Engagement at Work: Whose Responsibility Is It?

According to Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace report due out March 7, only one third of the people interviewed described themselves as engaged at work. Gallup describes engagement as more than feeling happy with your work, but being energized, excited about projects and driving positive business outcomes.

“Unfortunately, leaders often overlook their employer brand (including their employee value proposition) or devote few resources to developing and growing it. This strategy is not sustainable.” — Gallup

I agree with Gallup’s strong warning that companies who don’t invest in resolving the engagement puzzle will continue to lose valuable talent and therefore profitability. I agree that it is right, decent and makes sound financial sense to put more of their investment dollars into their employees and see their “employee” brand as important as their customer brand. However, we all know that companies and institutions are slow to evolve. Therefore employees must take responsibility for their own engagement. It simply doesn’t make any sense for them to sit by and wait for the company to resolve this for each of them. While organizations are on their way to improving engagement strategies, individuals can go a long way in making improvements on their own.

“Organizations have nowhere to hide. They have to adapt to the needs of the modern workforce, or they will find themselves struggling to attract and keep great employees and therefore customers.” — Gallup

A few years back, I had a middle-aged client who told me in our first session together that she kept expecting, all her adult life, that someone would notice how brilliant and capable she is and point her to a role where that was evident. “I keep thinking I’ll be discovered,” she said. How many of us tolerate less than ideal, less than engaging roles at work with this same attitude?

Everyone is so busy with their own work agenda, they aren’t thinking as much about your role as you are. This isn’t a bad thing—I believe this is normal human behavior. Yes, we have talent managers, HR managers and employee development specialists who work in this arena, but if you don’t know what will light your fire, excite and engage you, how are they supposed to know?

So what do the currently disengaged do to increase their satisfaction and connection to their work? Here are a few ideas:

  • First, make the decision that you will take responsibility for this and not passively wait for someone else to fix it. There is power in decision, and you are the best person capable to design engaging projects that excite you.
  • Know your innate strengths (if you don’t, you can take the assessment at www.gallupstrengthscenter.com). Think about the activities that utilize your natural strengths and energize you, then identify some roles at work or on your own where you can engage in these activities
  • Ask for what you need. Let your manager know you’d like to expand your role into areas that make the best use of your natural talents.
  • Look for ways to add value to the company while exercising your natural talents.
  • Be prepared with a business case to sell your idea. Show them the Gallup report. Plug in the numbers for what it would cost to replace you and train someone new. You may not have to use this data, but knowing it yourself will make your case stronger in your own mind and give credence to your request if your supervisor says, “Why would I want to do that?” It is unlikely that he or she won’t want to work something out with you, however.
  • You may be able to trade part of your responsibilities with a colleague who is also disengaged. Get creative about being flexible and nimble in approaching what needs to be done.
  • There may be a role not directly in your current area of responsibility, but that is still important to the organization. Perhaps you could trade using your communication skills to enhance their social media posts in exchange for being relieved of another aspect of your job that is draining to you.

Simply by owning the outcome for your own role fit and design, you will begin to see possibilities you hadn’t thought of before. If there is a mentoring or coaching program, ask to be part of it. Many employees do not use the funds allocated for their professional development and at year’s end, it goes away. If you don’t know how much is allocated for you, ask, then find courses or conferences that you would be excited to participate in.

Even if your organization does not have an employee education and development budget, don’t let that stop you from investing in your own success and future. There is always a way to grow, and with so much at our disposal we have no excuse to stay stuck in a role that isn’t using our capabilities to their best advantage.

The world of work is getting better all the time. You can be part of the solution by sharing ideas, asking for what you need and giving honest and direct feedback when asked for it. Mentoring a junior associate might just fuel your sense of purpose and meaning at work in ways that no one else could anticipate. Only you can know what truly ignites your sense of passion and purpose.

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