An Engaged Workplace is a Productive Workplace

Is everybody happy? Creating an engaged workplace environment.

Conventional wisdom once was that employees didn’t have to be happy or be in a workplace environment where there was a culture of civility to be productive. They didn’t need to be engaged with the company. Fear of being fired, fear of being humiliated in front of coworkers, fear of being demoted or downgraded publicly were considered effective management tools. You didn’t need to like the people you work with and you didn’t need to share their values. You could come to work and do your job well without feeling invested in your workplace. After all, work is not personal. Many firms had policies forbidding relationships among employees.

With the millennium came newly designed studies of the workplace. New technology allowed researchers to look at the brain activity of employees. These studies verified what we knew intuitively. For example, a study in England completed in 2013 showed that people who were happier at work had an increase in productivity of around 12%. Research conducted by the likes of neuroscientists Richard Davidson and V.S. Ramachandran and scholars such as Shawn Achor increasingly point to a simple fact: Happy workers are better workers. Those who are engaged with their jobs and colleagues work harder and smarter.

And yet, there are an alarmingly high number of people who aren’t engaged. According to a sobering 2013 Gallup study reported by Steve Crabtree only 30% of the U.S. and Canadian workforce is engaged at work. Not very many people are truly “emotionally and intellectually committed” to their organizations. Crabtree says:

Far too many couldn’t care less about what’s happening around them. For them, Wednesday is “hump day” and they’re just working to get to Friday. Then there’s the other end of the bell curve — the nearly one out of five employees is actively disengaged. These people are sabotaging projects, backstabbing colleagues, and generally wreaking havoc in their workplaces.

Disengaged, unhappy people aren’t any fun to work with, don’t add much value to the workplace, and impact our organizations (and our economy) in profoundly negative ways. It’s even worse when leaders are disengaged because they infect others with their attitude. Their emotions and mindset impact others’ moods and performance tremendously. After all, how we feel is linked to what and how we think. In other words, thought influences emotion, and emotion influences thinking.

Let’s agree. Feelings at work are important and matter for the success of our endeavor.  Science is on our side: there are clear neurological links between feelings, thoughts, and actions. When we are in the grip of strong negative emotions, we can’t think straight. We focus mostly — sometimes only — on the source of the pain. We don’t process information as well, think creatively, or make good decisions. Frustration, anger, and stress cause an important part of us to shut down—the thinking, engaged part. Disengagement is a natural neurological and psychological response to negative emotions.

What can individuals do, if they feel their workplace falls short of what they need to be engaged, happy employees? Here is a list of questions excerpted from The Essential Work Skills Workbook by Ester A Leutenberg and John J Liptak, EdD that will help. Answer them and think about what they mean. Choose the most important to you and then ask for a meeting with your supervisor. This is a good chance to address your issues in a positive way. What is the value statement of your workplace? How does that mesh with your personal values?

  1. How can you redefine your role at work so it is more meaningful to you?
  2. How does your workload compare to others’ workloads in the organization?
  3. What expectations does your supervisor have of you? In what ways are these expectations realistic? Unrealistic?
  4. What capabilities are you not using at work?
  5. How can you tell your supervisor that you have too much work to do?
  6. What can you do to manage your time better?
  7. How is your work interfering with your personal life?
  8. How can you use your energy more effectively at work?
  9. What part of your role do you not understand?
  10. What can your supervisor do to make your work tasks more clear?
  11. How can you communicate to your supervisor that you are unclear about certain aspects of your work?
  12. What changes have occurred in your organization that have increased your work stress? Have these changes made a difference in the values of your workplace?
  13. Do you feel you are valued by your organization? If not, why not?
  14. What position within the organization would you like to be doing and how would this allow you to use your talents and skills more efficiently?
  15. How can you show your supervisor that you are capable of doing other work? Make a list of your untapped talents and share them with your boss.

Here is a link to an article from Entrepreneur Magazine that addresses important issues on this topic:

Is it possible to have an engaged, happy workforce? It certainly is. I work in just such a place. Here at Whole Person Associates we are engaged in what we do, we are civil to each other, we care about the quality of our products. We like each other. The result is a workplace that functions efficiently, produces great products, and has excellent customer relationships.

Whole Person Associates Staff: Engaged Workplace

Whole Person Associates staff: In front, Deb Lutkevich, back row left to right, Jack Kosmach, Carlene Sippola, Peg Johnson, Adam Sippola celebrating Deb’s 25th anniversary at WPA.

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