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Vulnerability is a Barrier to Employee Engagement
Vulnerability is a Barrier to Employee Engagement 680 678 Jason Lauritsen

When you start to understand work as a relationship, it starts to raise some interesting questions that you may not have asked before. For example, how does our comfort with being vulnerable impact how willing or able we are to “engage?”

When I reflect on the relationships in my life and all of the stories I’ve heard from friends about their own relationships, a common barrier I notice to a healthy relationship is the fear of getting hurt.

People can be careless in their relationships with others. When someone close hurts you, it leaves an emotional scar. When a lover breaks your heart, or worse, a parent hurts you in any way, the damage can run deep and be lasting.

If your past is full of relationships that ended in hurt and disappointment, it’s natural that you’d start trying to protect yourself. You’d play defense, not letting yourself get too exposed or too invested in any particular relationship.  After all, the less invested you are, the less likely you are to be devastated if that person lets you down or leaves you.

Looking in the mirror, I recognize a weird contradiction. Perhaps because I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve always been able to be open and vulnerable in personal relationships. With romantic relationships or friendships, I seem to have always been comfortable going all in quickly. As a result, today I have an amazing life partner in Angie and so many who I consider to be great friends.

But on the employment side, it’s been quite the opposite. And now that I reflect on it, it’s probably warranted. I’ve written a lot about the progression of bad jobs I had on my journey. In nearly every case, I felt hurt and harmed in some way in the end.

I can only remember one time in my career when I feel I was fully engaged. And then at the peak of my engagement, the company was sold. I spent the next twenty months watching the organization I loved being torn apart. It was, for me, a soul-crushing twenty months.

Along the way, I learned to play defense. Don’t get too attached because sooner or later, something bad is going to happen and I’ll be on my way to the next thing. Every time it happened, I became harder to engage at work. I became the equivalent of a serial dater in the employment world.

We don’t talk about this side of the employee engagement equation enough. How does your employees’ past work relationships affect the degree to which they are even willing to engage with you?

Most employers are still not very good at creating an engaging work experience. And there are A LOT of bad managers out there. That means that most of the people you employ have a history of bad work relationships.

They know if they get too vulnerable and attached, that will only lead to being hurt. So, they play defense. They give only what is required. They stay guarded.

If you have ever been in a relationship with someone like this, who’s been hurt in the past, you know that to break through takes time. You can’t force someone to let their guard down and be more vulnerable. They must make that choice. And they will only make that choice once they know it’s safe.

When they know they can trust you.

This is why trust is so important to employee engagement. A good, healthy relationship of any type is built on trust. There is no substitute.

One of the best and most direct ways to build trust is to first extend it.

If you are a manager, how do you show your employees that you trust them? Do you give your employees autonomy and flexibility to do their work?  Or do you justify following up frequently about progress and micromanaging their time? If you’ve had employees let you down in the past, you are probably playing defense in your current relationships with employees. That’s likely holding your employees back from fully engaging with and for you.

If you are an HR leader, take a look at your policies and processes. Do they convey to employees that you trust them?  In most cases, HR policies are written to protect the company from employee behavior and choices. That’s the organization playing defense in the relationship (“We’ve been hurt by employees in the past, so we are going to make sure you can’t hurt us.”). That’s not a great invitation to a healthy, long-term relationship.

When an employee lets you down, forgive them. Give them a second chance. And don’t hold it against all future employees.

Trust first. Trust often.

Words of Gratitude (#18) for Joe Gerstandt
Words of Gratitude (#18) for Joe Gerstandt 612 612 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I have been writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. Do it now. 


When I started this series, I wrote about how we frequently overlook expressing gratitude to those who are closest to us.  My kids, for example, rarely thank me for everything I do for them as a parent.  And, despite my best efforts, I know I fall short of thanking my wife for everything she does for me and our family.

It’s easy to take the people closest to us for granted. Particularly when they’ve been in your life for a long time. It’s not just our spouse or families who fall into this category, it’s often our closest friends.

One of those people for me is my wingman, Joe Gerstandt.

Unless you and I just met recently, you know Joe’s name. He and I co-wrote Social Gravity together and we’ve been speaking together as the Talent Anarchy team for nearly a decade.

Long before we started doing work together, we were friends. Our friendship dates back to 1999 when the universe brought us together to suffer through working at a terrible little company.

In the past two decades, we’ve been through divorces and marriages. We’ve traveled from single to married to family life. We’ve navigated through starting a couple non-profits and a business together. We’ve each had some major ups and downs.

