Seeking engagement in the workplace


Or, Seeking a Job That Fits You

Happy Worker

Photo credit: thechrisdavis (flickr)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m enjoying (for the second time) the book Plugged In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work. One important topic covered is engagement. Engagement, in this context, means actively contributing to the workplace in a way that goes beyond just “getting enough done.” Engaged workers bring energy, creativity, and commitment to the job. They think of new ways to do things and choose to put in the extra work to make sure things are not only done, but done well.

The alternatives are satisfied workers – people who are just doing enough and are just satisfied enough to keep doing the same things as they look toward retirement, or worse – unhappy workers.

Apparently in older generations it was less common to seek engagement in the work place. Work and play were thought of as two completely different things. When I think of what I know of my father’s generation’s work attitudes, it certainly matches that. You had work, which mostly men did in order to support a family, and home, where mostly women managed households and family activities. Some people were lucky enough to love their work, but many more went through the routine and built traditional careers, trusting that if they were devoted to the company, the company would provide. Reasonable, since in those days, it usually did.

Today things are different, and separation lines are blurred or gone. We’ve been encouraged to think outside the box since we were children. I’m thankful for that. But the freedom to stop and think about whether the traditional ways will make you happy and satisfied can lead to a different view of the purpose of work, marriage, and life itself.

Less willing to accept “it’s always been done that way” as a reason to do anything, I, anyhow, came to the conclusion that if I’m going to spend so much of my time working to make a living, I might as well get as many benefits as I could. Why not look for fulfillment, a challenge, a chance to learn, a career that makes you feel good about your work?

Propaganda Poster for a Happy Worker!

Propaganda Poster for a Happy Worker!

I certainly saw this difference in expectations for engagement when I started in the workforce in 2009. Coming from an excellent university where I was surrounded by the most engaged, passionate, inspired, and inspiring members of my generation, I naively asked my co-workers a number of what I thought were “getting to know you” questions such as “what made you want to be in this field?” only to receive puzzled stares and flat responses such as “I didn’t.”

While I’ve obtained marginal help from elders in my field in trying to determine where I could find what I’m looking for, I’ve also been disappointed by how many people seem to have barely considered how a position aligns with their passions, interests, desires. I can’t help but think they’re all floating in a big river, turning this way or that because that’s how it’s done and that’s where the currents took them.

I don’t know if it’s because of my propensity for depression, but that sounds horrifying to me! What if that next fork in the river splits, one side a relaxing and fun path with just the right amount of challenge, and the other either leads to raging rapids or a desolate flat stretch with nothing to look at or do? I’d want to pull up google earth and figure out what the options are, not just let the currents carry me where they will.

Anyhow, for a number of reasons, my generation (sometimes called Millenials, Gen Y, or the Net Generation) seeks engagement in greater numbers than before.

So, how does one find engagement at work? The author, Tamara Erickson, suggests that a good place to start is by identifying times in the past that you were engaged, and noting the conditions such as where you were, what you were doing, who you were doing it with, and what type of pressure you were doing it under.

Here are a few of her suggestions of what type of experiences to recall:

-A time when you lost yourself in your work, unaware of the time that was passing or other distractions

-A time when you felt proud of something you accomplished and happy to acknowledge your involvement in it

-A time when you put in extra effort and time to make sure a job was not just completed, but done well

-A time when your enthusiasm and energy to work on a project led you to successfully convince others to invest their efforts too

Those are just a couple of her suggestions. I know they’ve certainly given me a lot to think about. I hope they’ve given you something to think about too – I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Seeking engagement in the workplace

  1. I clicked on when I saw your posting about losing a friend and co-worker to a sudden death. Please work with me. I don’t have the best computor skills, the best memory or word association skills. There are many reasons for this but that is not why I am posting a comment.

    I first clicked on because I thought your loss was the same as my husband’s. Similar but not the same. He had an employee who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who then turned the gun on himself. As in your situation my husband keeps asking himself was there more he could have done?, But like you (yes, you) he was there for her in the way that he needed to be. It is a hard concept to grasp.

    I admire your need for self education. I read back through your postings regarding looking for a job and the book Plugged: In: The Generation Y Guide to Thriving at Work. I have not read the book but probably will. (I am an avid reader, always looking for great educational books.) I have been on disability for Fibromyalgia (one of the reasons for skill problems) for over 8 years, but have related to wanting to be an “engaged worker”. I guess you can say I fall in between the generations, but age wise probably fall into your dad’s. I was brought up to color outside the lines by my parents and my early schooling. My later schooling was not so liberal probably because of a move to the deep south for high school and a year and a half of college there before moving back out west. My father’s work work motto is: “You gotta make money as much as you can doing whatever job allows you to do this, along with the most benefits.” Oh he also feels prestige is also very important. My mom’s motto was “Enjoy what you are doing but don’t take on anything to ambitious or anything that my personality could get me in trouble.” I tend to call it like it is, especially if I see something not being done correctly. I held some jobs that I enjoyed but realized they were not what I needed to be doing for the rest of my life. Believe it or not the job that I becamed “engaged” with was in the federal government, but just because I was engaged did not mean my coworkers were. At least in my branch of the government world many, many of the workers were there only to “get just enough done.” Not only was that motto for themselves but they expected it to be my motto as well. I received the push to work “just enough” not only from the same grade level GS-11’s, but also from lower grade employees as well as higher grade employees. I had expected the companies that I inspected and audited to want me to have this motto but not my fellow employees.

