14th September 2021

Employee Engagement is the Competitive Advantage

I hated my job. 

I spent all day on the phone making cold sales calls. People hung up on me. People screamed at me. I was called a variety of unpleasant, unkind names. Throughout the workday, my boss, George, would stand behind me in my small, windowless gray cubicle and read my emails or listen to me as I made sales calls. George made insensitive and inept Michael Scott from The Office look like an effective manager.

My job was wretched. I had an abysmal boss. I was disgruntled and unhappy. Each day I asked myself, “Do I quit, stay, and be miserable, or escape and become a summer camp counselor?”

If you dread the thought of another day spent at work, maybe you, like me, can only see three options, or doors, to escape your misery:

  • Door Number One: You quit and get a new job.
  • Door Number Two: You stay and suffer.
  • Door Number Three: You escape the nine-to-five to go eat, pray, love, or become an organic lavender farmer in the South of France.

On the days when I wanted to walk through Door Number Three and escape, I imagined telling George, “take this job and shove it!”. You’ve probably imagined telling your boss the same thing.

Escaping the nine-to-five is not your only option for joy and professional gratification. And really, why would you completely abandon your career, give up your training, education, and experiences—all of which are incredibly valuable—to go find your joy elsewhere? Even people who play the lottery aren’t any happier after winning millions of dollars. And what guarantee do you have that your next job or next boss will be any better than your current one? 

There is another option. You.

It Takes Two: The Employer-Employee Social Contract

Disengagement and discontentment consume our workplaces. Only 35 percent of the workforce is engaged according to Gallup. The current approach to address the disengagement epidemic is clearly not working. Why? Because the solutions have mostly been employer-centric and one-sided. The solutions have not acknowledged that it takes two to change a relationship: your employer and you. The relationship you have with your employer is a social contract. And, as a social contract, both parties have expectations of the other party, and both are responsible for the health and vitality of the relationship.

The social contract with your employer can be described in terms of social exchange theory, which proposes that social behavior is the result of an exchange process. It is about give-and-take or balance and reciprocity. According to sociologist George Homans, who developed this theory, you weigh the potential benefits and risks of social relationships*. When the risks outweigh the rewards, you terminate or abandon the relationship. 

* George C. Homans, Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961).

In the relationship with your employer you judge the value of the benefits of the relationship; for example, compensation, intellectual stimulation, and/or the positive impact your work makes in society. You evaluate whether or not your contributions and your employer’s contributions to the relationship are balanced and reciprocal. Together, these two assessments determine the health of the relationship and your commitment to the company. It is this commitment that impacts your motivation and job satisfaction, or as I would describe it, how interested, gratified, and fulfilled you are at work.

Have you ever been in a relationship where you hoped and prayed that the other person would magically change? You ask yourself, “why won’t he pick up his wet towel off the floor?”. “Why won’t she ever make reservations for our monthly girls’ night out dinners when I know she has the OpenTable app on her phone?” In the most successful relationships, each person recognizes that the only person they can change is themselves. And if they want the relationship to change, then the change starts first with them.

Your relationship with your employer works the same way. It is time to stop waiting, hoping, or praying for your employer to “fix” the way you’re working. Change starts with you.

Joining a company does not mean abdicating your personal power. You can change the dynamic of the relationship with your employer. You have skills, experiences, and abilities that are vital and meaningful to your employer. You are the engine that fuels your organization’s growth. Neither your boss nor your company has all the power in the relationship. You have an equal and powerful voice.

You can be, and are, the catalyst for change in your life. It is up to you to identify what you need to be more satisfied, stimulated, and joyful at work. It is only then that you will be able to successfully enter into a balanced, reciprocal relationship with your employer, in your current job or in a future job. 

If you are not clear on what you need to be happy and fulfilled at work, no job, company, or manager can support your engagement needs. 

The Five Essentials for Professional Fulfillment

It takes two to create a vibrant, mutually beneficial, and meaningful professional relationship. This is not possible if you are unclear on what you need to be engaged in your job.

Identify what you need in each of the five essentials for professional fulfillment:

  • Admit. Acknowledge and ask for the recognition and appreciation due to you in exchange for your contributions.
  • Align. Align your strengths and skills to support the accomplishment of your company’s goals. Organize your work in a way that aligns with your life and the objectives of the company.
  • Develop. Develop skills and knowledge that motivate and inspire you and advance your career, as well as the company.
  • Cultivate. Cultivate authentic relationships with the team so that you can both advance your career and enjoy your work.
  • Design. Design your job to find meaning in your work.

Once you have clarified what you need to be gratified at work, have a conversation with your manager about how to create a mutually beneficial way to work that supports both of you in achieving your goals. 

You don’t have to quit: Your job. Your needs. Your dreams.

Equip and empower your employees to identify and own what they need to be fulfilled, happy, and productive. With practical, step-by-step guidance and instruction, Own It. Love It. Make It Work. is the roadmap your employees need to create the job of their dreams and the life they crave. Purchase the bundle to get started here.