Workplace Culture

How Do You Repair Your Relationships?
How Do You Repair Your Relationships? 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Among all the skills that are important to building great relationships, one of the most important is repair.

It’s also one of the most overlooked.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never thought of repair as a relationship skill. I don’t know that I ever had until I started doing research into how great relationships work.

Repair is what we do when we have a fracture in our relationship in order to ensure that it doesn’t become a full-on break. I’ll give you a few examples.

Repairing Relationships Before They Fully Fracture

When my oldest son Dylan was in high school, he (like most teens not excluding myself at that age) had developed quite the capacity for doing dumb things. Thankfully, he didn’t do any colossally dumb things. His specialty was the frequency of small ones.

This led to an expectation on my part. If something happened that could even possibly be linked back to one of his bad or thoughtless decisions, I assumed he was to blame and would often react accordingly.

I remember clearly one day when I made one of these assumptions. I don’t remember what happened, but I do remember going off the handle, accusing my son of being responsible and doling out some immediate consequences. He stormed out of the room and the moment ended.

Shortly afterward, I discovered that he hadn’t had anything to do with this particular incident. He was innocent. My reaction was based on his track record, not what actually happened. I could probably have justified my reaction by telling myself that I wouldn’t have reacted that way if not for all the other stuff he’d done. Thankfully, that’s not what I did. Instead, I apologized. I told him that I was sorry and that I had been unfair. I told him he deserved better than that and that I’d do better in the future.

He accepted my apology and the fracture I’d caused in our relationship and his trust in me was repaired.

I wish I could tell you that this was the only time I’d overreacted with him. It wasn’t. But each time it happened, I went straight to him with an apology.

Over time, he actually learned to do the same thing. When we had to enforce boundaries or tell him no on occasion, he was prone to overreaction. To his credit, once he calmed down, he’d come find me and/or his mother and apologize for how he reacted.

This ritual of repair was really important to us surviving high school together while maintaining a positive and supportive relationship. I shudder to think what our relationship might have looked like had we not been committed to this.

Repair Your Relationships at Home

My wife and I have a similar process for repair.

When we have arguments, which thankfully don’t happen often, it feels awful for both of us.

What we discovered over the years was that regardless of how much we disagree or how frustrated we were in the moment, there was only one right next step to take. A hug and an “I’m sorry.”

Before you go all “why are you always saying you are sorry?” on me, pump the brakes. In both of these cases, an apology is necessary.

Regardless of the argument we are having. Regardless of whether or not I am right (which my wife will tell you is very rare). And regardless of how justified I feel about my position on whatever the issue, I am sorry that I’ve made the person I love most in the world feel bad or hurt.

I’m also sorry that I wasn’t somehow able to approach the issue in a way that avoided the argument.

And I’m sorry that our relationship fractured in even a tiny, temporary way.

When we hug and say we are sorry, all of the tension and anger and frustration evaporates. It resets and grounds us in the strength of our bond. From there, we usually find it pretty easy to resolve our difference.

Another ritual we have is checking in with each other in a formal way. Since we are both committed to keeping our relationship in a good place, it only makes sense to sit down on occasion and really talk to one another about the relationship. This shared commitment and investment of time ensures that whenever something happens that doesn’t feel right to the other person, we can talk it through and address it.

The more I began to understand and recognize the skills of relationship repair, the more I realized how vital they are to sustaining any relationship over time.

I also began to realize how much of a gap this is for relationships at work.

When I reflect back on my own work experience, the consequence of the absence of repair is so clear. I could share with you multiple stories of relationships with bossed and peers that may have started positive or neutral but slowly degraded over time.

The Absence of Relationship Repair at Work

Here’s how it happens.

A snide comment in a meeting plus a short and seemingly critical email compounded by a perceived lack of support piling up over time. One tiny fracture after another going unacknowledged, unaddressed, and unrepaired.

Then one day it breaks.

Things are said that can’t be unsaid.

Actions are taken that can’t be undone.

And the course of your career is changed.

It’s all so unnecessary. If only we learned how to repair our relationships.

Granted, both parties need to be committed to the relationship in the first place. I think in most cases, people would rather be in positive relationships with their manager and coworkers than the alternative.