I refer to Joe as my wingman very intentionally. Yes, in our single days, we played that role for each other (thankfully those days are long past). But more significantly, we’ve done it for each other professionally as well. We both did a tour in corporate America where neither of us really fit. During that time, we’d have breakfast together once a week where we’d remind each other that “you aren’t the crazy one, you are in a crazy system.”

Joe single-handedly kept me sane and kept me going for those many years when I was a cultural misfit trying to do the work that really mattered in the face of significant resistance. Without him, I don’t know that I could have made it through that gauntlet. He’s continued to be a great wingman in my transition to self-employment.

Aside from my wife, Joe knows me better than anyone. He’s seen the good, bad and ugly and there’s room for all of it in our friendship. He’s always showed up for me and he’s always forgiven me quickly when I have made mistakes.

It’s such an amazing gift to have a friend like this in my life. And, it’s an even bigger gift that we also share a common passion that allows us to do work together. That’s what luck looks like.

Joe, I don’t say it nearly often enough, but thank you. Thank you for being my friend, wingman, co-conspirator, and journey partner. My love for you runs deep. I’m thankful that Jeff Miller created that terrible little place to work so that we could find each other. I’m so grateful for you. 

 

Words of Gratitude (#17) for Steve Boese
Words of Gratitude (#17) for Steve Boese 1080 1080 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Sometimes when you reflect on the past, you notice people who come through for you. They offer support. They provide resources. They show up when you need them.

One of those people in my career is Steve Boese.

Steve and I originally met at the HRevolution event I mentioned in my post to Trish McFarlane. Steve was one of the organizers with Trish.  He’s a prolific blogger and a co-host of the biggest podcast in the HR space (with Trish McFarlane), HR Happy Hour.  Steve is also the chair of the HR Technology Conference.

When I left Quantum Workplace a little over two years ago, I didn’t realize how important the HR Tech community would become in my career. A lot of my most interesting work today is being done with my clients in the HR Tech space.

A few years ago, Steve asked me and my partner-in-crime Joe Gerstandt to help create a more interactive hackathon experience at HR Tech. This work led to being more visible and engaged in the event and, by extension, the industry. My work at HR Tech each year has become incredibly important to my business and Steve is one of the people who opened that door for me.

Steve (and Trish) have also been incredibly generous with me through the HR Happy Hour Show and platform. They helped me launch a podcast and recently, allowed me to spread the word about my new book.

The support I’ve been given by Steve is invaluable. And I’m incredibly grateful for it.

And, as a bonus, Steve is a really good guy who I am thankful to call a friend. Any time we have the opportunity to hang out will be filled with great conversation and a lot of laughs.

Steve, I’m grateful for you. Thank you for your friendship and support, it’s made a huge difference for me. I appreciate all that you do.  

Words of Gratitude (#16) for Ryan Picarella and Sara Martin Rauch
Words of Gratitude (#16) for Ryan Picarella and Sara Martin Rauch 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Today’s gratitude post is a twofer because the story of these two people for me is hard to separate.

If you’ve been following my work over the past year, you have noticed a number of references to WELCOA, the Wellness Council of America. It’s an organization devoted to the advancement of workplace wellness practice.

WELCOA’s headquarters is about ten miles from my home. Yet, until about two years ago, I couldn’t have told you much about them.

It was two years ago that, through a fortuitous introduction, I had the opportunity to meet Ryan Picarella and Sara Martin Rauch. The sparks started to fly immediately.

What I found in Ryan and Sara were two people as passionately committed to making work better for employees as I am. From our first conversation, we start planning and dreaming about how we might be able to do some work together to accelerate progress. Common purpose is a powerful thing.

Over the past year, they have allowed me into the WELCOA tribe and invited me to help them as they work to evolve the practice of wellness as a driver of employee engagement, performance, and wellbeing. This work has been incredibly fulfilling and important to me. I’m grateful they let me in.

But beyond the work, Ryan and Sara have both become great friends. They are amazing, caring people who practice what they preach. They truly and deeply care about people at work and beyond.

I feel incredibly lucky that WELCOA happens to be in Omaha to bring Ryan and Sara here as well. It was kismet that we meet.

Ryan and Sara, I’m so thankful to know you both. I have gotten so much out of our time together over the past two years and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish together in the future. You are both great friends and I’m so grateful for our relationship. The world of work is and will be a better place because of you.  

Words of Gratitude (#15) for Trish McFarlane
Words of Gratitude (#15) for Trish McFarlane 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Nine years ago, I boarded a flight for Chicago to attend an event called HRevolution where I knew no one except for a few through Twitter. It was billed as an “unconference” for HR people who were active in social media (a pretty small group at the time).

