We often think about engagement as something organisations need to do to retain staff and encourage discretionary effort, but what happens when the individual is already at maximum contribution yet is not feeling satisfied with work? Is this individual disengaged or just too tired to care?
In many of the organisations we are working with, we hear people say “I feel like I am just spinning my wheel, I am putting in so much effort and I am getting nowhere” or “today was a good day, I actually felt I achieved something”. So what is happening here?
When we experience a sense of achievement we get a dopamine hit (dopamine being one of the ‘feel-good’ hormones). Dopamine is addictive as demonstrated by psychologists James Olds and Peter Milner’s experiments with rats. The rats chose to press a lever for a hit of dopamine over and above food when they were hungry, water when they were thirsty and another type of pleasure when presented with a female rat on heat.
When dopamine enters our system we experience positive emotions and this can help build our resilience and personal engagement. So how can we create conditions for ourselves in the workplace where we feel engaged, energised, empowered and fulfilled?
Insight 1 – “If you don’t have a goal, you will be used by someone who does”. What this means is that if we don’t set clear priorities we become more reactive to other people’s priorities. Many of us come to work, switch on our email and then get busy replying and responding to everyone else’s needs which isn’t conducive to that sense of achievement at the end of the day.
Read this New York Times article about the impact of checking emails frequently and the effect on productivity. Well worth a read.
Insight 2 – When we don’t have a sense of meaning and contribution we can feel less engaged. According to McKinsey and Company, we come to work to find meaning in one of 5 areas – the impact on Society, The Organisation, The Customer, The Team or The Individual (with an even spread of each across organisations). Do you know how your role contributes to the success of your organisation and are you engaged with its purpose and vision?
Insight 3 – People are happy and engaged when they focus on their strengths at work. In 2007 Gallup conducted research asking people to comment on the statement “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best.” Those who responded ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ were found to be either unengaged or actively disengaged which brings us to the conclusion that focusing on innate talents and strengths leads to far greater engagement than trying to fix or develop ‘weaknesses’. The same poll identified that people who are given the opportunity to focus on their strengths each day are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
Tip 1 – Prioritise in advance – priorities are best identified with the benefit of ‘the clarity of distance’ as David Rock calls it, so setting priorities the evening before helps us to achieve that distance. Prioritising is the role of the Prefrontal Cortex, the CEO of our brain, as it involves planning, evaluating and deciding and we are better to revisit our priorities when our Prefrontal Cortex is fresh (usually first thing in the morning).
Remember to make yourself a priority – ensure you set goals for what YOU want to achieve in your working day (things that will make you feel a sense of achievement and meet the organisation’s goals) and look after your personal wellbeing.
Tip 2 – Understand your Purpose and Contribution – we can re-engage ourselves by reflecting on why we work for the organisation and what our individual contribution is to the success of the whole. This helps reinforce our sense of meaning and purpose which is energising and instils pride, elevating our sense of value and worth.
Tip 3 – Work to and further develop your Strengths – what are you good at and how often do you get the chance to use these skills at work? Find ways to do what you enjoy and are skilled at and you can find yourself in a state of flow where you find yourself fully immersed with an energised focus, which is a real dopamine hitter.
Tip 4 – Reconnect with the Tribe – Emotions are contagious and experiencing positive emotion at work contributes directly to increased personal engagement. Seek social connection and reconnect with people who make you feel good and positive. Remind yourself to get up from your desk and mingle (even better if there is a water cooler!) and commit to eating lunch in a social environment.
Read this Harvard Business Review article to explore the link between positive workplace culture and engagement.
Ultimately we have a choice as to what we focus on when it comes to engagement. When Anne and I coach people at work, we challenge them to look at what is within their sphere of influence and control, where they can start to re-engage themselves and it’s fulfilling to see the ripple effect this can have on our coaches and their colleagues.