Only 34% of employees are engaged in their work according to a 2021 Gallup poll.
Engagement is a measure of employees’ involvement and enthusiasm in their work and workplace. You can imagine that for employers, it’s an alarming statistic. Gallup ties engagement to many metrics, including profitability, absenteeism, and theft.
But I’m not so interested in what this means for employers. I’d like to consider what that means for you.
A lot of you, most of you, working for a salary are not engaged. Even if you are engaged, most of your co-workers are not. That’s a bummer to be around.
This Applies to Entrepreneurs, Too
Now, I know many of you are entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs have found a bit of safe-haven from dissatisfying work. Many studies have shown higher job satisfaction for the self-employed*. However, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs face their own set of challenges that can invite the specter of disengagement. The last two years, in particular, have offered plenty of obstacles.
The issue of disengagement in our work commands a lot of attention, often from consultants prodding at employers to create a better environment, but I want to offer a completely different perspective.
Satisfaction is an Inside Job
You may find your work and/or your workplace dissatisfying, but a lot of that is on you.
Now, I know you might be thinking “them’s fightin’ words,” and I get it. If you’re caught in the throes of dissatisfaction, it can be beyond irritating to have someone suggest that it’s your fault. But bear with me here for a second.
Here’s one of my own experiences with disengagement.
The Plague of the Bad Boss
At one company I worked for (we’ll call it the Acme Holding Company) we had a horrible boss, Allen. There was a lot of water cooler chatter on this matter. Everyone seemed to agree.
Allen and I both came from the same previous employer (we’ll call them Waystar.) Now, at that company, there were these old stories of what I like to call cabinet tossers. You know, the bosses who manage by flipping over filing cabinets and generally tossing papers around. Classy, right? So this guy had these old-school roots.
He didn’t act like that (or at least not anymore) but he came from that environment. You could imagine him doing it.
He called people out inappropriately, was humiliating, almost never had a nice thing to say about anything, and only made eye contact with the most senior employee in the room. Also, he gave confusing, contradictory instructions. You’d change a presentation for him ten times and on the eleventh draft you’d bring back the first draft and he would finally be happy.
In my work experience, during the time and companies that I worked at, this was the worst that it got.
I was a sensitive person (well, still probably am) then and I let all this crazy-making get to me. I became afraid of Allen and avoided dealing with him.
Turns Out, Allen is Crazy
But one day, I get a customer service letter from my old employer, Waystar (I was still a customer of theirs). The letter was god-awful. I was pleased. At Acme, we were working on a similar letter for our customers. We needed to do it in response to government regulation. Waystar had blown it and that made me happy.
Uncharacteristically, I grabbed Allen in the hallway to show him the letter. At first, he was gleeful, too. He was making fun of the letter.
Then it got weird.
He started saying what I needed to do to FIX the letter. He started giving me feedback. Apparently, reality bent in his mind and suddenly he was thinking I had written the letter for us at Acme. It felt like the Twilight Zone.
You know what? That was the best thing that ever happened to my working relationship with Allen. I decided he was
insane. Of course, I didn’t know for sure. But I just decided it.
I decided that whenever I interacted with him, I would just enter this sort of make-believe world.
When he would give my team and me feedback, I would sort of pretend engage. I’d join in with him, critiquing the presentation, for example. Afterward, I’d tell my team to ignore all that and we’d proceed as we had planned.
Somehow, beautifully, it just worked. And it was all rooted in this decision that I had made that he was crazy and I would just treat like the lunatic he seemed to be.
You know what else happened? My own engagement shot up. Interacting with Allen became a fascinating game. If he said something negative to me (which no longer happened as much), I didn’t take it personally.
It was as if a bubble had popped, like I had seen the little man behind the curtain in the Emerald City. He wasn’t the great and powerful Oz; he was a small man with an esteem issue.
Prior to that, people had been talking about how we might go above his head or report him to HR. He was making me miserable. At least, that’s what I had thought.
