Employee engagement is perhaps the greatest problem facing workplaces today. Statistics show it’s only getting worse. Many of the problems that well-meaning leaders and managers struggle with are actually only symptoms of deeper engagement problems. You may not even realize it’s there.
Employee disengagement can be an invisible kind of friction that drags everything down. People drop balls. They miss deadlines. Make excuses. Projects are delayed. These things add up to major problems like cash crunches, employee and client retention issues, work/life imbalances, and more. But the root is a lack of employee engagement.
Employees want to be engaged, but they usually don’t get what they need. Often they don’t even know what they need.
And most managers mean well. You want to provide a great place to work. You want it to be fun, rewarding, rich, and engaging. You want people to look forward to coming to work. But it usually doesn’t work out that way, and I’m going to show you how it’s neither the manager’s or employee’s fault. Whatever role you have, you’re about to learn where employee engagement really comes from and what to do about it.
If you google “employee engagement ideas” you’ll find myriad lists of strategies, tips, and tools to improve employee engagement. You’ll see a lot of good ideas, but with few exceptions the solutions fall short in the way most solutions fall short in our world: they focus on content rather than context. I’ll explain.
The problem is that all of these ideas exist inside the same, flawed thinking: the idea that the employees work “for” their manager.
The fundamental orientation in workplaces around the world is that work means doing something that you don’t want to do for someone else, so you can get and do what you really want with the money you earn.
This is such a deep assumption in our world we don’t even realize we make it. It’s conditioned into us from an early age when we hear our parents complain about their jobs and bosses, then we are sent to school as something we “have” to do where rarely any teacher makes the content relevant to our future adult lives (because it mostly isn’t). And so why should we be surprised when we enter the work world and get more of the same? Work isn’t something you want to do for you. It’s something you “have” to do for someone or something else. That’s the paradigm in which we live. Our entire economy is based on billions of people doing what they don’t want to do with half of their waking hours, so they can do what they can in the other half.
Does that inspire excellence in you? Does that make you want to go above and beyond? Do the goals of your manager make you want to jump out of bed in the morning? Of course not.
Employee engagement isn’t bottoming out in our world because there aren’t enough company picnics, employee-of-the-month programs, or foosball tables. All of those solutions work around the core problem, and so none of them solve it. They can help, but they never produce the highest level of engagement that a business needs to flourish–and that people need to thrive.
Employee Engagement Is Simple, But Not Necessarily Easy
There’s only one thing you need to foster employee engagement: the realization that people only work for themselves (at the level of context). They may be producing your widgets, serving your customers, or cleaning your floors, but they do it for themselves first. Once you fully embody this, everything changes. It’s not enough merely to understand it. You must “come from” this place. Your thoughts, words, and actions must express this orientation toward reality. For example, it means you never take the thought, “I have to go to work” seriously again, because you know it’s a lie. It can take months or even years to fully embody this because we’ve received so much conditioning of the opposite view.
While you are working on this change in attitude, there are many things you can do to improve employee engagement, but it all starts here. This shift doesn’t happen overnight, and most people need help. It’s one of the main topics in Clear and Open Membership: a community dedicated to radically self-interested professional development. Try a month risk-free with a money-back guarantee to see if it’s for you.
Because even if you already understand this principle, it’s very likely you’re not embodying it completely. I call this the “embodiment gap” and it’s critical to see. What you say your values are doesn’t matter, only how you live them.What are you doing to close your embodiment gap? Who do you have in your life that will call you on it?
And I have one more question for you. It’s the only employee engagement tool you really need. Ask yourself or someone who reports to you: “How exactly are you using your job to become more the person you want to become?” Let yourself sit with this. Maybe do some journaling about it, and I’ll have more for you next week.