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March 10, 2010 | Volume 4 | Number 3
March 10, 2010
By Matthew J. Grawitch, PhD, Saint Louis University
Recently, I came across an interesting article on work engagement. The article seemed so simplistic in its focus and its recommendations. But, in giving the issue some thought, I wonder why people make engagement issues more complex than they have to be.
Engagement is really nothing but the experience of being absorbed in one’s work, of being mentally, physically and emotionally present. Feeling connected to your employer, co-workers and supervisor can provide a good foundation to create an engaging work experience.
Anything that distracts us from this presence, decreases our work engagement. Over time, a lack of engagement can breed increased stress, lower productivity and perhaps even withdrawal.
And it doesn’t just happen at work, it happens everywhere. People like to be engaged at home, at sporting events, and when hanging out with friends. Take away the engagement – the presence – and you take something away from the experience.
So, what can we do about it?
Well, for starters, managers should try to find out which workplace experiences help employees feel present and which experiences disrupt that presence. A good starter question might be the following:
What workplace characteristics promote and inhibit your ability to be mentally, physically, and emotionally present?
An organization does not need some company-wide survey to answer this question. Effective leaders should already be asking this question within their various business units. Though the article I read suggested that engagement barriers can fall within four broad areas, my past experience and research in stress, engagement and work-life issues would suggest three broad categories:
True, some engagement concerns may be companywide, and companywide surveys can allow work units to see how they compare to other units. Companywide surveys can also be used to assess engagement levels, but they typically do not produce specific, actionable data.
High-leverage initiatives within a work unit focus on engagement barriers that most strongly affect that work unit. These are not necessarily the same barriers or concerns that surface companywide, which means that the organization is not likely to offer a universal solution for those barriers.
So, while people often talk about the myth of “best practices” and the importance of tailoring practices to meet an organization’s specific needs, managers and leaders should also be focusing on “intra-organizational tailoring,” which involves designing and implementing engagement initiatives that address localized engagement concerns. Don’t leave it up to senior leadership, the HR function or the OD unit to correct engagement barriers. Instead, take the initiative and start asking your employees that one all-important question:
What workplace characteristics promote and inhibit your ability to be mentally, physically and emotionally present?
If you ask the question, the insight you gain can be used to make meaningful changes at the work-unit level. These meaningful changes will have a more powerful benefit for your employees than any sweeping companywide initiative can ever have.
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