Engagement: Do You Know Your E-Zone?

“What time is it Mr. Wolf?”

Do you know your E-Zone (Engagement Zone)?

Your E-Zone is the ideal length of time you can initiate and maintain fully engaged work. Hint: It's best to think in minutes rather than days, weeks, or months.

This post offers you background on the engagement zone and provides you with recommendations to find and work within your own personal E-Zone, because when you do, you're productive and engaged.

What is the E-Zone or engagement zone?

The E-Zone is the ideal period to find your vigor, dedication and absorption for work.

  • Vigor gives you energy, persistence and resilience.
  • Dedication helps you be fully involved in your work while experiencing significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride and challenge.
  • Absorption is the state of full concentration and being engrossed in your work.

This has been conceptualized, measured and assessed using the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale.

The problem with employee engagement surveys

A major conundrum with biannual or annual surveys of engagement is the lack of granularity and calibration of engagement.

We should be skeptical of the ability of an annual survey to capture accurate levels of engagement.

It's like asking someone to state what their health was like over the past year and they say they were fine. Yet during that period they had multiple flus, a broken leg, ran a marathon, had a parent die, went on a six-week vacation to Thailand, joined a support group, and experienced minor heart problems that now requires daily medication.

You know given the list in the last sentence that their health and wellbeing took many ups and downs over the past year and that's not captured by the word, “fine”.

Like your health, your engagement also varies. Contrary to the annual survey that suggests 30% of employees are fully engaged, I believe that our engagement varies not only day to day but many times within the day.

In addition, our personal E-Zone is often a mystery to us as most of us don't know the ideal length of time that we can sustain full engagement with work.

A few thoughts about daily employee engagement

Professor Arnold Bakker, Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology has been doing some excellent work on engagement and I appreciate his focus on daily engagement. I encourage you to read his research on: Daily Fluctuations in Work Engagement: An Overview and Current Directions (2014).

Here are just two statements from his study:

Employees show substantial fluctuations in their levels of work engagement – from day to day and from task to task. Daily work engagement is much closer causally tied to real work-related events and behavioral outcomes (including performance) than a judgment that requires aggregating previous experiences over an extended period of time… management needs to become more aware of fluctuations in daily employee work engagement. Being aware of daily changes in work engagement draws attention to daily triggers of engagement.

I appreciate his daily focus but believe we would be better served by a micro-focus during each day, as suggested by the E-Zone.

Having a micro-focus on employee engagement

For most of us, the E-zone ranges from 5 to 90 minutes. When you suffer from procrastination, sometimes focusing on what you can do for the next 5 minutes is a brilliant way to initiate and sustain re-engagement with the task you've been avoiding.

Most managers and leaders are interrupted every five to eight minutes, so perhaps their default ideal E-Zone is 5 to 8 minutes.

K. Anders Ericsson, writing in the Harvard Business Review on the making of an expert, found that top performers using deliberate practice tended to work in periods of 90 minute or less.

Many years ago, Eugene Schwartz, a well-known copywriter, worked in 33.33 minute intervals. He believed this quirky working period was responsible for his ability to sustain very successful copywriting over many years. The pomodoro, based on a tomato shaped timer, recommends beginning with 25 minute intervals.

How to discover your personal E-Zone

I suggest your ideal E-Zone is best discovered through personal experimentation and ongoing adjustments. I've been monitoring, managing, and mastering my own E-Zone for the past four years.

I currently set my work periods for 12 minutes and I strive for 20+ E-Zones a day. This translates to over 4 hours a day of being highly engaged in the various tasks I am working on. My E-Zone has been as high as 30 minutes, but never lower than 12 minutes.

Here are a few steps you can take to find and cultivate your own E-Zone:

  1. Be open, flexible and experimental in your discovery process. I recommend you start with 20 minute periods.
  2. Know that the nature, context, and roles of your work may determine the length and how many E-Zones you can achieve in a day. I believe you can always accomplish at least a few on any given day.
  3. Get a timer. I prefer a Timex Ironman watch because seeing it on my wrist is a good trigger and it's always with me. The ironman reminds me that I'm in this for the long haul even though I'm working in short bursts. There are a multitude of apps and timers you can get for your smart phone, so find a timing mechanism that suits you.

    You know you're in your E-Zone when
    • It's easy to start a new period.
    • You remain fully engaged during the period.
    • At the end, you know you accomplished something but you were left wanting a little more time.
  4. Flow into your E-Zone with a dynamic balance of challenges with skills and abilities.
  5. Record your E-Zone so that you can monitor progress. Progress is very significant in creating and sustaining engagement.
  6. If you encounter setbacks this may be a cue or clue to lessen the time or frequency of your E-Zones.
  7. Transform your E-Zone into a source of giving. I make charitable donations throughout the year for every minute I work in my E-Zone.

Employee engagement = good work done well with others every day

I like the term E-Zone because if you're playful, it sounds “easy” (E Z One or Easy One).

The E-Zone approach to work brings my definition of employee engagement to life: good work done well with others every day. You can increase your engagement and productivity by working within your personal E-Zone every day and many daunting tasks can be overcome one E-Zone at a time.

“What time is it Mr. Wolf?”

“It's 8 o’clock and time to fully engage with work for the next 12 minutes.”

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