Although I am a firm believer in leaving work at work, I always keep the office door of my brain open in case some bright idea needs to get in or out. And, that very often happens—even more often at inopportune times. I might be streaming the latest (or last!) episode of Mad Men and have to shout: “Pause, please!” so I can write myself a note. Or, I might wake in the night and send an email to my work address containing a barely comprehensible message that I need to decode the next day. Here’s one that was in my inbox this morning:
Subject line: What
Content: What makes people give a sh!#?
I actually know where I was going with this one, even though I was half asleep and the subject line only contained one word. I was thinking about engagement in the workplace and its sad state these days. The numbers haven’t budged for years, despite lots of talk and strategizing on the subject. I actually read an article that suggested it’s been a topic of concern since 1929.
Hmmmm. Is it possible that the problem here is the nature of modern work? The rise of industrialization brought us off the farms and out of our homes—and into offices and factories, disconnecting us from labor that directly led to our sustenance and inserting a middle man. For most of us, anyway. At the heart of what I’m thinking is that if it’s not our own, even if we’re highly motivated and driven, it’s harder to correlate the end with the means. (This is a working theory of mine; I’m not stating it as fact. Yet!)
So, what to do? Not all of us are business owners, entrepreneurs, or hunter-gatherers. How can we help ourselves and our employees find greater purpose and meaning in our work that will lead to better engagement? I have some ideas…
Give (or take) ownership. Even if you can’t own the business, you can own your part of it. I’m not talking shares here, but rather about your little corner of importance. What project, activity, or opportunity can you seize that will make you feel like you’re making a difference? What of the same can you offer your team? Having a sense of responsibility and accountability to a specific task or outcome can provide all of us the oomph we need to feel more satisfaction in our day to day.
Make it fulfilling. At Baudville, we have the luxury of doing work that we know makes other people’s lives better. We sell appreciation. It’s a good gig. But, we also get a lot of opportunities to give back to the community. There is great satisfaction in working for a company that wants to be bigger than itself and allows its employees to be integral in that. And, because we know the emerging workforce rates “doing meaningful work” as one of their highest career priorities, it makes sense for Baudville to provide an outlet—and it makes sense for your organization to do it, too.
Communicate your impact. Your company probably equates its success with earnings. This seems reasonable. But, what if it were also linked to the benefits your customers receive? And, your employees knew what those were? A line worker might forget that the part he manufactures will take on a life of its own when it leaves his hands. A service rep might need a reminder that she made the person on the end of her line’s day better because of her extra effort. It’s your job to make their purpose known—and you can do that by broadcasting positive customer feedback, product reviews, and/or success stories. We do this via our corporate dashboard and in all staff meetings. If you’re not doing this now, think about how you can in the future.
Appreciate everyone’s contributions. Sometimes just knowing that our work is noticed and matters to someone can create the emotional connection needed to increase engagement. Celebrating successes and equating those with tangible results can make you and your team feel a part of the bigger picture. And that’s a lot of what it’s all about, isn’t it?