Engaged

Are you engaged?

Recently I had a debate with a colleague of mine.

We’d been discussing some training and whether or not I could help her with same. At some point the idea of engagement came out much like the undesired neighbor who shows up at the backyard barbecue uninvited.

My peer had some thoughts about activities and events that could drive engagement. I had thoughts about ending the meeting early. But I’m a trained professional. I listened.

Excitement spent she asked me what I thought. Here’s what I said.

If the work is meaningful and demanding, you don’t have to foster engagement.

We went on to finish our conversation but I was struck by her reaction to my claim that engagement is inherent in the value of the work itself. I was a busboy at 15. I cleaned bathrooms before we opened the restaurant. I didn’t know what engagement was but I damn sure made those bathrooms sparkled. It was my job. My work represented me.

Yet, does hard work alone drive engagement? I think not. I think it is our view towards the value and meaningfulness of that very work. What one finds important – clean bathrooms for example – another may find repugnant (until one needs a clean bathroom that is.)

We are thinking about engagement the way we used to think about personal development as if it were an extraneous activity we do when there is spare time. Nothing can be further from the truth.

Engagement is all about meaning and value of the work itself, and whose job is it to make sure people see that value? The manager. Yes, I said it, the manager. Leaders can create vision but managers unleash – or stifle – energy. I’ve done the same type of work for about 20 years now, and I can tell you I would go back and do it again for some of my former bosses while I’ve forgotten the name of others.

Same work, different response. Because some of my managers spent the few extra moments needed to ensure that I saw the value of the work I was doing, the need for it. After that, the engagement was up to me. Its not something you can bestow upon me – its got to come out of my appreciation for what has to be done, and then to do the best that I can.

Engagement is not a flawed concept but our application of it often is: it is not a separate matter to address when we think of it: it’s part of the day to day work we do and our acceptance of the importance of that work.

If you’re not engaged it may not be the work: it may be you.

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4 thoughts on “Engaged

  1. This resonated with me. I’ve been asked how to engage employees in things the organisation were doing – change programmes, process improvement, wellbeing initiatives etc – and I think you are right. I, like you, haven’t needed anything “extra” to engage me in something because having an understanding had been enough for me to choose to engage. People either engage or don’t – it either “floats their boat” or it doesn’t…. Or maybe I’m being too simplistic?

    • No, I don’t think its too simplistic at all Laura. I think we’ve gotten a little confused (in HR, anyway) and have turned engagement into something we have to do “to” people: its an extrinsic driver. But I don’t believe that.

      I think engagement is fundamentally how I feel about the quality and impact of my own work, and how well that marries up with the needs and goals of the organization. That’s where I think we miss the boat.

      I think we assume people know how they link to the organizational mission and what the overriding goals are: but in most cases they don’t or if they do, their knowledge is limited.

      Net, I thin engagement is a combination of what I have inside of me (attitude towards work product) and how I see that linking up to the needs of the organization, which is, as I wrote a function of management making that clear.

      Thanks for your comments Laura!

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