Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

How-to: Keep Employees Engaged in Their Work

By Natasha Golinsky on Nov 22 2011 • Filed under How-To

How-to Keep Employees Engaged (Photo)Last Thursday was yard work day. We had just moved into a new house that (due to yard neglect) looked like it had been abandoned for years. The grass was two feet high, trees grew all over the yard and the bushes were out of control. As much as I looked forward to living in a house with a yard I wasn’t ashamed of, I knew how hard we would be working: cutting, binding, hauling, raking and then how much we would physically be hurting the next day. To lessen the load I had hired a friend of mine, Steve (who is a landscaper), hoping it would make the job go faster.

When Steve showed up, not only were my husband and I prepared for a day of heavy lifting but my four year old son Aidan had rake in hand ready for the adventure of finding the grass in our yard. Out came the chain saw, pruners, and twine. Aidan was enchanted; I was praying that our neighbours would happily come over and help us clear this eye-sore so I didn’t have to do it. No luck.

As I stood there I thought about why so many employees put themselves in this position day after day, showing up to a workplace they dread and doing a job they don’t like.

“How could they put themselves through this agony every day?” I wondered.

After binding and hauling piles and piles of scratchy bushes with hands that were raw from tying twine, I looked over at my son working alongside Steve. He had been working with us since the beginning but didn’t show any signs of wear and was totally engaged in the task at hand. For hours he had been dragging branches from the back of the yard to the front and picking up scraps and dumping them in the compost bin. He hadn’t stopped for snacks or a break since we began and looked as happy as I had ever seen him. I had to ask: why was he so engaged and enchanted by this project instead of being resentful and mechanical in his work (as I was)? What separates employees who are engaged from those who aren’t?

1. Their work contributes and is meaningful to the success of the organization.

Every branch that Aidan dragged was one less we had to move. Bit by bit he saw that his work was playing a part in fulfilling the goal we were setting out to accomplish and he was so proud of his progress.

2. They need to be sincerely acknowledged for their specific contribution to the success of the organization.

While we worked throughout the day, he was constantly being praised for how hard he was working and how great he was being a team player. With every word of belief, he became more committed to doing an even better job.

3. They are given responsibility with the freedom to make their own mistakes without fear of being fired.

At one point during the day Aidan wanted to use a pair of sharp pruning shears to cut the limb off of a branch that was too big to move. As his mom, I realized the potential danger in letting a four-year-old loose with very sharp scissors; however, I also understood that showing him that I trusted his judgement and his commitment to be careful was more important to me than protecting him from potentially cutting himself. Needless to say he took the scissors, cut the branch very carefully and then put the scissors back in the tool kit. Was it possible that he could cut off his finger? Yes. Did he feel great because I gave him the freedom to handle a difficult situation by himself and he succeeded? Yes, and to me, that was worth the risk of a trip to the emergency room.

As the sun started to go down and the work was almost done, I heard Aidan say “great job Steve! You are a good man and did a GREAT job.” I had to laugh – here was my son encouraging the landscaper despite how tired his own little body was. Where I had just been going through the motions all day, he still had enough love to give for the purpose of building up the group because he was fulfilled in his role on the team. After flopping into our recliner to watch Dora the Explorer he said to me, “Mommy, we sure worked hard today. I can’t wait for Steve to come and do the back yard!”

I kissed him, told him how proud I was of him and then flopped on the couch, happy now that the 20 bundles of yard trimmings were now the garbage man’s problem!


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