Attending this event changed the trajectory of my career, and by extension, my life. When I think back about all of the people I met for the first time at that event and who are now friends and colleagues, it’s mind-boggling.

One of the people I met in Chicago was the individual most responsible for it existing in the first place, Trish McFarlane.

It’s hard to adequately describe how important HRevolution was for me (and I suspect many others) in terms of accelerating the creation of a network of amazing, smart people from around the world who were driven by a similar purpose. Without Trish, that opportunity would not have existed. I hope someday we can find a way to honor and recognize her for this legacy.

As if creating this opportunity wasn’t enough, in the years since, Trish has shown up to support me with encouragement, advice, and generosity more times than I can count.  During the past two years, in particular, her advice and counsel has helped me shape and grow my business in important ways.

But wait, there’s more…

This summer, when we were planning our Griswold-style family road trip, our path was going to take us to St. Louis where Trish lives with her family. When she found out we were coming that way, she graciously opened her home to us. We had a wonderful time staying with her for a couple of days.

Very few people have had a bigger impact on my career than Trish.

Trish, you have made such an impact on my life. I am so grateful for your friendship. It’s a true privilege to know you. Thank you for inviting us into your home and making us feel so welcome. I will likely never be able to adequately thank you for everything you’ve done for me, but I will continue to try. You are amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  

Words of Gratitude (#14) for Heather Bussing
Words of Gratitude (#14) for Heather Bussing 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


We live in interesting times. As someone who identifies as a feminist, I’ve felt compelled over the past year to grow more quickly as an advocate for women and also to play a role in helping other men grow and evolve as well.

One of the things I decided to do earlier this year was to host a webcast conversation with a female colleague to discuss gender issues in the workplace. My hope was that if I could find the right guest for the webcast, we could model how to have a meaningful conversation across the gender divide about the issues that are hard to talk about.

As I considered who I wanted to have with me for that conversation, at the top of my list was my friend, Heather Bussing.

Heather is an attorney, writer, and photographer. I’ve known Heather for several years and I knew she would be a great partner for this discussion.

Heather is one of the most honest and authentic humans I’ve had the privilege to meet. She’s traveled quite a journey both personally and professionally in her life. She shares openly of the stories she’s lived as a way to help others learn through her experience.

She doesn’t hide. And, I knew she wouldn’t let me hide either.

Thankfully, she said yes and we recorded the webcast together. Like any conversation of any substance, it wasn’t perfect, but it helped me learn and grow. And, I hope it did the same for at least a few others.

You can view the webcast recording here. 

I’m grateful to have someone like heather Heather in my life who will dive into any big, tough subject with both a point of view and an open mind. I’ve learned so much from her over the years.

Heather, thank you for being you and for being my friend. Thank you for your authenticity, courage, and vulnerability. Your wisdom and kindness have had an enormous impact on me. I’m so glad you said yes to doing the webcast with me this year and I look forward to all future conversations. You are a gift. 

Words of Gratitude (#13) for Stuart Chittenden
Words of Gratitude (#13) for Stuart Chittenden 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


About a decade ago, I attended a leadership development workshop where they talked about the concept of having “journey partners” in your life.

I’d used the idea of a “personal board of directors” before, this was something different. The board of directors idea is a good one but is inherently selfish by design. The board is comprised of people who have agreed to help you develop on your career journey. It’s largely a one-way development exercise.

A journey partner is also different than a coach or a mentor because the relationship is reciprocal. The idea of a journey partner is to create a mutual agreement to support and encourage one another throughout the journey of your careers.

As a journey partner, there are times when you offer advice or support to your partner, other times you ask for and receive it. The relationship ebbs and flows adjusting to each person’s individual needs over time.

I loved this idea and immediately started thinking about who might want to be a journey partner with me.  One of those people was Stuart Chittenden.

Stuart has been my journey partner now for close to a decade and a friend for longer than that. When we made this commitment, I was working as a corporate HR leader and Stuart was a partner in a branding agency. Both of our journeys have taken many interesting turns since then. Both of us are self-employed today.

Stuart has been an amazing journey partner. It makes sense because his business is teaching people how to awaken potential through conversation.

We meet to talk every few months. Sometimes just to share updates and others to wrestle with a problem one of us is facing.

Stuart has been relentlessly supportive and encouraging to me. There were many times where he had a much greater confidence in my potential and path than I did. Even in the challenging times, he helped me keep moving in the direction of my goals and dreams.

