Ashley’s grandmother taught her to read early. She was a bright kid, though she’ll tell you she lacked the appropriate respect for authority and rules. Her teachers regularly pulled me aside and gave her the same mini-lecture: I need you to stop doing that, because when you do something, the rest of the class thinks it’s okay to do it. The truth was, she wasn’t a bad kid; she was a kid. And more than anything else, she was bored.
Eventually, her school system worked with her, giving her additional assignments to keep her busy and interested. It was hard to distract the rest of the class when she was allowed to get lost in Edgar Allan Poe, new vocabulary words, or books about science. When her brain was full, she was happy. And when she was happy, she wanted to work harder.
Those of us who know what it’s like to be the kid craving a challenge don’t want to be an adult starving for the same thing. And yet, so many of us are. According to a recent Gallup survey, only 30% of U.S. workers “feel a profound connection to their company”– and that’s high compared to the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the internet files are filled with “19 Ways to Keep Your Employees Motivated” and “6 Secrets to Employee Engagement,” all promising quick fixes to a complex issue.
Let’s start with what doesn’t keep employees engaged. It’s not a frilly perks package or a plush office. It’s not a vacation stipend or a bring-your-dog-to-work policy. (Although, the day we adopt that policy at Pivot will be the Greatest Day Ever. For me, that is. Not Wheelie.) Sure, these are all manifestations of a great employer, but free food and gym memberships are ultimately not what produces meaningful work.
An engaged employee is someone who’s energetic, committed, and excited about problem-solving. In our personal lives, these are qualities we naturally apply when we have goals, new challenges, or when someone we care about needs our help. Translated to the office, that means having a team of coworkers who are invested in each other, an expectation to learn new things on a regular basis, and a leader who understands how each employee is essential to the company’s larger purpose. It means ongoing, open dialogue about what that purpose is and how we can all contribute.
No one was made for mindless work. We all want our life’s work to help us fulfill our purpose, so when our work itself has purpose, when it produces something more than ROI or another paycheck, the rest comes easily. All any of us bored little kids ever wanted was the opportunity to be enthralled by our work, anyway. Maybe not every minute of every day, but often isn’t asking too much.