When we don’t practice repair at work, our relationships at and with work die the death of a thousand paper cuts. It’s slow and painful, and such a waste.

What Does It Look Like to Repair Your Work Relationships?

What does repair look like at work? Below are a few skills and approaches you can and should practice if you want to improve your work relationships.

  1. Commit yourself to having better relationships. To have the kind of relationships at work that make work more fulfilling and rewarding, you have to fully commit yourself to it. This means investing time with people. It also means being willing to do the uncomfortable and inconvenient things necessarily to repair relationships when they go off course.
  2. Apologize when you do damage. We all make mistakes. Sometimes, we inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or offend them. Say you are sorry and mean it, even when it wasn’t your intention to cause any harm in the first place. Beware that your ego will tell you that you don’t need to apologize because you didn’t do anything wrong and you certainly didn’t intend any damage. But if you care about relationships, do it anyway.
  3. Have the conversation. When someone does something that bothers or offends you, go talk to that person. I’ve had several people confront me at work about things I’ve said in a meeting or over email. In most cases, the way they took my comments was not what I intended, so I was thankful for the opportunity to clarify. In a few cases, they had taken it exactly as I had intended, and it triggered a conversation that allowed us to clear the air and make some amends to move forward. By taking on these conversations, we head off lingering resentment and the lasting damage to a relationship that can occur.
  4. Check in with the people who matter. This is among the many reasons that regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are so important. These conversations provide opportunities for repair.  To take full advantage of that opportunity, managers should do two things when they check in with employees. First, ask for feedback. A question like, “What can I do to be a better manager for you?” invites the kind of feedback that will help identify where fractures in the relationship may have occurred. Second, provide feedback when an employee does something to fracture the relationship. One of my favorite bosses once had to do this for me. I had publicly criticized one of her decisions in a meeting with my peers, and it had gotten back to her. She confronted me about it and explained that if we were to have a positive working relationship, we need to disagree privately but support each other publicly. It was a great learning experience for me.

The quality of our relationships drives the quality of our lives. If you want to be happier and more fulfilled at work and home, be committed not only to having relationships but to ensuring that you do the work to repair and sustain those relationships you value.

 

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Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement
Relationship Skills Are the Key to Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Years ago, I was lucky to somehow find and read the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

The title alone was enough to pull me in. Crucial conversations is one thing, but fierce? That’s next level.

What I thought I was going to find were lessons on how to have different or better conversations. And, while there is some of that in the book, it’s soooo much more than that.

Having read it several times now, it doesn’t even feel adequate to call it by its title. The book is really about equipping you with the mindsets and tools to show up fiercely in your life. More specifically, it equips you with the mindsets and tools to navigate the moments in your life and career that feel scary and high stakes.

The moments that really count.

Fierce is about stepping into these moments, not without fear but with courage and vulnerability. What this book first helped me realize is that to get to what I truly wanted in life, I had to travel through these challenging moments not hide from them.

I learned in this book how to have really meaningful conversations with people that dive toward what really needs to be talked about.

I learned that the conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

The conversation I am most afraid of is almost always the most important one to have because the peace or happiness or resolution you desire most is on the other side of it.

I learned that my perspective on anything is colored by my own experience and what I am surrounded by. This means that someone else with different experiences and context can look at the same thing and see something different.

I learned how to create clarity about decision making in any group I happened to be a part of.

In retrospect, this book set the foundation for me to show up more fiercely and authentically in my relationships with others. The benefits for me over the years have been immeasurable.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Here’s why.

In order for an employee to be fully engaged at work, they need to feel that they are in a healthy, positive relationship with work.  This relationship is impacted by many things in their day-to-day experience of work, but few factors have a bigger impact than their relationship with their manager and coworkers.

When viewed through this lens, our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

Our ongoing struggles to break through on employee engagement might have less to do with work processes and more to do with a gap in our relationship skills.

When I started speaking and writing about work as a relationship, I was pretty optimistic (and maybe a little naive) that this insight alone would help us really move the needle on engagement. I thought that if I could just get managers and leaders to see work as a relationship with the employee, then they could start using all of their relationship skills to improve things right away.

