| Wanna Get Engaged?
Engagement seems to be a buzzword everywhere I turn these days. In the world of marketing and market research, where I spend most days, content producers in all media love to show advertisers data that prove how engaged consumers are with their content. In workplace wellness, an area I've been writing and speaking about for two and a half decades, engagement is an indicator of how well an employee relates to his /her work.
I must report that my media colleagues are faring far better than employers in the corporate world. According to the Gallup Poll, nearly 70% of U.S. workers are not engaged with their jobs. Imagine that. Millions if not billions of dollars are spent annually running programs to help increase employee wellness and resilience and engagement and most of us will still admit, at least to a researcher, that when push comes to shove we just don't care that much.
It is not hard to understand the reasons. People think cynicism in the workplace is a recent phenomenon, but this modern manifestation dates back at least 35 years to the Reagan administration. Corporate raiders, down-sizing, outsourcing and re-engineering all entered the vocabulary during that time. In plain English those terms meant jobs being lost through layoffs or being shipped off to other countries. Business leaders, formerly inspirational figures who often worked their way up the company ladder over many years were replaced by highly-compensated hired guns. And workers up and down the food chain, if they were lucky enough to have a job, were told they had to do more with less.
So the reasons are not complicated. But it also doesn't make sense to wait for the corporate world---"them",--- to make us happy. "They" are never going to do the right thing; offer us permanent employment, super-challenging work, wise leadership, bosses who stay more than a couple of years (or even a couple of quarters), more help. But why should we expect our engagement with work to rely on "them?" After all," they" are merely "us," and caught in the same cycle we are.
We must provide that engagement for ourselves, through being present, seeing things clearly as they occur, understanding our own intention and motivation, and coming in each day with an open heart. I know that seems like a tall order, but I promise you that, over a protracted period of time, years and even decades, it is the key to a rich and rewarding work life, and possibly even to survival.
Most of us are self-motivated types, but reality is reality and we know our jobs often leave us overly stressed out and not feeling secure and cared for. So how do we avoid becoming cynical or just plain bored and stay engaged?
Meditation and mindfulness have been the pillars of my own career survival kit. They've provided me tools to reduce my stress, stay highly engaged, deal more effectively with "difficult" people, and---dare I say it?---to experience joy and laughter at work even when things aren't going particularly well.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you stay engaged at work:
- Be Quiet. You may or may not be conscious of it, but there is a cacophony of sounds, thoughts, and voices swirling through your mind during most work days. You will never be able to eliminate that chorus of chaos, but you can get to the point where you can observe those sounds and voices from a calm, very aware vantage point. I recommend a daily meditation practice of at least twenty minutes as a way to slow down and, over time, learn to quiet your mind. If that fits neither your day nor your temperament, try closing your eyes and taking three deep breaths periodically throughout your work day. Good times for this practice are before meetings, conference calls, or anytime you feel that your chest is tight or your neck is stiff. As you do it, say silently to yourself, "just three breaths."
- If You're Going to Be Here, Be Here. I have to believe your check cleared last week, so regardless of your feelings on any given day, you have a moral obligation to do the best job possible. Of course, you can decide to leave, but that is a different set of skills which, this being America, you are free to employ at a moment's notice. But, if you're not going to choose to leave right this minute-----BE HERE. Devote your energy, heart & creativity to your work----just for today; just for this moment. If tomorrow you decide not to be here-----give me a call and I will walk you through the steps toward launching a full-out job search in less than an hour's time.
- Stop Weaving Stories. It is very important to develop awareness of what is and what isn't happening at any given moment. Let's say your largest client drops you. I'm sure you are tempted to lose hours, days, even weeks feeling anger, fear, anxiety and other emotions. Your boss is going to be super-pissed, your job is in jeopardy, the newly hired 30-year-old's clients love her and you've just shown you can't hold on to yours........the problem is, these are just stories, for the moment. Do not hold on to them. Just notice them. Try to approach the situation with a bit more openness and space: ah......lost business. I can recognize that. Could be a bummer. Now, let's watch for a while and see what develops.
- Surrender. You cannot avoid pain or cling to pleasure anyway, so why not? Surrender doesn't mean you're giving up and don't care what happens, it means you are aware of what "is", understand that your desire for it to be different runs counter to the way the universe works, and you are willing to begin to work with things as they are. Remember: this too shall pass
Take some moments in your day, come back into the room and let your discursive mind quiet down, close your eyes and focus on sound and smell, send yourself gentle, kind thoughts. Understand that there is a big, wide world out there and, contrary to the zillion pieces of information we get all day about how screwed up everything is, much of it is quite beautiful. And we, my friends, are just doing our job today. We're just trying to help each other out, do some good in the world, take care of ourselves and our families and our customers and our co-workers. Nothing larger than that. And if the task, or the leaders, or the company culture truly isn't to our liking, well, that's just business acting like business (how else should it act?) and we are free to go anytime we wish.
Not to approach work in this manner is to steal huge chunks of time from ourselves, and these moments, these days, are all that we have. We must be engaged with them because once they are gone, they are gone forever.
For more on insight meditation, click here
If you do come in every day with an open heart and let work in with all its big, messy, chaotic complexity------well, in my experience you will feel like these lyrics by those Buddhas of Broadway, Kander & Ebb, sung with so much brio by.............heck, YOU know who sang them:
"Start by admitting from cradle to tomb
Isn't that long a stay
Life is a cabaret, old chum
It's only a cabaret, old chum
And I love a cabaret."
See you at the altar, babies!