Research finds: The best practice for Work Engagement is Having a Strategy!
For my master’s thesis in organizational psychology, I researched the best practices for work engagement. I found that one of the main differences between the most and the least engaged employee was having a strategy to keep engaged, versus not having one at all. This suggests that our level of engagement at work is mainly up to us and not dependent on the negative consequences enforced in our work groups or in our organizations. Though the environment and the circumstances may not be ideal for us, we always have the opportunity to make a difference in our environment, and thus in our lives.
Having a strategy starts with self-reflection (or self-inquiry). It’s important to look deeper into the situation to perceive what is really going on, asking: How am I experiencing the situation? How come I don’t feel as engaged?
Engagement can be situational. Maybe you like your job, in general, but what you’re dealing with lately is not your favorite part of the job. This situational circumstance may start to color your entire work experience. One highly engaged software engineer I interviewed said:
“No matter how big or small it is, I like to see myself accomplishing things. I can push myself through rough patches. At the beginning there will be certain difficulties. It won’t be very much fun, but once we get going, in the end, the result will be very interesting.”
He added that he doesn’t particularly enjoy every aspect of his job. Sometimes, especially at the beginning, parts of his job felt tedious and time consuming, but he was able to feel motivated by reminding himself of the big picture.
At times, the environment isn’t right. What can you do when gossiping, bullying, and exclusion are part of the organizational culture? Even if you aren’t able to name it, or describe it fully, you have a sense that something is just not right.
In those kind of circumstances, often you’re aware of what needs to change to create a more effective work environment. My research suggests that we shouldn’t let negative consequences discourage us. Regardless of our positions at work, we all have an opportunity to make a difference at work and in our lives.
However, if you tried bringing an issue up in a constructive way, have tried several strategies, and nothing changes, or you’re wronged — singled out as “problematic”, remember that even if you can’t make a different at work, you can make a difference in your life.
If the circumstances can not be changed and they’re effecting your health and/or your sense of self-esteem, often it’s best to have an exit strategy. You don’t have to leave right away, but you can have a short or a long term strategy to exit — depending on what fits your life circumstances (for example, mortgage payments, family obligations, etc.). The idea here is that even when we feel trapped, we never really are! A shift in perception and perspective leads to taking small, but decisive, steps toward the goals identified in our strategies. This has the power to lead us to success and satisfaction in work and life.
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