If you don’t have journey partners in your life, find one (or several). The power and value of these relationships is hard to overstate.

Stuart, thank you for joining with me on this journey. I’m profoundly grateful for your friendship and your partnership. Your words of encouragement and your belief in me have fueled and guided me. I only hope I am able to return something of similar value to you.  You have made a huge difference for me and I look forward to the journey ahead.  

Words of Gratitude (#12) for Jody Ordioni and AchievEE.org
Words of Gratitude (#12) for Jody Ordioni and AchievEE.org 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Last summer, while in Chicago for the Employee Engagement Awards, I had the chance to meet Jody Ordioni in person.

Jody owns and runs a talent branding consultancy called Brandemix. In early 2018, she decided to create an online community called AchievEE devoted to advancing the work of employee engagement. And, within months, the community was already active and growing quickly.

When we met, the blend of her New York-ness and my Midwesterness made for a crazy kind of alchemy immediately. We started bouncing ideas around and before dinner was over, had agreed to collaborate on some projects.

Jody is the unstoppable force. In the short time I’ve known her, I’ve come to realize that when Jody decides something is going to happen, it does. I’ve been fortunate to jump in on a couple projects with her including producing a monthly webcast called What’s nEXt with AchievEE and helping host their first in-person event in New York on October 29.

It’s been fun and a privilege to surf on Jody’s wake as she relentlessly drives forward.

Jody, I’m really grateful that our work brought us together. I admire you and am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with you and the team. I’m excited to see what kind of impact we can make together in the future.  Thank you for all that you do for the community.  

 

Words of Gratitude (#11) for Jamee Kugler
Words of Gratitude (#11) for Jamee Kugler 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


It was about five years ago, give or take, that I was working at Quantum Workplace and looking to add a marketer to my team there. I’d interviewed a number of people and was getting close to making a decision.

Then a note arrived in my email box from my friend, Stuart, introducing me to someone who he thought I should consider for this role.

I explained to him that I was late in the process and had some pretty good candidates already, but he insisted I make time to meet with this woman. He was certain I would like her.

He was right.

When Jamee and I first met for a coffee, I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to work with her. Jamee is the kind of person you want on your team. In addition to being talented and hardworking, she lifts everyone up through her positivity. She’s got a contagious smile and a legendary laugh.

Jamee is the kind of person who makes you feel happy any time you see her. She’s also strong and determined.

This year, Jamee inspired me through her strength and resolve.

It’s a joy to know her.

And, she’s a veteran. So, today I want to share my gratitude and admiration for Jamee Kugler.

Jamee, I’m so grateful to know you and to have had the opportunity to work with you. You are an amazing, strong person and you make a positive impact on others. Thank you for your service to our country and thank you for being you. I appreciate you.  

Words of Gratitude (#10) for Jen Benz
Words of Gratitude (#10) for Jen Benz 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Earlier this fall, I wrote a post about the power of asking for help. For a lot of people, asking for help is hard but accepting help is even harder.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve asked for a lot of help to figure out our business model, marketing strategies, and a long list of other things.

Back in August, while in San Diego to speak at the WELCOA conference, I had a chance to catch up with my friend, Jen Benz. Jen is the CEO and Founder of Benz Communications, a communications and marketing agency focused on employee benefits.

Jen and I first connected probably eight years ago through social media back in the golden era of Twitter. When we eventually met in person at the annual SHRM Conference, it was pretty clear that we had a lot of overlap in our thinking and passions professionally.

Since then, I’ve had the privilege to both collaborate on work with Jen and spend time with her socially. She is a wonderful human being who I always look forward to seeing.

She is the kind of CEO and leader we need more of in this world. She is focused and driven to both grow her business and her people. She cares deeply about her employees and is constantly thinking about how to create a work experience that amplifies each of them.

She’s also a brilliant strategist.

So, when we were catching up back in August, she asked me a bunch of questions about our business. As I shared with her some of the challenges we were facing, she said she thought she could help. She offered to carve out some time to help me think through strategy.

I jumped at the opportunity. And, I am so thankful I did.

In the space of just a couple hours, as I laid out how we were approaching our business, Jen prompted me to see it in a new way. She helped me climb over a few mental barriers and open doors to new opportunities. That conversation changed our business in important and beneficial ways.

I’m so glad I said yes to the offer of help.

Jen, thank you for everything you are and everything you do. You are a role model and an inspiration to me. Your investment of time and wisdom in me this year has had a profound impact. I’m so grateful to have you as a friend and mentor. You are amazing. And you are appreciated.