Statistics suggest the majority of American workers are disengaged at work. In a Gallup Business Journal summary for Gallup's recent State of the American Workplace report, writers Susan Sorenson and Keri Garman note: "By the end of 2012 … only 30% of American workers were engaged, or involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their workplace." The study also finds that, "An alarming 70% of American workers are not showing up to work committed to delivering their best performance, and this has serious implications for the bottom line of individual companies and the U.S. economy as a whole."
This research indicates a serious problem for employers, and it's a sad state of affairs for employees, many of whom are hesitant to look for other opportunities for fear of landing in a precarious "last in, first out" position if layoffs ensue.
While finding a new job may be the best-case scenario for disengaged employees, the best solution for most employees is a combination of a plan to transition to something new and a focus on how to make the most of an existing job. What can employees do to become more engaged in their current work and active in planning for the future? Dana Stocks, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Philips Healthcare, suggests considering ways to make work more personally engaging.
1. Decide what motivates you. "We know through our research that nearly all (96 percent) of working Americans want to better integrate their personal and professional drivers in their careers," Stocks notes. "People must first understand what truly motivates them and what impact they want to have on the world through their work. Then, they should use those insights like a compass for career-related decision making, resulting in a better experience for both the person and the employer."
If you haven't already focused on what you think you would like to do at work to motivate and interest you, consider how your personal interests may help direct your work plans. Are you motivated by a particular cause? Consider how you may be able to use your skills to work for a company that shares your personal values. Stocks explains: "Our research shows that 68 percent of working Americans would be willing to take a salary cut for a job that better allows them to apply their personal interests and pursuits in their professional roles, yet more than 51 percent have not acted accordingly. Those who want a more personally meaningful career should be ready to take ownership by putting workplace priorities into action."
2. Take care of your health. While you start to mull over more suitable work environments, don't forget to take care of yourself where you are. "It is important for people to maximize their own health and well-being so they can best help others achieve theirs," Stocks says.
Make small changes in your daily work routine to incorporate healthy habits, and work up to bigger, more influential changes. For example, start taking the stairs, or bring a healthy lunch from home. If you're very motivated, you may want to look for a group of people at work willing to team up for a fitness challenge. Perhaps sign up as a group for a 5K run or a charity walk. You may find that integrating something new into your work routine can help make you feel more generally engaged at work.
3. Learn something new. Take advantage of opportunities to learn new things. If your company does not already encourage continuing education, take the initiative and find classes or seminars that would enhance your skills and your ability to do your job better. Approach your supervisor with a value-added action plan that would allow you to learn something new that could help you get more excited about your job and career. A side benefit: any new skill makes you more marketable and more likely to find a job elsewhere.
4. Seek out opportunities to work with people with diverse backgrounds and skills. Not only will working with a diverse group help you learn new things, Stocks suggests, "Employee resource groups, corporate volunteer programs and group activities are a great way create an environment where open collaboration occurs and meaningful connections are made."
Seek out mentors and people you may be able to mentor. Doing so can be very personally satisfying and help you become more engaged and interested in your job.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.