I read with interest the New York Times article “Why You Hate Work”. It is a bit of a manifesto on disengagement and lack of motivation at work.
Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath define engagement (per a number of studies) as “involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort and energy”.
Motivated workers are engaged and engagement is widely correlated with higher performance at work. According to Gallup studies across 192 companies, those with the highest level of engaged employees were:
22 percent more profitable,
had 10 percent higher customer ratings,
28 percent less theft and
48 percent fewer safety incidents than companies with the lowest levels of employee engagement.
This makes sense.
What was truly notable, however, were the over 500 responses this article received from readers – many of them very angry, discouraged and cynical about the circumstances under which they work.
An angry, discouraged and cynical employee is about as far from a motivated engaged team member as you can get. This outpouring seemed to correlate with the Gallup Organization’s 2013 survey reporting only 30% of American employees are engaged in their work.
Coming home exhausted, burned out, and utterly discouraged by work or watching someone else come home that way is disturbing on many levels.
Confidence erodes, depression sinks in, and negative coping mechanisms take over — over-eating, too much alcohol, taking frustration out on those at home, or just zoning out in front of mindless TV shows may provide minor relief, but these behaviors don’t solve the root problem and often create more problems.
Disengagement is a slow and painful waste of lives, a significant drag on a company’s growth and the overall economy. (No wonder this economic turn-around has been so slow!)
As an employer or an employee (or even an entrepreneur), how can you turn this around?
Schwartz and Porath shared four core needs every leader and every employee must satisfy to be motivated and fully engaged in work.
Whoever you are, CEO, owner, manager, entrepreneur, or discouraged employee – begin with yourself.
Ask: Is it possible to meet your own needs at work and engage more deeply?
Here are the four basic needs suggested by Schwartz and Porath and actions you can take now to meet these needs:
1. People need regular opportunities to renew and recharge during work. Studies found taking a break every 90 minutes made a big difference in productivity.
Ask yourself: What is the best thing to do during these breaks so that you actually do come back renewed and recharged? How long of a break is enough?
In working with companies seeking to increase productivity, I have found it very effective for team members to practice five minutes of silence at least three times per day.
Five minutes away from screens, phones and people.
Five minutes to reconnect with the breath and body – to connect to something more than just thoughts.
If you sit all day, take five minutes to walk slowly with awareness of body and breath.
If you stand all day, take five minutes to sit with the same awareness.
If you spend any part of a break talking to others, avoid gossip and negativity at all costs. This is not revitalizing! If your colleagues engage in this habit, take a break without them.
2. Employees need to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions.
Everyone wants to be acknowledged.
The trouble is we cannot control whether others appreciate us or not.
The best place to start feeling value and appreciation is to learn to appreciate yourself and your accomplishments.
Try the practice Reviewing Accomplishments (from Mastering Successful Work) : Every evening set aside a few minutes to review what you have accomplished during the day. Write down at least 3 things (no matter how small or large). Look for periods when you wasted time, but also for occasions when you had a sense of working or acting with full energy, in harmony with the flow of time. Include in your review feelings of satisfaction, joy, frustration, or disappointment, without making them the focus. Let the resulting awareness of time and your accomplishments inspire you to engage more fully in your work.
I do this practice every evening before I go to bed. It takes less than ten minutes. I take a moment to really appreciate my effort in creating each accomplishment and its unique value.
The benefits? It grounds me and reminds me I did not waste the day. I see how small things build. I see more clearly what to focus on tomorrow. I sleep better.
If I skip a night, something is missing. I’ve lost an opportunity to appreciate myself and contact my own value.
3. Workers need the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done.
In Skillful Means “to focus in an absorbed way on most important tasks” is called concentration. It feels so good to be able to do this.
However, the modern office with cubicles anyone can walk into at any moment, and its 24 -7 connection to email, texts, instant messaging and is a huge impediment to concentration. Many people have few moments of silence or directed intentional focus. We live in a culture where we are constantly being led by distraction.
Concentration requires you lead with your mind.
It is a pattern many of us are very unfamiliar with – but it is incredibly healing.
Click to read a short chapter on ‘Concentration’ from Skillful Means. To begin to practice concentration, try this simple exercise called Fully Focusing before you begin any work each morning.
4. Employees need to do more of what they do best and enjoy most, and feel connected to a higher purpose at work.
Feeling connected to a higher purpose at work eventually becomes non-negotiable as a person develops. Once fully connected to a higher purpose, there is less resistance. You become good at and enjoy whatever it is you choose to focus on, as it is all in service to your higher purpose.
The reality is many people feel the only purpose of their work is to make money for themselves or for others. Making money is critical for a business to sustain itself, but it wears very thin if it is the main reason for working. The cart is before the horse.
The horse is a very clear vision that benefits as many people as possible and is ideally shared by a whole team. It is specific.
If you are a designated leader, it is well worth your time to create a shared vision for work within your team. A shared vision is what is truly good for the company and good for the employees. Shared means more than just the management team holds it. Once this happens, teams have the basis to truly work together. Hint: If your vision has been sitting on a poster, plaque or website for a while, you may need a process to re-engage people around it. (Contact me here if you need some help with this or any of these strategies for increasing engagement.)
If you are not a designated leader, you can still develop your own vision for your work. What opportunity is right in front of you? What do you want to learn here? How can you make things better? How does this experience fit into the vision you have for your life?
If you are feeling disengaged, angry, or cynical, reading this may feel overwhelming. Just start with one thing. Let, us know how it goes. Because once you understand how to meet your own needs, you can help others meet theirs and begin to improve your situation in very tangible ways. You become a leader.
Which of the four core needs do you need to meet the most to be able to sustain yourself in your work? Please share your thoughts below –