“Well I should have thought that being bored stiff for three quarters of the time was an excellent preparation for working life.”Sir Humphrey Appleby (From Yes, Prime Minister)
No matter what line of work you are in, it is essential that you are able to see some value in what you do. Those who do not, quickly become disengaged. Disengaged workers aren’t productive. They come to work not because they want to but because they have to. They are more likely to show up and zone out. Someone I worked with once joked about team members who logged on to the weekly staff meeting, muted their mics and continued watching tv series. I find that a perfect working definition of a disengaged worker. For them, the weekly meeting had become something to be endured but not to be engaged with.
Broadly speaking, I’d say workers disengage because of two reasons:
They fail to see value in what they do
If you make things with your hand, it’s easy to take pride in crafting a beautiful piece. A worker who produces the steering wheel that goes into a car can feel and touch what they make. They also easily understand how what they do fits into a larger product. In other words, they can see the value of the tasks they perform each day. Knowledge workers, especially those who work in large organisations are often so disconnected from what their organisations do they find it hard to see how their contributions are a part of something larger. It’s not easy to find value if the only work you do is providing figures requested by your Line Manager with no idea how those figures are used to drive decision-making.
They are disconnected from the organisational culture
If you work in an organisation where your tasks are chosen for you by your Line Manager, you might start to disconnect, especially if those tasks neither challenge you nor tickle your interest. Another way, organisations create disconnected workers is by filling their schedule with too many meetings. It’s hard to do the things that need to get done if you are spending the entire working day moving from one meeting room (online or offline) to another. Excessive meetings promote disengagement. By the time you attend a few meetings where your only role was to listen, it’s easy to zone out of the next one.
Can the average knowledge worker do something to improve their disengagement? Or are they as Sir Humphrey seems to suggest doomed to endure boredom as a price of working life? That will be the subject of next week’s post. Stay safe till then.