In 1999 a mediocre box office film, Office Space, hit the scene poking fun of the day to day life of an office professional. As time went on, this movie created a cult following (via DVD rentals and streaming) appealing to anyone who has a job. One could probably relate to at least one of the idiosyncrasies from a passive-aggressive boss, boring work, annoying coworkers, paper jams, traffic filled commutes, slow computer technology, and a definite separation between management and work force.
While perhaps exaggerated, consider this dialogue between the main character Peter and his therapist:
Peter Gibbons: “So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s the worst day of my life.”
Dr. Swanson: “What about today? Is today the worst day of your life?”
Peter Gibbons: “Yeah.”
Dr. Swanson: “Wow, that’s messed up.”
Peter Gibbons goal was to do as little as possible while still getting paid. Does this ring a bell?
This is a very real scenario of something called employee disengagement. Go ahead and Google “employee disengagement” and get a number of articles describing anywhere from 50%-80% of the American worker is disengaged, and profit losses can reach $150 Billion to $500 Billion because of a disengaged workforce. These numbers are staggering and alarming for the owners, managers, and investors of businesses and companies. Much has been written about the high cost of turnover for companies, and the high cost of letting an employee stay employed with very low production. I am not sure which is worse, the cost of turnover or the cost of disengagement?
So, what do these staggering numbers mean to an employee that is disengaged? NOTHING…They do not care. That is the very essence of a disengaged employee. They will not care about the health of the business; they will simply do the minimum as long as they are getting a paycheck. While there are companies and businesses that are making strides to reinvent, rebrand, and refocus their culture (and there are some that do not), ultimately it is up to the disengaged employee to take responsibility for the first steps.
Allow me to change the focus of this commentary toward the disengaged employee. Imagine a scenario where you are happy. You do not feel grumpy, or unappreciated, or underutilized. You feel well, connected, and useful. You feel progress in many aspects of your life at work, relationships, enjoying your passions, or financial health. Your work may or may not be the first thing that comes to mind, and that is OK. There are so many excuses that lead to disengagement and unhappiness at work: I’m not paid well, my boss is a jerk, long hours, I’m bored, my company doesn’t care about me just to name a few.
Now imagine if the focus was on the things that you could control. Is it possible for your work to be the catalyst of your happiness? Perhaps ask different questions to yourself. What makes me happy? How does my work help me toward that happiness? All you may need is a connection to your work and your happiness. To take a concept from Daniel Pink’s book Drive, why is it that one may play music in their free time for free, not getting paid (or paid well)? It is the progress you make getting better at music, and the satisfaction of the music you create for yourself or other people. Money (pay) is off the table. Explained in a book by Matthew Kelly, The Dream Manager, people that feel progress in their lives are happier, more productive, and have a reason to continue positive habits. Creating small goals with attainable deadlines will show a pattern of progress. Yes, your job can have a connection to your most personal goals. If your goal is to buy a home, connect with someone to help you create a plan where you can connect the earnings of your work toward that goal. If your goal is to get an idea past your employer to improve a work condition, connect with others to help you in your presentation or support of the idea. If your goal is to have more time for your hobbies, connect how your work affects your time to do those hobbies.
If you notice a pattern, it is in the word “connect”. Connect your work to your dreams. Connect yourself to others that can help you attain your goal. Those connections alone can help you see progress, and provide the value in a job that may seem stifling when focusing on the wrong questions. As you may observe, connecting the wrong concepts negatively or with people that feed negative connections will have the adverse result of your happiness. This is also highlighted as a Stage 2 tribe in the book Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright. Connecting your work to your dreams requires that you connect with those who can help you realize those dreams. They can hold you accountable, ask the right questions, and create a plan to help ensure accomplishment.
The challenge I present is introspective and perhaps eliciting a level of vulnerability. The next time a passive – aggressive boss demands you to work overtime, or you are sick of repetitive work, or the copy machine has another paper jam, or sitting in traffic, or management is really riding you for results, connect that situation to your next attainable dream. Connect with those people that will help you stay accountable to your plan to realize your dream. Your progress will drive you toward more progress. Next thing you know that annoying co-worker, unreasonable boss, or boring work is no longer a reason to disengage, it is a reason to stay engaged, continue your progress to your personal goals, and continue connecting to those who really want you to accomplish your dreams. Are you ready to engage in your work, and realize how powerful a catalyst your work can be to fulfill your dreams?