    I spent more words than I expected on the work situation but it does lead into the death of your friend. The comment your boss made about your friend quitting her job reminded me of several comments I rec’d from male bosses when I started having physical as well as mental problems. I say male bosses because 99.6 percent of my superiors were male. Most of the bosses and some of the workers in my pay grade had been working since the late 1950’s. Their work mind set was definalty not on engagement, thus many of the unemotional, uncaring comments, like you received.

    I pray that your boss has been less abrasive with his comments since your friend took her life. I have a feeling he is still being Mr. BossMan pushing his emotions aside and covering his feelings with rough comments. For your sake and others I hope he is finding the right words and actions.

    Again I want to applaud you on self educationg yourself. This time regarding grief and mental illnes. I pray the right books continue to fall into your hands. If your bookstore was limited try the library. You have probably thought about this but I wanted to mention it. As I mentioned I am on disability for Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue. I realize now I could have gotten disability for my Bipolar, but I didn’t even dare bring that problem, disease, disorder up at work. As you have found out there is not much public information regarding mental helath and what is can be faulty. Just lately most of the information I have heard about mental illness is from the tv crime shows. Scary isn’t it! Thank you again for not only taking the time to educate yourself but others.

    It will take time for things to “settle down” after what you and your husband have gone thru. I don’t want to rattle you but there never really is a “settle down” in life after any trauma, especailly such a dramatic one. But you are taking the right steps, education, reaching out to others, taking time for yourself, etc. Support groups can be helpful in these situations. There are several types of grief support groups out there. There are also support groups for family and friends of people with mental illness. My husband and I are just now getting involved with one of these and we have been married for 18 years.

    As to whether or not you could have reached your friend in her manic stage
    from the voice of experience: Even if you had talked to her you may not have reached her, Even though I have been on medication for years, I recently went thru two bad manic stages and one severe one. The first bad one was about 4 months ago I have no memory of about two days and who was trying to help me. Believe it or not my psychiatrist even got upset with me because I could not remember “Her offuce being there for me.” Even more unbeilvable I kept her as my doctor. To all people out there with any type of mental illness or even a physical one: “As frustrating as it is to find a new doctor, do it if circumstances call for it.”

    I had memory loss with the last two manic/deppressive episodes also. The worst was with the severe episode about a month ago. I have total memory loss of over a week and blurry memory of another week. My husband didn’t even know where I was for three days. He would just get sporadic hang up calls from me.

    Another message to anyone who is Bipolar: Do not take any oral steroids and even possibly even steroid shots (cortisone), without consultation with your mental heath doctors. I found out the hard way, even more so my husband, oral steroids can most definatly bring on a severe manic episode, See my remarks above

    Thank you allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences..

  2. Thank you, Candy, for your thoughtful comment.

    I appreciate the part about your work experiences. Although I haven’t said it, I in fact work in government too. And the attitude here is very similar, even in my office, which is relatively new and is part of a growing movement. People here are said to be more motivated than in other parts of government, but still I see their motivations as being more about getting prestige than about getting things done. So whatever can be shoved under a rug, hid in a closet, or flat out ignored, is. And yes, the Boss Man is still acting the same way – for most of my coworkers within a few days it was as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. I recognize that this doesn’t necessarily mean they weren’t shaken, but that they all subscribe to the “keep it inside at all costs” mentality. It’s hard to watch and see, because I know intimately how much she chafed against that approach and how much it influenced her decision to quit this stable job without something strong to move onto next. I wanted desperately to do the same thing.

    This part that you wrote “I realize now I could have gotten disability for my Bipolar, but I didn’t even dare bring that problem, disease, disorder up at work,” is very interesting. I also have avoided bringing this up, except for vague references to medical issues and doctors. But I have thus far refused to explicitly state or have anything on record that documents my own disease.

    How did you learn that you could have taken disability? What would have been involved?

    My husband has encouraged me to talk to my union, but I am hesitant because it seems like such a big deal, and I don’t want to make trouble, and I question if my concerns are valid, and and and and….

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I hope that they may help others as well as me. It is important that we have places where we aren’t afraid to speak the truth.

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