After all, by the time you start managing people, you’ve been navigating relationships for a decade or two.  That’s a lot of relationship experience to call upon.

But…

This makes a huge assumption that we are generally good at relationships outside of work. I have come to realize that this just isn’t true.

Our divorce rates aren’t pretty historically. And there’s been a lot of discussion recently about a “loneliness epidemic.” According to one study, two in ten adults in the US and UK “say they always or often feel lonely, lack companionship, or feel left out or isolated.”

These are just two data points suggesting that perhaps we have room to improve in the relationship department.

I’m coming to understand that our quest to solve employee engagement isn’t really about work. It’s about our lack of skill at having great relationships with others.

If I don’t have the tools or ability to foster a great relationship with my significant other or child or closest friend, then how likely is it that I can do it at work with people who I likely don’t know (or honestly care about) at the same level?

This has hit home for me over the past couple of years. A few of my close friends and family had to navigate some really tough circumstances–divorces, loss of a parent, physical illness, and more.

One of the things I realized in reflecting on being with these friends on this journey was how often I’d been with them (individually) and yet either avoided talking about the things that really mattered or shied away from asking a question that felt really important. Instead, we’d drink our beer and talk about work or sports, then go our separate ways.

I wish I had done better.

Even as someone who’s been studying and teaching relationship skills for years, I wasn’t showing up in these moments.

I wasn’t being fierce. I had to re-commit myself to those lessons I’d learned many years ago. I needed to ask the questions that felt a little scary because the conversation that follows are where amazing relationships grow.

I continue to work on it.

The reason I share this is that creating, building, and maintaining the best kind of relationships requires intentional efforts and knowledge of how to do it. When we do it right, the resulting relationships are powerful and fulfilling. It helps us satisfy our almost primal need for belonging and connection with others.

This feels like a tremendous opportunity for those of us who lead teams or are responsible for employee engagement efforts.

  • What if we deeply invested in our own abilities to form and foster great relationships as a way to give that gift to and model it for others?
  • What if we focused our efforts on teaching and coaching people in the skills and mindsets they need for better relationships?
  • What if we cultivated, celebrated, and rewarded relationship skills as our primary focus?

The role of the workplace is changing. It’s consuming a bigger chunk of our lives and identities all the time. Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

Let’s seize this moment to make work a place of transformation, not just for how you do work, but how you live life.

When we equip not only managers and leaders, but all employees, with the tools to form and maintain healthier relationships, we not only unlock greater engagement and performance at work, but we also send positive ripples throughout their lives.

  • Better communicators at work are better communicators at home.
  • Learning to trust at work also helps you learn to trust outside of work.
  • Embracing the value of diverse opinions at work may just help you survive and navigate successfully in an increasingly polarized society.
  • Becoming skilled at seeing others fully and expressing authentic appreciation will transform any relationship.

We’ve been scratching at the surface of this work for years without fully committing to it. It’s time for us to go all in.

I’m working on what this looks like from my end. What does it look like for you?

 

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My Birthday Wish for 2020
My Birthday Wish for 2020 1080 810 Jason Lauritsen

Today is my birthday.

As a kid, birthdays feel like such a big deal. Everyone seems to know it’s your birthday. There are parties and gifts. They even make it a big deal at school.

Everyone seems to be nicer to you on your birthday.

There’s also the birthday tradition of blowing out the candles on your cake—a tradition both magical and potentially humiliating (no one wants to be the kid who doesn’t get them all out).

The magic is in the birthday wish.

Being invited to make a wish is so cool when you are young. Wishing is without boundaries; it’s a creative space where you can ask for whatever you desire the most. A wish is a peek into what is important to us—what we long for the most.

Making that wish was always fun and exciting.

I don’t think I’ve been wishing enough lately. Today feels like a good day to do something about that.

Since it’s likely that my family will present me with a candle to blow out at some point today, I decided to make my wish now.  And, unlike when I was a kid, I’m going violate protocol to share my wish with you because I’ve found when you share your wishes with others, they are far more likely to come true.

Wishes can become shared vision, and that can shape our actions and decisions. When we share our wishes with others, they become more possible.

