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⚡️Is Your Work Keeping You Engaged, Burnt-out, or Both? Here’s How You Can Increase Your Engagement @Work (and Life)
Using an empirically-validated framework
Hello Friend! 👋
We spend the majority of our time (and life) at work, and that’s healthy.
As humans, with an exceptionally large portion of our brains dedicated to executive function, we exist to be creative. Work is nothing but a translation of our unique worldviews into physical and non-physical forms in the real world — as Khalil Jibran beautifully put it: “Work is Love made visible.”
But it’s not always this way.
In an ever-increasing world of distractions and a lack of people-centric (vs. profit-centric) workplace design, our work can be life-depleting rather than nourishing.
This brings me to the topic of this week’s Super Sunday - Engagement @Work.
Let’s dive straight in!
What exactly is Engagement?
As with anything in life, we first have to clearly define something before trying to manage it.
Engagement is a pretty complex term; like leadership or virtuousness, it is a construct rather than a single-state phenomenon. It is a way of being rather than an attitude.
As researchers try to develop tools to measure and create engagement within scientific spheres, the definition has gone through much development and change.
The latest consensus1 is that engagement is the psychological presence of a person to authentically dedicate their resources towards the development of themselves and their organization. It consists of three elements:
ATTENTION: the dedication of mental capacity to the tasks at hand and the workplace dynamics (within the role and outside the role).
ABSORPTION: being fully engrossed in the task with high intensity of concentration.
ENERGY: dedicating physical energy towards completion of the task.
This definition now creates a clear set of elements to measure (to see how engaged a person is) and drive to create more engagement.
As managers within organizations, your duty is to create a space in which your team is able to experience these distinct elements. As employees, you too, have high leverage in creating and managing your engagement - I will cover different ways to do so later in the article.
Engagement can lead to burning out!
When employees are engaged, they are creative, collaborative, and motivated.
Science has been studying workplace effectiveness for a few decades now, and initially, engagement was thought of being the opposite of being burnt out. However, later findings show that engagement isn’t merely the opposite of burnout.
In fact, too much engagement can create burnout.
Think about it, when work becomes the only priority (hello to all the workaholics!👋), it takes energy away from other essential priorities, like family and physical health. By definition, absorption includes a lost sense of time - which can overlook how long other priorities have been neglected.
This includes not dedicating time to exercise and starting the day by checking email (using energy) vs. checking in with yourself and your priorities (creating energy).
Or working late into the evening, taking time away from building deeper connections with your loved ones.
Notice how the same situation can apply to things other than work - like technology and social media usage. How engaged you are with something must always be balanced with the other priorities.
In the becomeSUPER 30-day challenge we ran in May, I shared with the participants a framework for life priorities; your SELF (Physiological + Psychological energy), your PURPOSE (the work you create), and your RELATIONSHIPS (family and beyond).
A potent recipe for a SUPER life is to ensure all these three buckets are filled with high levels of engagement.
Creating effective engagement
People usually blame their work for not bringing out the best in them; while this is partially true (and work can definitely be an extreme source of frustration), it can also carry a high risk of living in victimhood.
Employees ultimately have the power to manage their motivation and engagement, however, this can be SUPER charged when they’re placed in the right environment created by the managers. Here’s how both can contribute to an engaged organization:
Provide psychological safety: fear is an energy-consuming emotion that can distract employees from being fully immersed in their work.
Create meaning: when work is connected to a bigger purpose or with a significant impact on others, it can be transformed into a calling that pulls you into it.
Notice absorption, not just attention: employees who are high on attention get noticed more because they can pay attention (literally) to the task but also to the workplace dynamics (unlike those absorbed in the task) and accordingly can use impression management techniques to “look good” in front of management.
Strengthen attention: focusing is a muscle that can be exercised and strengthened - mindfulness has been repeatedly shown as the gold standard for this.
Manage absorption: flow is created when skills match the challenge; if feeling overwhelmed, then it is time to upskill.
Create energy: exercise and rest (frequent breaks) are the best ways to create a reservoir of energy that you can pull from toward your priorities (Work and Relationships).
Whether you are your own boss or work in an organization, you ultimately will play both roles and can benefit from applying all the drivers above.
HR managers, pay close attention ☺️
Question to you: do you prefer to read topics related to workplace effectiveness or personal development?
Let me know by replying to this email.
As always, have a Super Sunday! 💪
With much joy,
Rothbard & Patil, 2010