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Us and Them / And after all we’re only ordinary men / Me, and you/ God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do (Pink Floyd, Us and Them)

There is a lot of literature out there about how companies should develop strategies on engaging their workforce. (Well, if they want to survive in a competitive marketplace, they better be spending lot of thought on engagement.) But what about the employees – What can we do to get and stay engaged?

First let’s get the “Us” vs “Them” distinction out of the way. Engagement has to be ingrained in the workplace culture and that culture is made by participation from everyone – from the President to the trainee engineer. No hierarchies here – its one flat plane.

So let me reframe the issue as  – what can an individual in the organization do to improve his personal engagement levels?

At the Confucian level of idealism you could find a job you love so that you don’t have to work a day in your life. Great, if you can do it. But let’s be practical – a vast majority of us are not in a position to do exactly what we would love to. So you do the best you can. Find a job that pays your bills, but puts you in a city that you hate. You find a job that’s closer to home, but struggle to keep the bank balance above the minimum requirement the bank imposes on you. You get allocated to a department where there is no intellectual stimulation, but you dare not rock the boat – the economy is down the drain as it is and jobs are scarce. Every single day you groan when the alarm goes off, drag yourself to work and settle down into a spiral that eventually makes you part of the 31% of disengaged employees.

So how do you avoid getting into the disengagement trap?

In one line: Make your job work for you – what you are handed may not be motivating enough, but you always have the powers to turn it into something you love doing.

Here are some tips that might help you get your mojo in the workplace, irrespective of the support levels your organization offers.

Seek out energized and caring work environments:  Try to work in teams where people care about each other’s work and support their colleagues. If you are stuck in a team which just blindly does the daily tasks allocated and are micro managed, it’s hard to feel wanted. If you care about yourself, and really want to contribute to the organization, put in the effort to find teams that have an existing culture of co-operation and empowerment. It’s far easier to join in a team and be a multiplier for the energy levels than, to start off something in a stressed out team. It’s not impossible, just more difficult.  The battle you might have to fight in getting transferred to a team you would rather work with will be far less stressful than coming to work every day when you couldn’t care less.

Write your own JD: There is a job description that the organization or your supervisor sets out to establish your roles and responsibilities, and then there is the one you create for yourself. You can recreate the job to mean infinitely more than what was formally assigned. You can design everything that goes into achieving your goals and targets – you design the equation you have with your co-workers, you design your approach towards opportunities, you design how motivating your cubicle or table will be. Nothing stops you from designing the job to play to your strengths. And when you do that you become more productive. You get noticed. You get more responsibility and more freedom. You redesign some more with greater degree of freedom. The cycle starts all over again and eventually you are doing exactly what you want to do and loving it!

Create your own awards and celebrate small wins: Your organization may or may not have a formal recognition program and even if they have one it might the ancient annual awards setup. That doesn’t have to demotivate you. Set up your own goals. Break your task into small intermediate goals and reward yourself when you meet each one. Document it and track your progress faithfully so you can always see how far your personal progress bar has come.

Don’t get ‘married’ to your boss: Got your attention, didn’t it? I am not taking about personal relationships, but professional ones. Many people feel trapped with a supervisor who they would rather not be working for, but feel guilty about asking to be moved to another team. Why? If you want to make your workday meaningful, you need to have a boss who takes the trouble to understand what you are doing, engage with you and empower you to do your best. If your boss is not doing it, he is not doing his job and by sticking on with him you are doing yourself and the organization a disservice.  You can dramatically improve your motivation levels by seeking out supervisors who you think will bring out the best in you. People sometimes make temporary sacrifices to work with bosses they really want – by taking a lower designation and even a pay-cut. But this is always a short-term blip, because when the employee is putting out her best performance under the new boss it’s just a matter of time before she does far better than she could ever hope to in the previous role.

It’s easy to blame the environment, the organization, the culture, the supervisor, and even your co-workers for your daily blues. Maybe it’s time you took a tiny step back, peeked at the big picture and got going on your own steam rather than waiting for the ‘big bad company’ to fix things for you.

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