My wish is a big one and it’s connected to my work. Actually, if I’m totally honest, I had two birthday wishes. As a lifelong San Francisco 49ers football fan, I was really hoping for a Super Bowl win for my birthday. We didn’t light any candles at our party on Sunday, so I’m blaming that (and a brilliant performance by the Kansas City Chiefs) for my first wish not coming true.

My second wish is less selfish.

I wish for a day when two things are true.

First, I wish for a day when anyone who goes to work to earn a paycheck can earn a living wage by working full-time in one job. If you aren’t familiar with what a living wage is or why it’s important, you are lucky. Living wage is very different than minimum wage. Living wage is what it sounds like: the wage you need to live (survive might be a better word). It’s enough income to allow you and those dependents who rely on you to maintain a standard of living that prevents you from falling into poverty.

Today in the United States, there are far too many people who work really hard, many times in multiple jobs, only to fall short of having enough money to pay for the basics (food, shelter, basic care needs, etc.). Despite their best efforts, they aren’t able to earn a living wage.

Here’s a quote from Martha Ross at the Brookings Institution from a recent issue of the Wall Street Journal:

“Despite a recent uptick in wages and a low unemployment rate, tens of millions of Americans earn barely enough to live on.”

Given the incredible economic opportunity in this country, it’s heartbreaking that so many people have to face reality. This isn’t an easy or simple problem to address, but I believe it can be solved. And I wish for a day when it will be.

The second part of my wish is that everyone who “goes to work” each day, whatever that looks like, leaves at the end of each day/night/shift feeling more whole and not less. Far too many people today leave work each day feeling overlooked, unappreciated, frustrated, stressed, silenced, even abused. This has dire consequences far beyond work.

When this is the case, workplaces are sending people back into their lives depleted, depressed, and sometimes angry. This has ripple effects because these same people are parents, spouses, friends, and neighbors. When work is depleting you, it’s those important relationships outside of work that usually bear the brunt of it.

Below is an excerpt from a wonderful 2010 article titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by MBA Professor Clayton Christensen in the Harvard Business Review that describes this same issue through a different lens:

“I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.”

Work can be an experience that fills us up and makes it whole. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. It’s possible. There is nothing about work inherently that requires it to suck or to feel like a burden. These are choices made by leaders, managers, and people every day.

We can do better. If you are in management or leadership, your hands are already on the wheel to steer the experience of others in a more positive way. But we all play a role.

Every day, we should think about the impact we make on those around us. Even when the work environment isn’t the best, we can challenge ourselves to be part of making it better instead of becoming part of the problem. Be a light in the darkness. Be the first ripple of positivity that might become a wave.

What would it look like if work was a common source of joy in the world? I’d love to find out.

There it is. Jason’s Birthday Wish for 2020. Thank you for indulging me in this exercise. Just writing this has fanned the flames of hope inside of me that maybe, just maybe, this is indeed possible.

As I wrap this up, I’d urge you to spend a little more time wishing (and dreaming). Allow yourself some moments to envision a future filled with the things that matter most to you. Give yourself permission to play around with ideas that have no boundaries or limitations.

Then when you are ready, share those wishes and dreams with others. You might find that you are closer to your wishes coming true than you think.

 

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Employee Engagement Happens in Moments
Employee Engagement Happens in Moments 1080 737 Jason Lauritsen

Something really weird and awesome happened to me this morning.

Knowing I had a busy day of calls and meetings today, I decided to sneak into the gym for a quick run on the treadmill before the day spun away from me.

Before I share what happened next, a bit of context: Despite being a natural extrovert and preaching the importance of relationships everywhere in our lives, I am a standoffish loner at the gym. I make it my business not to have interpersonal interactions when I’m there.

This may stem from an awkward locker room experience many years ago or perhaps it’s just that I’m very focused on why I’m there (and it’s not to make friends). Regardless, I stay to myself when I’m working out.

Today was no different. I jumped on the treadmill, dialed up a podcast to feed my brain while I ran, and cranked it up. Before long, I had three solid, sweaty miles finished.

