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Leadership Lessons – When Were you Last Engaged?

No. That isn’t a question about your personal life, it’s a question about your work life. Are you still engaged? Or has the passion for your work worn off? More to the point? Are our staff still engaged? Do they look forward to arriving at the office, or are they regularly having to buy new alarm clocks because the old ones don’t hold up to the Monday morning mauling to shut them up?

The issue of ’employee engagement’ has become a bit of a trend lately. Head to Google Trends ( and type in ‘Employee Engagement’ for a visual representation of that trend based on Google searches. (Compare it to how my specialty of ‘Change Management’ is trending. Oops. Do I need to change my topic?)

The first thing we need to do is define what we’re talking about. What is ‘Employee Engagement’ and then, why should we care about it.

Here’s a definition I use that’s in synch with what I’ve seen as common usage;
“ an employee who is engaged with their job feels a certain amount of ownership in the outcome of their actions, they care about their work, they show initiative when something needs doing, rather than waiting for someone to point them in the right direction”.

Why is it important? Consider yours truly, the writer of this column as an absurd example. I’m a one man company. I must be engaged in what I do, not necessarily all of what I do, but at the very least with the core of what I do, otherwise there are ugly consequences.

I could not care less about ‘accounting’, yet it must be done – so I outsource that administrivia, and several others, to someone else. Problem solved.
But, the core of what I do is ‘take the stage’. The instant that becomes a chore, something I do on autopilot because I have to? Then I am on the fast path to being an ex-speaker.

In a typical office, the consequences of lack of engagement are similar, but they are easier to hide, or at least to ignore. A single unengaged employee out of a staff of 5 or 10 might be regarded as not much of a problem, but if 50% of staff are unengaged, then productivity and quality begin a precipitous drop.
If all of our staff are disengaged from what they do, then who owns all that which needs doing? Who cares about the deliverable? Who takes the initiative? If ownership, caring, and initiative is all falling to a handful or even a single individual? Then we have a serious problem. Especially when increased ownership, caring and initiative without recognition and/or reward is a very good reason to stop caring… anyone for a good game of domino effects?

When employees become disengaged, then even day-to-day operations require conscious effort to drive them forward, an effort that might be better used thinking about tomorrow.
So why do we disengage? Here are five possible reasons – there are others.

  • Not enough feedback.

We’re simple creatures. We like to know how we’re doing. Without feedback? We have no clue if we’re going in the right direction. Feedback is food that feeds our motivation.

  • Lack of opportunity to grow

We also don’t like standing in the same place, at the very least most of us find that boring. Even if there are no new positions to move into, are there at least new things we could be doing?

  •  Lack of recognition

This boils down to a simple question? Do you care that I care? Not everyone is ‘self-motivated’, many us, make that nearly all of us, appreciate being appreciated.

Here’s a challenge. I dare you to do this. One Friday afternoon. Order in a few pizzas, some cans of pop, some dessert. Call everyone into your office and tell them, “I know you’ve all been working hard. I just wanted to say. “Thanks!” You don’t have to say anything else. Just ‘Thanks!’ This works even better if you’ve never done such a wild and crazy thing, especially if your organization has banned office celebrations. (This must be the case, because office parties have become a rare beastie.)

Let me know what happened. My e-mail is at the end of this collection of articles.

  •  Lack of Trust

I don’t think anyone needs to spend much time elaborating on this. Nobody cares to put extra effort into an organization they no longer Trust. On a scale of 1-10… how much Trust is there in your organization?

  • Stress-Burnout.

Things are tough all over and getting tougher. If you want to muse something over on your own? Go back to Google Trends and do a search on ‘Recession’…. compare that chart to the one you got when you searched on ‘Employee Engagement’.

Not all of the above are solved easily, some are, others are way beyond our scope and powers. The problem of employee disengagement is a real one. If allowed to grow (or encouraged to grow!) then sooner or later the organization is coasting (grinding?) to a halt. The first step in solving it is accepting that it is a problem… and with that? Here’s the closer;

Here’s a personal question.. What do you do on autopilot at work? What have you disengaged from? What have your staff disengaged from? What’s that costing your organization? Do you know? Do you care? (Careful with that last answer… it’s a doozie) 

© 2015 Peter de Jager – Reprinted with Permission.