I often tell people that before I launched my own business, on most Sunday evenings, I dreaded the thought of going to work on Monday morning. Literally, half of Sunday, a day off, was spent with anxiety about going back to work on Monday. I am amazed at how many people tell me that they experience similar anxiety each weekend about returning to work.
Why do we hate work so much?
A recent article published in the New York Times on May 30, 2014 got a lot of attention in Social Media. “Why You Hate Work” was written by Tony Schwartz, the chief executive of The Energy Project, a consulting firm, and Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The bottom-line of the article is employees dread going to work because there are too many priorities, too many distractions, and limited to no emotional connection or engagement with the outcomes.
The Energy Project and Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of 12,000+ white-collar employees to understand what influences engagement. The survey provided a list of factors that are prevalent in a fulfilling workplace and asked respondents to indicate which were present and not present in their respective workplaces. The top five factors lacking in the workplaces of respondents were:
- Regular time for creative or strategic thinking.
- Ability to focus on one thing at a time.
- Opportunities to do what is most enjoyed.
- Level of meaning and significance.
- A connection to your company’s mission.
- A sense of community.
What did we learn new from the survey?
NOTHING! Having led organizational change work in corporations for many years, there is nothing surprising in this list as compared to 20 years ago. Oh sure, the order may have changed some, and a few factors are described with different words, but there is nothing new here. The authors do mention that technological advances are amplifying the demands on our time, which increases the potential for burnout. Today’s technology and connectedness capabilities are throwing information at us constantly with an expectation to respond at all times of the day and night. So, even though the findings of the survey are the same, some of the causes have changed.
So what is the problem?
What we do know is that there has always been a Knowing-Doing Gap in most companies as it relates to engagement. Leaders Know that Better Engagement = Better Company & Individual Performance, yet many do Nothing to systemically improve engagement at the team or company level. So what prevents us as leaders (technology or other) from Doing something to improve team member engagement?
The authors suggest that pain is a powerful motivator. Often a leader will not act to improve engagement until employee turnover inflicts pain on the organization. Unfortunately, by that time, it is too late.
Another thing preventing Doing something to improve employee engagement is the pressure of short-term objectives. For example, allowing developers time each day to think strategically or experiment with new technologies can quickly get dropped if an important project deadline looms.
Finally, the leader often has trouble walking the talk. For example, the authors speak about a simple concept of taking a break every 90 minutes from work, and the impact that has on productivity and sense of well-being. A leader can create a culture that encourages this but if he/she does not make it a personal habit, it will soon disappear from practice among staff.
The concept of the Knowing-Doing Gap has been around forever. Not knowing is one thing, but knowing and not doing is an abdication of leadership. Finding creative ways to improve your technology team’s sense of engagement with their work, the company, and their careers should be a top priority. Building an engaged workforce builds a committed work force.
What are you doing to improve engagement with your technology teams and staff?