Employee Engagement: Appreciating Where You Are

Remember when you first got the call or email congratulating you on being offered a job? A rush of excitement, maybe even nerves, swelled up within you as you thought about how this job is the answer. You thought about how this job will open doors and allow you to finally do what you know you were meant to do. Maybe it was the realization that you would be able to pay off debt with your new salary or begin the savings account you knew you always wanted/needed. Perhaps the overwhelming joy was because it was finally your turn- your turn to shine after paying dues and putting in long hours, now you reap the rewards of earning the job you were meant to have.

Fast-forward six months to one year- you complain of the unrealistic expectations your boss has, the annoying habits of your coworkers, and the downright disgust that is the office refrigerator. Your parking spot is never available, your clients wear your nerves thin, and your hours are unreasonable. The honeymoon is over.  We have all been there.  My hope is that you are not in this place right now, but if you are, maybe this article can help you.  Without telling you to look on the bright side or to find the silver lining in some sugar-coated false sense of workplace satisfaction, I hope to reframe your perspective and realign your goals in a way that helps you make sense of the chaos that is your professional career.

Workplace satisfaction can be influenced by a number of factors from perks to dress code to technological access. While the company determines most of the factors, employees are responsible for how they react to workplace dynamics. Your reaction to issues that have a negative impact on your life are what you are responsible for.

Seeing the Big Picture

Sometimes, when employees are in the weeds, so to speak, it is hard to see the big picture. For example, when decisions are made that trigger a negative reaction, like a new seating arrangement, a change in lunch schedules, or an added weekly meeting, employees should revisit the bigger picture. Maybe despite this change, your pay and title have remained consistent.  Maybe because of this change, you have gained a greater leadership role or see a new opportunity to create another set of changes that you have been advocating for. 

I recall every job I have ever held implementing a change initiative at some point. In the moment, those announcements can seem bleak. What does this mean for our future? Don’t they know how much we already do?  Do they see how this interrupts my daily routine? 

However, the change comes anyway. Regardless of the initial reaction, employees pull it together and process the new requirements.  Time goes on and new people are hired. The new people are not aware that things used to be different and they jump right into the situation that staff once viewed as a huge problem, and the new hires do not bat an eyelash. How can this be? Because, in the big picture, they are thrilled to have a new job, happy to do whatever they are asked to please their supervisor and earn that paycheck.

Inevitably, a new process will come in and rock the boat of the new hires. This cycle is not new. This ebb and flow of workplace satisfaction has been occurring since man created the wheel, then the wheelbarrow, then the carriage, and then the car. All of those massive changes are great now, but imagine the people who were there for the transition. Imagine how the first people may have been reluctant to change because it was different than what they were used to. They had a routine, they had a system, and now it was all going to change. Clearly, the change has improved the quality of life and lessened their manual labor over time, but what a scary time to go through change and not know the outcome.  This feeling of uneasiness and worry is natural. However, reminding yourself of the big picture may reduce these negative feelings.  Perhaps the biggest picture is to be thankful for your job, period.

Improving Your Work Life

In some cases, it is not the sweep of change that creates a negative work environment, but the lack thereof. Some workplaces grow stale in outdated practices and lackluster communities.  In these scenarios, there is a certain element of control that employees can exercise. Sometimes, leadership is burdened with so many of the required factors to keep an organization afloat, they lose sight of the factors that affect workplace satisfaction. Not only would they allow staff to make changes, they would likely encourage it.

Staff members who have a vested interest in improving the workplace not only improve the environment for all employees, including themselves, but they also have an opportunity to lead. Leading efforts related to workplace culture is no small feat. It takes time, patience, and genuine care to invest in progressing workplace culture.

Anyone willing to take on the challenge of improving the workplace must also align their vision with the understanding that too much change can create turbulence. Jumping in as a change agent must be approached delicately as to not rattle the status quo that most coworkers are accustomed to.

Knowing When to Gracefully Exit

Not every job is your dream job. Not every job will be your forever job. Sometimes it can be helpful to remind yourself why you took the job in the first place.  It can be because you needed the experience to move into a bigger role, maybe you had a connection that helped you get your foot in the door in a competitive industry, maybe you relocated and this was the first opportunity you were offered, or perhaps you just needed something to help you pay the bills. Some of those factors offer a more compelling reason than others to stay employed at a place where you are unhappy. On the other hand, some of those reasons may be the reminder you need to hear to start looking for another job.

You will likely have a series of jobs throughout your life. You will love some and hate some along the way. Regardless of the challenges, remember you cannot always control a situation, but you can always control your reactions. Be strategic in your approach.  Think of long-term outcomes and your professional reputation. Be the person everyone wants on their team. Be the person you would want to be on the same team with.

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