I was in the doctor’s office the other day for my annual physical. The receptionist at the front desk was absorbed in her computer work and did not see me come in.
“I have an appointment to see the doctor.” I said, politely interrupting her.
Without a response, and barely looking up from her computer, she handed me a card with a number on it. Take this to room #17. Put it in the basket outside the door and take a seat.”
No smile. No greeting. No hello. It put me in mind of the many “robotic” employees that I see in many workplaces who exude dissatisfaction in their jobs.
As I sat and waited for the doctor, a series of questions ran through my mind:
- How would it be to go to work every day and spend so many hours in a state of unhappiness and lack of engagement?
- Is the detached behavior of such employees an expression of the culture they work in, or are they actually creating the culture?
- How much is their lack of engagement reflective of the culture, and how much is reflective of their own life? Most people I meet who are disengaged in their work are also disengaged in their personal life.
- How could I have been more caring toward this kind of employee? It always seems easier to be a critic than to be a solution maker.
Who really suffers when employees aren’t engaged? Not the customer. Five seconds with a miserable employee isn’t going to affect my life too much. Not the organization or their colleagues. When you are around disengaged people, you just tend to disengage from them. If an employee is miserable all day, they are miserable, for the most part, by themself.
I believe the biggest cost to employee disengagement is to the employee. They have to live with themselves. They are they ones who spend thousands of hours at this thing called “a job,” and if they aren’t finding a way to make it a joyful experience, they are the one to ultimately suffer.
If you are waiting for someone to get you engaged in your job, you’ll soon learn that waiting is not a very good strategy. You ultimately have to take responsibility for your own happiness and engagement at work. No one else is going to do it for you.
Certainly a boss and the culture make a difference, and when I work with positional leaders, managers, and supervisors, I tell them so. Bosses have a responsibility to create an environment worth working in. But it isn’t all up to boss. Bosses and employees share the responsibility.
I have five suggestions for living a wholehearted life:
- Decide that all blame is a waste of time. Being a wholehearted employee and a wholehearted person starts with a decision. “If it is to be, let it begin with me,” is a good slogan here. If you aren’t wholehearted in what you do, identify the obstacles and work toward overcoming them. Take a good honest look at yourself and ask, “Is it the job that needs changing, or is it my attitude?”
- Be a purpose-driven-person. Create an inspiring vision to get yourself out of bed in the morning. Martin Luther King had a prayer to start every day: “Use me God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself.”
- Make a point to create value everywhere you go. Every conversation. Every interaction. Every contact. Create an opportunity to make the life of another person better or the situation improved. Be a problem solver rather than a problem maker. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
- If your job doesn’t inspire you (and even if it does) find something to do when you are home that feeds your soul and helps you come alive. Howard Thurman, the African American author, philosopher, and civil rights leader, said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
- Try something new. Break out of the box. Do something uncharacteristic for you. Take up Aikido. Skydive. Sign up for a ballroom dance class. Do something where you are a beginner, and take some risks. There’s nothing more enlivening that getting out of your comfort zone and breaking through some fears. Nothing like an adventure to get your adrenaline going, your energy moving, and your heart open.