At some point during my run, a woman got on the treadmill next to me and started her workout. I didn’t pay much attention beyond the fact that someone was there.

As my run finished and I reduced speed to walk and cool down, I noticed the woman next to me turning toward me. Typically, this would raise some dread inside of me. I just want to be left alone at the gym.

But when I looked over at her, she extended her arm and made a fist. She was giving me a fist bump. I bumped her fist and then she turned back to her run.

What?

I don’t know this woman (at least I don’t think I do). But, for some reason, she decided to acknowledge the completion of my run today. And it was awesome.

I smiled and felt proud of my accomplishment. And then I went on with my day with a little extra energy in my step.

I don’t know why she did it. Maybe she does it all the time. Maybe she’s a personal trainer. I don’t know and I don’t care.

What I know is that simple moment of acknowledgment and connection mattered to me. It took only a few seconds. It cost nothing. And yet, here I sit writing about its impact.

This is a great reminder of the simplicity involved in creating a positive work experience for the people around us. We tend to assume that a solution to employee engagement has to be complicated or grand or involve a survey and technology.

That’s not the case. It is often as simple as taking a moment of time to acknowledge those around us. To offer a signal that we see and appreciate each other.

  • When is the last time you gave someone an unexpected fist bump or high five?
  • When is the last time you sent off a quick note to someone you work with just to acknowledge that you notice and appreciate all they do?
  • When is the last time you said thank you to the people who make your life easier at work?
  • When is the last time you said hi and smiled at someone you don’t know at work (or anywhere else)?

Those little moments can carry enormous positive impact.

Next time you are wondering how to improve engagement on your team, remember the fist bump and keep it simple.

 

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Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur?
Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur? 1080 810 Jason Lauritsen

This week, I somehow found myself in a conversation with a colleague about breaking the habit of putting two spaces behind a period when I type. Since he is roughly my age, he understood this challenge completely.

For some of you reading this, the idea of putting two periods beyond a sentence when you type sounds completely ridiculous (who would ever think that’s a good idea?). For others, this may be the first time you’re being confronted with the fact that you are doing it wrong.

I’m not here to argue over the right number of spaces behind a sentence; that has been decided. It’s one.

But, as we talked, I referred to myself as a dinosaur for using two spaces. Granted, I am a dinosaur in recovery (notice the single spaces in my post today…), but that left me pondering something else.

Employee engagement is a concept that we’ve been wrestling with for about 30 years now. And we know a lot of stuff today that we didn’t when we first started. Which begs the question: What are our “two spaces after a sentence” ideas in employee engagement? What beliefs or practices are we stuck in or do we defend, that just aren’t relevant or effective given what we know today?

I think there’s a few. So, I’ve thrown together a shortlist for you. If you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to rethink your position.

Signs You May Be an Employee Engagement Dinosaur

1. You think that employee engagement has to involve a survey

Employee engagement was created as a concept to help us measure and understand the human factors in the workplace that are hard to isolate but have profound effects on how we perform at work. The most efficient and effective way to measure engagement has historically been an employee survey. The survey results gave us something concrete to work with as we try to understand something as abstract as human behavior and emotions. As a result, an entire market of employee survey providers emerged to offer tools, expertise, and consulting to help employers survey their employees.

This practice has become so common that many have come to assume that to work with employee engagement has to involve a survey. The reality is that while a survey can be an effective tool for measuring employee engagement, doing the work of employee engagement isn’t about a survey. Instead, it is about creating an environment and experience of work each day that fosters individual performance. It’s about management practices and technology. It’s about culture and work processes.

It’s about far more than a survey. And if we are to make progress, we have to approach it far more broadly and proactively.

2. You think that HR “owns” employee engagement.

If you are spending any time trying to decide who “owns” employee engagement, you might be a dinosaur. This is a wildly unproductive and unhelpful debate and discussion. Every experience an employee has with and through work has the potential to affect their level of engagement. No one singularly owns employee engagement and everyone plays a role in it. When we say that HR or Corporate Communications owns engagement, it sends an unintended message that no one else needs worry about it.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be people or departments who will play specific roles related to employee engagement. HR might have the responsibility for measuring engagement or providing training.  Executives may (should) have the role of setting a strategy and expectations for employee engagement. But everyone should understand that they have some role to play in both their own and others’ experience of work.

