In our last column, we reviewed the issue of worker disengagement—a state of overall disinterest in one’s job role, tasks and work life. It’s an uncomfortable experience, especially for those who once enjoyed their jobs. The sense of simply riding the work treadmill is unpleasant.
But workers can re-engage. There are three steps to this process:
Identify the Reasons For Disengagement
Often, disengagement has its roots in some kind of rift in your connection to work. An issue, a person or perhaps a personal problem has separated you emotionally from your work. What once might have been interesting, entertaining or worthwhile just doesn’t seem that way anymore.
So first, identify what might have happened or is happening to foster disengaged feelings. For example, something may have occurred that left you feeling unfairly treated or betrayed. Maybe a promised promotion didn’t materialize. However, any unfulfilled promise on the job can lead to disengagement. Maybe you were supposed to move into a bigger office and the change was cancelled. Perhaps your employer, eager to hire you, misrepresented the job, the amount of responsibility, interesting projects and chance to try new things that would be involved. You discovered later that the job was not quite as advertised.
In some cases, people find the job they trained for is a lot less interesting than the job itself. For example, you enjoyed getting your teaching degree, but once in the classroom, you found the job lacking. Sometimes workers feel neglected by the organization. Perhaps no one has given real feedback about your work in a long time. You feel stagnant because there is no chance to develop or learn new things. It’s the same old stuff. A lack of specific, regular feedback and options for development might be contributing to your sense of boredom.
Some staff may feel trapped by “golden handcuffs”— great benefits, a pension they’ve diligently paid into, job security and a decent salary. The problem is they feel uninspired and stuck.
Others are moved to a supposedly better position but end up feeling sidelined, unimportant and underused. Others may find that personal problems are distracting them from their work. Perhaps a troubled home life or a lack of personal direction or goals is making you feel disengaged.
All these factors, situations and issues can send employees into auto-pilot. It is important to identify what is making you feel uninvolved. A rift, disappointment or reluctance of some kind is playing a role in your disengaged state.
Analyze Your Willingness to Proceed
Once you know what may be triggering your listlessness, consider whether you are ready, willing or interested in doing something about it. Often the reason people check out is because they’ve found (in the short term) it is easier to withdraw than deal with the issue. Re-engaging takes energy, which can be lacking in this situation. It also takes courage to consider alternatives that may be uncomfortable. For example, bringing up the issue of disengagement and the reasons for it with the boss who didn’t promote you as promised is uncomfortable. Perhaps it means deciding to quit and look for another job or tackle tough personal issues.
Re-engaging requires investing some time in yourself, and discovering what you want and will do to get it. It means being assertive and willing to move out of your comfort zone. Analyzing the problem, creating a plan and then executing it can be time consuming and upsetting. The outcome might seem uncertain and you’ll have to live with some ambiguity while you work out what is right for you. Being disengaged is a comforting place to be when all that is required is to put one foot after another. However, to feel alive again might mean taking a risk.
Some may decide it’s not worth it and so they remain uninvolved at work. The costs of this choice may include health problems or unanticipated difficulties with superiors and colleagues. The benefits to not striving to re-engage are remaining in a familiar state, coasting and for some, feeling like a victim. For those whose energy level is at issue in making a bid to re-engage, a break may be in order.
Whether you try to re-engage or to decide to continue on the tread mill, the key is to recognize that you have a choice.
Create an Action Plan
If you decide to re-engage and you’ve identified why you might have begun to check out, it is important to build a plan to deal with the issue you think has come between you and a feeling of being alive again. Becoming re-engaged is a process and the outcome may be unpredictable. So, be willing to live with a bit of uncertainty while you execute your plan. Think about who you need to talk to first. It is important that you identify what you are feeling and tell the right person. It could be your boss, a colleague or human resources, depending on the situation. You don’t necessarily have to say you are disengaged, just describe what is going on.
For example, you might say: “I used to feel really inspired at work and that’s changed lately, I’d like to talk to you about what happened and how I might get that sense of excitement back”. If you want feedback and training, talk your boss about setting up feedback meetings and discuss training options, budgets and timing. If you’ve been moved to a less fulfilling position, it might be worth discussing the position, why the move was suggested (what was it about my talents, skills that led you to suggest this role?) and how to augment the role if you are to continue with the same responsibilities.
If you find yourself in a golden-handcuffs situation, look at what you might like to do outside the usual work. Perhaps, you’d like to mentor a new recruit, or change the job to include a novel project. Think about who needs to hear these thoughts, what you want to say and how you might start a conversation about how you are feeling.
Put effort into being interested in your colleagues, their ideas, concerns, hopes, and wishes again. It is important for you to find a role with peers. If none of this seems worthwhile or you meet with barriers when you genuinely try to re-engage, it might be time to polish up the resume and find a more fulfilling position.
Re-engagement takes effort but it’s worth it in the long run. Making strides to feel alive rather than deadened will net you benefits. It is never too late to start and the rewards are great. Be prepared to be surprised initially by the results of your re-engagement efforts but keep pushing towards your goal of feeling enlivened.
Dr. Jennifer Newman is a registered psychologist and director of Newman Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development company. Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality. Dr. Newman can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org