For so many reasons, it's important that you like your job. If you work full-time, that means that you probably currently spend the majority of your life at work.
When you add up all the physical and mental hours that you spend focused on work each week - evenings and weekends included - that factors in huge as to whether you're getting much enjoyment out of life.
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Being immersed for that much time in a job that you hate is a horrible space to live in for a sustained period. It takes its toll on you and all those people around you, including your co-workers and family. This is why many companies invest heavily in strategies and tools to help keep their employees engaged. Engagement is the chic term that replaced employee satisfaction.
For many employees, satisfaction is a basic requirement.
Engagement is about something deeper.
1. It starts with trust
Your relationship with your employer is like most other relationships in your life.
Your manager, the team that you're on, or the team you lead - they all represent the human connection that gives you some of the same things you would expect in any relationship that you willingly choose to be in. And like all relationships, including the one with your company, it starts with trust.
A friend once told me that he sliced through his finger while using a meat slicer on a job earlier in his career. When his supervisor saw what happened, he pulled my friend outside and drove him offsite to the hospital emergency room. The supervisor told my friend not to mention that he had injured himself at work. He told him to say he injured himself at home. The supervisor then left him there and returned to work. He wanted nothing to do with any report of an injury on his watch.
This is a horrific example of what it feels like when you're not sure if even your basic safety and well-being are a priority. It's the same for someone who gets sexually harassed at work, or a manager that bullies everyone and nobody does anything about it.
It's hard to focus on higher level things when you're worried about your basic security and well-being.
The company has to be able to trust you as well. That's part of the reciprocity required in any healthy relationship.
If you constantly back-stab your co-workers, or abuse sensitive information, or work in an unsafe way that puts you and your team at risk, then the company would also have reason to question your commitment. You become a liability to its success.
Before anything else can happen in the relationship, you both must trust that the other will not intentionally jeopardise the safety, well-being, dignity or reputation of the other. If you can't be yourself at work out of fear that you'll be fired, your primary goal during the day is to stay safe.
And if you've given your colleagues any reason to believe that your needs are more important than what the team needs, then their primary goal is to keep their distance from you. You can see why engagement starts with trust. When trust is missing at work, it's hard to focus on the big picture.
2. How's your fit?
Many social theorists believe that it's a basic human need to want to be with other people who share common interests. If you have a choice between joining two companies where the salaries are comparable, it's very likely that you'll choose the one where you believe you'll fit the best.
Fit is largely about affiliation - what we call a bond. Whether you fit in has a lot to do with how much you want to be there. And it also has a lot to do with whether the company is showing much love in return.
When two companies merge, or one acquires the other, the employees don't have much choice in who their new employer is. There's very little relationship there, which makes it hard to get that same fire in your belly that you have when you voluntarily choose to join a company.
In this case, you can see how things will quickly regress to the fundamental issue of trust. If neither of you know much about the other, you're going to be extra careful around each other for a while.
You have to want to be there. You need to work your way in, and the team needs to open itself up, enough for you both to feel connected on fit and purpose. The team knows if you hate your job and don't want to be there, or around them. And you know that feeling when people don't want you around, or don't go out of their way to welcome you in.
To really get engaged with your job, focus on why you want to be there.
Are you proud to be part of the team and company? Do they feel that? Or do they see you as someone who has come in to save them from themselves. People don't like to be saved from themselves. They like it more if you're there to help build something together with them.
3. Gratitude helps
The third essential required to really love your job is knowing that you are making a difference.
That affirmation doesn't flow freely in some work cultures where hard work and discretionary effort are taken for granted. For many people, their workplace is the only place where they feel validated and appreciated. That explains why some people work long hours, especially if home is not an enticing place to be.
Some people go weeks, if not months, without hearing any positive feedback about their work. On top of that, the only feedback they do get is negative or corrective. There's nothing feeding their spirit or fuelling their willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. People who don't feel appreciated eventually stop showing appreciation. When the affirmation stops flowing, the energy between teammates can go very flat.
Employers will sometimes rationalise that being paid a decent salary is gratitude enough.
The research on engagement begs to differ in a major way.
In companies where big bonuses are not possible, employers use recognition awards - or simply acknowledging someone for their work - to show appreciation.
It makes a difference to be told that you're making a difference. If you have any doubts about whether your work is valued, seek the validation that you need to stay engaged. There's an old adage that 'you teach people how to treat you.'
If you're not getting enough feedback to know whether you should do things differently, go after it.
4. Are you growing?
Boredom is still ranked as one of the top stressors at work.
The impact of the stress is more subliminal than being over-worked, but just as draining. People who are bored lack sufficient stretch in their jobs. What was once a challenge has now become routine, so much so that you have turned your brain off because it is no longer required.
Back to the essence of any relationship: if both parties aren't growing together, or one is outgrowing the other, there will eventually come a point of imbalance.
When you believe that the company is starting to ask too much of you, in ways that are not helping you to grow, it can damage the relationship.
It works the same way in reverse. When you do all of the taking, and there is little evidence that your contribution has helped the company grow, the team will withdraw its support.
You're more likely to love your job if you believe that it's helping you become more capable and confident. And it's gravy on top when you know that all your hard work has helped the company grow as well.