3. You believe there is one right way to approach or create employee engagement.

This is perhaps the most vivid example of “two spaces after a period” thinking about employee engagement that I commonly encounter. Executive leaders and consultants are particularly prone to this way of thinking. It’s fueled by a variety of mental biases but most potently the halo effect and the fundamental attribution error. Here’s how it happens.

We work at an organization where we are involved in creating or bringing to bear some kind of solution related to employee engagement. Maybe it’s implementing the Gallup Q12 survey or it’s implementing a particular management training program. Sometime following the implementation, the results of the organization improve or something else positive happens. We take this as indisputable evidence that our solution was effective and become convinced that it would work elsewhere. This is best practice thinking.

The problem, of course, is that it’s really hard to isolate the impact of specific programs or know exactly what caused the positive outcome. In addition, what works in one culture or context, doesn’t necessarily work in another. I’ve seen the same approach appear to be really effective in one company and fail in another. We have to recognize that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to engagement.

If you are feeling like you might be a dinosaur, it’s okay. You can still make some progress. It’s never too late to shift your thinking and approach. Despite almost 40 years of putting two spaces after a sentence when I typed, I’m actually getting pretty good at only using one. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s possible. We can all catch up.

 

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Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement
Asking for What You Want to Get More Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

I’m not sure when I first learned it. And it’s baffling to me that I even need to. But it’s been one of the most useful lessons I’ve ever learned.

Here it is: You are far more likely to get what you want when you are willing to ask for it.

It seems so simple and obvious, and yet we often don’t do it.

I have the experience frequently in my own home. My wife passively mentions something or poses it as a question to me, seeming to indicate that whatever she’s asking is simply a suggestion or thought.

But in reality, she’s decided already that this is what she wants. She’s just hoping I understand.

I don’t know why she does this because when she tells me what she needs or wants, there’s a nearly 100 percent chance that I will make it happen. And that’s why I usually respond jokingly, “Just tell me what you want me to do; I’m good at following orders.”

She’s not the only one who does this. We all do it.

We don’t ask for the assignment or desk or raise that we want at work.

We don’t tell our spouse where we’d really like to go for dinner or what we truly want to do for our birthday.

We allow our accountant, personal trainer, contractor, or [insert any other person you pay to do work for you] to treat us or do work for us in a way that doesn’t exactly meet our needs or make us happy.

Why do we do this?

My hypothesis is that we are trying to be nice or polite. Maybe we are afraid of saying out loud what we want because we may not get it.

Either way, we need to stop it.

When we don’t ask for what we want, there’s a very slim chance we’ll ever get it. When we do, it’s a lucky accident.

Do you really want your happiness and success to be determined by accident? I hope not.

By simply asking for what we want, we make it wildly more likely we’ll get it. Worse case, you don’t get it, and you’re no worse off than you would have been otherwise.

This is particularly powerful when it comes to our relationship with other people. My experience is that most people actually prefer to know exactly what you want or expect of them. And once they know, it’s surprising how often they will come through for you.

This lesson applies to all areas of our lives. And I think it’s a great insight to apply to our efforts to create more employee engagement at work.

As an employee, get in the habit of asking for what you want. If you’d like a more flexible schedule, ask for it. If you aren’t clear what’s expected of you, ask for more clarity. If you’d like more opportunities to demonstrate your talents, ask for it. If you want a raise, by all means, ask for it. Want that promotion, ask for it. Worse case, you’ll learn what you need to do to make yourself more qualified to get the job in the future.

As a manager, help your employees know exactly what is expected of them. Your people want to be successful, and they want you to think well of them. So tell them what you want and what they need to do to succeed. Trust me; they really do want to know. Frankly, you want the same thing from your boss. When you create that kind of clarity, you will be shocked by the impact it creates on their performance and satisfaction.

When employees and managers are willing to ask for what they want, a lot of the mystery and uncertainty disappears from the work relationship. This doesn’t mean that everyone will always get what they want, but at least we will know what everyone expects. And when those needs aren’t met, we’ll be far more likely to know why.