But you decide if you’re miserable. And you decide if you’re going to take your boss’s bullshit personally.
I’m not saying that just changing my story changed everything. Mostly, it changed me and how I interacted with Allen and how I thought about him. And that’s what changed everything.
The Art of the Reframe
I did what’s called a reframe. And that’s a key skill to mastering your own engagement.
Now you might say, “Kira, wait a second, I’m just going to get out of here.”
But hang on a second. It’s not that easy. You don’t want to leave angry or disengaged. You’re just going to bring that baggage with you into the next thing. It’s better to leave “right.” I mean, you want to walk away happy, connected, and engaged with your current situation. You’ll carry that momentum into your next thing and people will have better memories of you.
Things You Can Do Right Now
Here are some things you can do now. These things are in your control. If you don’t believe that, look at that belief. Why are you choosing to give your power away?
Reframe .I covered this above. Wrap the situation in a new story. Make yourself the hero of that story.
Small victories. Define little victories for yourself that you can easily achieve. If your boss sucks, focus on your employees or your customers. How can you make their day?
Learn to believe without evidence. Frequently we make the huge mistake of not being able to believe something until we see the evidence for it. But, if you want to be a creator, you’re doing it backwards. The belief comes first.
Pay attention differently. We don’t perceive what is truly out there. We perceive just a tiny fraction of what’s actually going on. In every given moment, there are over a billion bites of information to be perceived. Our brains can’t handle that. We only take in the tiniest fraction of what’s available to us. And we can choose the bits we attend to. That means that everyone’s experience of the same situation is completely different.
In the words of the great William James: “My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground — intelligible perspective, in a word. It varies in every creature, but without it the consciousness of every creature would be a gray chaotic indiscriminateness, impossible for us even to conceive.”
Get in tune with your purpose.
I talked about this last week in blog article, Feeling Stuck at Work: Here’s How to Find Your Purpose. Your purpose helps you to feel tied to something larger than yourself. It lets you know the reason you are doing this, even if it’s just to satisfy immediate needs like financial security. This relates to your reframe. This relates to your reframe.
If your current situation has nothing to do with your purpose, then get out. But it’s still important to find your engagement before you leave. You can make your purpose something like:
“Figuring out how to persevere through a challenging circumstance.” I promise you, that reframe will serve you well.
Strip away what de-motivates you. This is a twist on Kon Marie’s advice of only keeping what “sparks joy.” For this one, it’s important to focus on your sphere of control. Here are a few examples:
- Cluster your most loathsome tasks together. Think of the most energy-draining things you have to do. Pick a day to do them all (the earlier the better). Then you can enjoy the rest of the week more.
- Walk a different route in the office to avoid that chatty co-worker.
- Find the least stressful way to communicate with your boss or tough customers. If you find yourself emailing back and forth, get on the phone or see them in person. If you find it hard to think on your feet with your boss, try sending more emails.
Decide! Never underestimate the power of deciding. Sitting in indecision, sitting in maybe, just drains your energy. And wherever possible, decide that things will go your way. Whether things go your way is a frame as much as it is some real feature of life. Decide that the universe is benevolent towards you and then use your selective attention to prove that true.
In future blog articles, I plan to break each one of these down in more detail.
Did one of these suggestions intrigue you but you can’t quite figure out how to apply it? Let’s hop on the phone. I’m offering a free Discovery session to help you apply these ideas to your situation. Go to my scheduler and sign up for your free slot.
Entrepreneur Satisfaction Studies:
- Binder & Blankenberg, 2021
- Global Entrepreneurial Monitor, 2013;
- Padovez-Cualheta, Borges, Camargo, and Tavares, 2019
William James, The Principles of Psychology, Vol. I
I’m Dr. Kira Swanson and I’m a Life Coach for people who dread Monday. I work with corporate misfits who feel unfulfilled in their work. Together, we tune into what they really want, find new perspectives, and summon the courage to take bold action. Whether it’s striking out on their own, landing in a new job, or thriving right where they are, I help my clients to Love Monday.
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