Why is it that so many workers seem to exist as cogs in a system; unsmiling robots mechanically going through the motions, rigidly enforcing the established process.
The answer is that these workers are not emotionally vested in their jobs. They are emotionally detached from what they do and engage in their work as physical labour.
Except it’s not.
For many, it’s not even mental labour. They spend their day responding to stimuli and moving things around.
If it serves a purpose—great! But if not, they’re fine with that as long as they get paid.
This is the dis-engaged employee
Engaged and dis-engaged workers
Engaged workers are those who think about different ways to do their jobs, to improve and come up with solutions. You notice them because they show up on time, are eager to do their work, and they take initiative.
The dis-engaged worker is indifferent. S/he will do the minimum required, won’t be taking initiative to improve anything, and won’t willingly work overtime or on weekends to get the job done—unless paid time and a half of course.
ACTIVELY dis-engaged workers go a step further. They will destroy the value created by the engaged workers by being rude to customers, taking every sick day, stealing, gossiping etc.
Everyone fits somewhere along the continuum of being actively engaged to actively dis-engaged at work. According to the 2013 Gallup study of the American workforce, 30% of American workers are engaged, 50% are dis-engaged with 20% being actively dis-engaged at work.
Worker engagement is not explained by the type of labour involved. You’ll find engaged and dis-engaged workers doing every type of labour: physical (construction workers, movers), mental (scientists, researchers) or emotional (teachers and nurses).
Gallup attributes a worker’s engagement almost solely to their boss, but this explanation doesn’t recognise the power of any worker to be responsible for their attitude and experience at work.
The answer to whether a person is engaged at work or not lies simply in how meaningful the job is to that person.
Steve Jobs story
Meaningful work is best described by the clichéd story of the man who went up to Steve Jobs at a party and asked him what was the secret to Apple’s success. Jobs reportedly thought for a moment, then looked the man in the eye and said, “I think you just have to care.”
I think this best sums up why most people love their jobs or at least take great pride in what they do every day.
They care about what they do.
For them their work has meaning.
For work to be meaningful a person must connect the work they do every day to something bigger.
And that something bigger can simply be how your job helps something you care about deeply e.g. the poor, the sick, nature, children etc.
something really big: a dream.
Like ending poverty, oppression, racism, curing cancer, winning a grammy/emmy/oscar, becoming a billionaire and using your money to foster peace in the world. Something big to you. Something you are creating or contributing to the world.
The sad thing about mainstream education is that it doesn’t nurture dreams.
We don’t encourage children to dream, or even to really think about what they want to do with their lives. Instead we focus on preparing them to earn a good living in the working world.
The consequence of this is that many, perhaps most of us aren’t really turned on by what we do for a living and would happily stop working if we could.
What about you?
But the most passionate people at work—the ‘always-on” people who are able to withstand setbacks, unpleasant people, even bad bosses etc. and bounce back—are the ones who have connected their jobs to something bigger. They are clear what their work is leading or contributing to.
For these people their work has meaning. What about you? Does your work have meaning for you? It’s never too late