Ask for what you want.

What do you have to lose?

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employee engagement and gallup poll
We Need to Stop Saying That 66% of Employees Are Not Engaged
We Need to Stop Saying That 66% of Employees Are Not Engaged 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

When we talk about employee engagement, one of the most commonly cited statistics comes from Gallup. I’m sure you’ve seen it: Only 1/3 of employees in the U.S. are engaged according to Gallup’s Q12 measure. That number is a more shocking 17% globally.

That also means that somewhere between 66% and 83% of employees are either “not engaged”—or worse, “actively disengaged” based on Gallup’s methodology.

It sounds pretty dire.

But I don’t care what Gallup says.

This is cited so much to create panic. The house is on fire, and we’re standing around watching it burn. We need to DO SOMETHING!

I’ve been guilty of using the same stat for exactly that reason. To get people’s attention. To jar them awake.

But there are some real problems with using Gallup’s data this way when making the case for change.

We Are Looking at the Employee Engagement Data Incorrectly

It is reasonable to debate whether Gallup’s measure of engagement is the right one. Yes, the Q12 is one of the most well-known and certainly one of the oldest measures of employee engagement. But that doesn’t make it the right one. We can (and should) argue over whether only a third of employees are engaged. The Q12 is one among many ways to measure engagement. And, there is contrary data available from other sources.

But even if you question whether the Q12 is the best way to measure employee engagement, the important thing about their data is that Gallup has been measuring engagement the same way for over 20 years. The consistency of the measure is the more important factor when looking at it.

Instead of fixating on employee engagement levels, the more significant finding in Gallup’s data is that the results have only nominally changed over the past 20 years. This strongly suggests that despite all of our efforts, the employee’s experience at work hasn’t dramatically improved in the past couple of decades.

That is what should concern you. And it should wake us up to the reality that what we’ve been doing around employee engagement isn’t cutting it. We need to fundamentally rethink how we design work and the daily experience of work to better enable employee performance and happiness. What we’ve been doing and the changes we’ve made so far aren’t adequate.

The Language of Gallup’s Model Is a Problem

The second big issue with the Gallup data is that the language of their model is misleading and problematic.

In Gallup’s model, an employee can only fall into one of three categories: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged. I don’t know about you, but my own experience with work has always made it hard for me to swallow that there’s only a small line that separates engaged from disengaged.

Engagement is a product of human emotion. It’s driven by how we feel about work. We don’t experience emotions as a polarity. That would suggest that we have emotional switches like those we use to control our lights. You are either happy or not, angry or not, in love or not.

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to know how ridiculous that is. Emotions happen on a spectrum. You can be wildly happy, sort of happy, or a little happy. You can be a little angry, very angry, or in a blind rage. You get the picture.

We need to stop talking about engagement like an on/off switch.

And yet that’s what Gallup’s data seems to suggest: a minority of our employees are switched on and a bunch more are switched off. That’s just not how it works.

When we talk to our leaders about our engaged versus our disengaged employees, it paints a picture that isn’t helpful. Engagement exists on a spectrum, just like every other factor driven by human emotion. The goal isn’t to move you across an arbitrary line so we can give you a new label (“Congratulations, your engagement survey score improved by 0.2%, which means you are now engaged!”). Our goal should be to help everyone have an experience of work that increases their positive emotions about work to improve engagement.

Labeling people in the workplace is almost always a bad idea. We need to be far more careful about the labels and language we use when talking about employee engagement.

The Bottom Line on Employee Engagement

Let’s stop saying that two-thirds of employees are disengaged. Yes, we need to do better at engaging employees, but the story is far more complicated and nuanced than that. Both our understanding and our language needs to reflect that complexity if we are to move the needle.

Stop labeling people as “engaged” and “disengaged” or “not engaged.” Better yet, stop labeling people. Labels aren’t helping. Focus instead on understanding each employee’s experience and making it better.

Pay more attention to the trend lines. Gallup’s trendline is important because it shows us making little progress and that change is clearly needed. If you measure engagement internally at your organization, the same is true for you. Don’t worry about the labels, focus instead on whether your trendline is moving in a positive direction.

