Light yourself on fire. But why, you might ask???
Because it’s the real secret of highly engaged employees
Get a Match
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once remarked, “I light myself on fire, and people come to see me burn.” If Mr. Wesley were alive today– working in some organization–is there any doubt he would take his place among the highly engaged?
But I’m not so sure he would realize how prescient his statement was and how well it summarizes our own research. My research team and I spent the last five years studying highly engaged employees in 50 organizations across 13 different industries.
We found two utterly consistent patterns: First, in every case, highly engaged employees “light themselves on fire.” They don’t wait for the organization to do it. Second, the traditional approach to employee engagement is benevolent but broken. Why? Because it breeds learned helplessness, dependency on external rewards, and performance stagnation.
In a nutshell, that is the premise of our new book: The Employee Engagement Mindset, which McGraw-Hill officially releases this week.
We are pleased and privileged to have L2L Contributing Author Dr. Timothy R. Clark write this post to give you some insights from his new book.
L2L Book Review: “The Employee Engagement Mindset” by Timothy R. Clark
The philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, noted that humans tend to seek “a state of well-ordered, painless, contented, self-perpetuating equilibrium.”
Humans also want to be anxiously engaged in their organizations. They want to make a difference. That’s the dilemma.
Here’s the question: Does it do any good to idly yearn to be engaged–to wait expectantly for the organization to engage you?
Sure. Just expect to wait a long time. One of the keys to employee engagement is to understand that engagement and equilibrium are contrary states.
You have to choose one or the other.
This principle begs the question: Who owns employee engagement? Many organizations have become contaminated with a patently false concept of employee engagement that puts the primary burden on the organization.
In the 1830s, French nobleman Alexis de Toqueville observed:
“The manufacturer asks nothing of the workman but his labor; the workman expects nothing from him but his wages. The one contracts no obligation to protect, nor the other to defend; and they are not permanently connected either by habit or by duty.”
How depressing! Today, great organizations want more than your labor; they want your full-tilt participation. Amazingly, that’s exactly what most employees want to give. But most don’t. And we wanted to know why.
The Benevolent Organization
Imagine that you work for the most benevolent organization on earth—an organization that believes in and practices fanatical employee support.
- The organization has anointed you with a big title, a big office, and a big salary
- It assigns people to clean your house, do your laundry, and file your tax returns
- There are piano lessons for your kids
- Personal trainers and home decorators
- A pet photo contest every year
- Unlimited spa treatments
- Extended family cruises
- And ice cream socials.
- Not least, you have a great boss
In the history of the world, there has never been a more successful organization, and you are exquisitely blessed to be right in the middle of it.
How about you? Are you engaged? Are you passionately connected and actively participating in the organization and the work you do? Do you bring your best game to work every day?
Even in these circumstances, you only have a 25 percent chance of being highly engaged.
Not the Ticket
The organization may lavish you with perks, but those perks don’t hold the key to engagement. Feeding the pleasure center of the brain through extrinsic rewards doesn’t engage a person and bring real, lasting fulfillment.
At best, it creates security and short term pleasure or hedonic well-being.
This is a very different thing from true and sustained engagement, which is the comprehensive expression of your motivation and desire to contribute. Nobody can instill in you deep and rich and vibrant engagement. You have to do it. You should do it.
Light Yourself on Fire
In our research, we studied highly engaged employees across industries, continents, cultures, and demographics. We interviewed them and observed them in all sorts of situations, organizations, and environments. What is absolutely clear is that highly engaged employees think and behave differently.
They have a different mindset.
They may work in different organizations and do very different jobs, but there’s a consistent theme among them: They take primary responsibility for their careers, their success, and their fulfillment.
They own their own engagement.
They light themselves on fire.
The highly engaged employees we studied seemed positively puzzled when we asked them who owns employee engagement. “What’s the alternative?” they replied.
To rely on the organization, they said, is unrealistic.
It might be nice to shift the burden to the organization, and certainly it has a support role to play, but to depend on the organization doesn’t make sense. The speed, complexity, and volatility of the twenty-first century make it utterly foolish. That’s what they said—again and again.
Employee engagement comes down to individual responsibility—something that is shockingly absent in the study and practice of employee engagement.
There is no aristocracy of engagement.
It’s not as if some people are genetic or legal heirs to high engagement while others are not. In any field of endeavor, the responsibility for engagement rests first and foremost with the individual. The individual’s initiative and effort represent the X factor in the engagement equation.
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Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D., is president of management consulting firm, TRCLARK.
He helps in strategy, organizational transformation, and leadership development.
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