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Why we may have the wrong approach to Employee Engagement

Have we got it wrong?  

I am currently reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s 2002 book “Flow”. While reading the chapter about making work enjoyable I was particularly struck by the section on “the paradox of work.”

This paradox stems from his own research findings that enjoying their work and experiencing “flow” did not result in people being more motivated at work. Very briefly, this research found that, despite the fact that people generally get more enjoyment from their work than they do from their leisure activities, they keep wishing for more leisure. 

Csikszentmihalyi thus concludes that this “apathy” lies more in the worker’s relation to their job.

You and I may see this apathy as “lack of employee engagement” or “employee disengagement.” We recognise it as a problem, but could be missing its significance. If we are, we may be barking up the wrong tree, and all our employee engagement efforts will be misguided, misdirected and likely to be futile.

This is certainly the case if Csikszentmihalyi is correct. And his point that, “the time spent making someone else’s goals come true rather than our own is perceived as time subtracted from our own” makes this seem likely. It goes right to the heart of employment itself and may well explain why employee engagement statistics have remained largely unchanged over the past few years, despite the efforts and resources invested in trying to improve it. Ultimately, this means that we are simply going through the motions.

If you want to change this and turn things around to fully engage employees and optimise their effectiveness you have to find a way of changing the employee’s relation to their work. This essentially means that you have to create an environment where your employee is not working to “make someone else’s goals come true.” The only way you can do that is to create an environment of shared goals, where your goals and the employee’s correspond. That is the necessity. You have to ‘make your business their business’ – there simply is no other way to resolve this fundamental problem.

The good news is that you don’t have to invent a solution. It already exists in the form of my ‘Every Individual Matters’ model. With its integrated employee ownership element it provides the ideal way of ensuring that ‘your business is their business.’ It really is only a matter of selection.  

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  • Very interesting angle, and conclusion.

    I think of the entrepreneurs and business owners out there who are mostly strongly engaged. And examples of larger organisations where staff have a significant share of the stock. They say it improves engagement.

    Cheers, Paul

  • Thanks Mike. A very interesting article. It really galls me, however, that despite all this research, very little seems to change. 

  • Reminds me of our motivation to work Blake and has this is explicitly linked to the above 


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