August 2013 Archives
In a recent post on the Washington Business Journal, Bob Corlett argued that many organizations and managers put too much stock into so-called engagement projects, largely as a result of correlational studies that demonstrate a link between engagement and business results. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report is one of many sources that fail to distinguish between correlation and causation.
Reports such as the one produced by Gallup typically suggest that if organizations would simply improve engagement, then organizations would see an improvement in bottom-line results. Of course, this then leads to a myriad of initiatives and projects focused specifically on improving engagement with little emphasis on how these projects promote (or even sometimes work against) bottom-line results. We hear talk about gamification, about job satisfaction, about offering perks and benefits and other miscellaneous initiatives that are tangential to the overall goals of the organization.
But the academic research suggests that engagement is an “experience” of employees, in which they are invigorated by their work, dedicated to doing a good job and mentally focused. This isn’t going to happen because the organization turns everything into a game, and it certainly isn’t going to happen when the organization is suffering financially.
It’s going to happen when workers have an interest in and passion for their work, when they have the skills and talents necessary to perform that work at high levels and when the environment serves as a facilitator rather than a barrier to high performance. It’s going to happen when workers feel like they are contributing substantively to the organization (which is difficult when the organization is performing poorly), when they feel like they are valued for those contributions and when their work and work environment is consistent with their personal and professional values and goals.
Hence, organizations don’t need “engagement initiatives.” They need effective structures and processes that allow workers to excel and make a positive contribution, that recognize those contributions and that allow workers to meet their professional goals. And they need to do so in a work environment that is respectful of all the demands they face and whose primary output is something other than stress and strain. If you develop sound business structures, processes and work environments, you don’t need to worry about engagement, because it will naturally occur.
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In a recent survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, many employees indicated that they felt stuck in their present job. Only 39 percent said they had sufficient opportunities for internal career advancement, and just over half reported feeling valued at work. Only 43 percent of the employees surveyed said that recognition at work was based on fair and useful performance evaluations.
I talked in my last blog post about how the skills and attitudes of resilience might be used to change these results. Specifically, I pointed out how connecting with others at work, being an effective communicator and being able to assert oneself at the right times could make the work environment less stressful. I also discussed the importance of flexibility and being able to try new ways of solving problems at work. Change is inevitable and most things are temporary, not permanent. But when changes occur, they seldom have a pervasive effect, positive or negative, on our lives. Dealing with our frustration or anger by blaming ourselves or others for the problems created by change does not help.
Here are some of the other attitudes and skills of resilience that can help:
Your work should have value and purpose. And the purpose is hopefully more than just surviving and drawing a paycheck on Friday.
Your values and the values of the people that you work with and the organization you work for should match. If they don’t, it will often cause a level of tension and stress that will wear on you and your organization as time passes. Your mission and the mission of the organization should complement each other. If you cannot align these, then you should be looking for a job that is a better fit.
Deal with the strong feelings that you have about your work. If these are negative, acknowledge that and talk with someone you trust about how you feel and what you might do to change the situation. Don’t let things build up inside. Anger, in particular, is a toxic emotion. Find ways to manage your anger and help to change things in a positive way. But get it out. Don’t sit on it. If you can discharge some of the feelings that you have, you can think more clearly about work and how to negotiate the problems that are there.
Try to get involved in your organization in a positive way. Pro-action is usually better than reaction. If we are proactive, we usually feel we have more control than if we are reactive. In general, people who feel that they are in control of their lives are less likely to be depressed and unhappy.
Take care of yourself. Many organizations have wellness programs. Take advantage of these. Unfortunately, only about a third of employees do. Be a part of that growing trend.
Take care of others. In general, helping other people is a way of helping ourselves. It tends to build our own resilience. If you can do this at work, great. If you can’t, maybe you can get involved in some type of volunteer effort. These activities can add meaning and purpose to our lives.
And don’t forget about humor. Hopefully, you have a sense of humor. As the old saying goes, “Don’t take work too seriously. It’s just a job.”
Work is an important part of our lives, but it should not be our lives. Work-life balance means that we have a life outside of work. As another old saying goes, “In ten years, no one is going to remember that you worked that Saturday.” But your son or your daughter may remember that day as the day that they scored the winning run that you missed.
So in summary, your values and your organization’s values should complement each other. Take care of yourself. Get involved in a proactive way with your organization, effectively manage the strong feelings that come up at work, take care of others and keep a sense of humor. Maintaining work-life balance is making your organization a psychologically healthy place to be and is the responsibility of both the organization and the employee...you!