Our engagement at work is at a destructively low level, according to polling company Gallup’s most recent Annual State of the Global Workforce report, with only 11% of people in the UK identified as being actively involved and enthusiastic about their jobs (four percentage points lower than the global average of 15%).
This low level of engagement is both destructive to the UK economy (costing over £80bn in lost productivity) and employees’ mental health, with 21% of people actively disengaged and unhappy at work.
There is undoubtedly a range of complex and challenging factors underlying these results, and they’re far bigger than I can tackle here. What I do believe, though, is that we have the opportunity to take a significant degree of control over our career happiness and success.
Yes, we have all been in jobs that are challenging, worked with difficult managers and been part of organisational cultures that seem counter to our own values or beliefs. However, I often find myself coaching and mentoring people who seem resigned to their situation and have lost the clarify to take back control.
Career decluttering involves clearing out the activity, people and processes that are having a negative impact on engagement and establishing new ways of working.
Change requires us to take a step back, refocus on what’s important and breakthrough the busyness to implement new approaches. I appreciate how idealistic this all sounds and I personally recognise and empathise with how hard this is to do in reality.
In my own career, I have fluctuated between high levels of engagement and impact and, at other times, feeling bored and frustrated by the work I’ve been doing. As I’ve moved around companies and progressed in my career, I have become more aware of my personal signs and triggers for disengagement and can course-correct far more quickly.
I think of this process as career decluttering – clearing out the activity, people and processes that are having a negative impact on my engagement and establishing new ways of working. It’s not dissimilar to Kurt Lewin’s model of change, for those of you who like to ground your actions in legitimate theory.
From my own experience, the three areas I have found most impactful to declutter are your diary, relationships and development. Get those back on track and you’ll see a greater return from the time you’re spending at work and your employer will also benefit from a more engaged employee.
Before starting, though, you need to tune into your personal signs of disengagement. For me, these include starting lots of new projects outside of my core job and spending more time with external stakeholders than internal, which both give me the stimulation I might be lacking at work. Reflect on what your disengagement ‘tells’ are, so you can get quicker in responding with the actions below.
Declutter your diary
Looking at how you are spending your time is critical to feeling happy about your work. It’s very easy to let other people take control of your diary, accepting every meeting as it comes in, putting no boundaries around your time and no order to your day.
To fix this, think about where you create the most value for your employer and where you get the most energy. You should be spending at least 50% of your time on activities that deliver this. Review your diary and see what the reality is today.
There are likely to be host of other activities that you need to do, like team meetings, business updates and performance reviews. These are necessary parts of your job and will easily fill the remaining time you have. The issue arises when you let these more operational aspects of your job fill all of your working time, leaving no space for you to apply your strengths to create more significant impact.
Declutter your relationships
There is an often-used quote from Jim Rohn which states that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. There is research which disputes the exact number, but the message is the same. Your attitude, and in this context your engagement at work, is significantly influenced by the people you interact with.
Even if you’re in a low-energy team, you can choose to find people outside of that team who may spark more positive emotions. Look at your diary over the past month and think about the five people you have spent the most time with.
Ask yourself whether they have positively or negatively influenced your engagement. If you’re left with some ‘mood hoovers’, think about ways you can minimise the time you spend with them and the impact they have on you.
Declutter your development
If you have a sense of clarity about how a role is serving your future career possibilities, you can connect more to it in the present. For example, even though at times I find working in a large, matrix organisation challenging, I recognise that it has developed a range of skills and strengths that will support me in securing an external non-executive director role (an important part of my development) in the future.
Write down your career possibilities and ambitions and identify the ways in which your current role or organisation is supporting those opportunities. Maximise the value of this opportunity as much as you can to create a positive mindset about why you are doing the work you are doing.
These three actions are not a panacea to fix our engagement issues. You are very likely still to get peaks and troughs, just as I do. However, knowing your own signs and reacting quickly to reset your ways of working and refresh your perspective can make a significant difference in managing through these phases and being actively involved in your job. And, if you’re still not, it might be time for a change.
Helen Tupper is commercial marketing director at Microsoft and founder of Amazing If. She will speaking on the ‘Realising Your Potential’ stage at the Festival of Marketing on 10 and 11 October. For more information and to book tickets visit www.festivalofmarketing.com