Be thoughtful about how you use data and statistics. The shock factor might seem valuable in the moment but think about the ripple effects that message may leave behind.

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barriers to employee engagement
The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement
The Two Biggest Barriers for Managers Faced with Employee Engagement 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

The longer I am immersed in the work of employee engagement, the clearer it is to me that getting it right as a manager is simple and hard.

That may sound contradictory, but it’s not.

Engaging employees isn’t all that complicated. It starts with forming and maintaining a healthy, positive relationship with each person you manage. Then, ensuring that everything you do protects and builds that relationship and avoids harming it.

That sounds pretty simple, right?

But if you’ve ever been in any kind of relationship with another human being, you know that this can be more challenging than it sounds. Good relationships require that you work at them.

When it comes to doing this work of building relationships with employees, there are two obstacles I hear from managers and leaders most frequently.

The First Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is TIME

Being a manager is one of the most time-crunched jobs in the company. Generally, as a manager, you still have a full plate of your own work to do in addition to managing a team of people. Being a manager also comes with the expectation of attending a slate of meetings that may or may not be of any value.

The problem with being time-constrained is that relationship building requires time. Try to think of one person in your life who you have a great relationship with where you haven’t spent a lot of time together.

You can’t.

Time is the currency of relationships. There is no shortcut or hack.  If you don’t make the time to be with people, you will never build a relationship with them.

This is what makes regularly scheduled, one-on-one meetings and check-ins so critically important. By making these part of your schedule and considering the time as critical to doing the role of management, you ensure that each member of your team has at least some dedicated time with you.

Getting the one-on-one in the schedule is just the first step. That time is precious and important, so follow these steps to ensure you make the most of it.

  • Never cancel a one-on-one and only reschedule when absolutely necessary. Treat this time as sacred.
  • Ask questions and listen for most of the meeting. This is the employee’s time with you. Let them tell you what’s most important. In fact, consider starting with the question, “What the most important thing we need to talk about today?” and go from there.
  • Ask the employee for feedback on the meeting and how you could together make it the most valuable use of your time together.

I know you’re busy. Everyone is. But you need to make time for your people, or they will never be fully engaged.

The Second Obstacle to Employee Engagement Is FEAR

This one isn’t talked about as directly and openly as lack of time is, but it’s even more of a challenge. Cultivating relationships with your people can feel awkward and scary, particularly if you are new to it.

It requires that you trust people, maybe more than you are comfortable with. If you’ve been burned in the past, this will be hard. What if you get burned again?

This also requires that you get to know people beyond what they can do for you at work. Who are they as a person? What really matters to them in life? Who are the most important people in their life?

I know, I know. You’ve probably been told in the past that work and life should be kept separate, but is that how you experience work? Do you become a completely different person, disconnected entirely from your life when you go to work? Of course not. And neither do your people.

Getting to know them will help you understand how to help them find more meaning and enjoyment at work. But, here’s the catch. You’ll have to share some about yourself as well. They need to know you as a human being in order to really connect. Somewhere in each of your stories are some commonalities that will bond you together.

When I suggest this to managers, I start to hear the “what if” objections.

  • What if they tell me something I really shouldn’t know?
  • What if we become friends and I have to give them some hard feedback?
  • What if I have to fire them someday?

“What if” questions come from fear. We are afraid because we are uncertain about what we would or should do in those circumstances. We are afraid because we don’t want to change. We are afraid because we don’t want to get hurt.

But what’s the alternative?

Remain distant, be less scared, and let your people feel like nobody really cares that much about them at work? Yes, it will make it easier in that rare situation when you’ve done such a poor job of managing them that you have to suddenly fire them, but in the meantime, they are probably going to perpetually struggle along until they quit to find a manager who cares more.

Lean Into Relationships to Improve Employee Engagement

Treat people the way you’d treat anyone else in your life who you value and care for. That doesn’t mean you abandon accountability or other good management practices. But, it does mean that you handle those things in a way that is consistent with valuing the relationship.

If you want an engaged team, you have to make time and push past the fear. It will be worth it.

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5 Podcast Episodes to Change How You Think About Work
5 Podcast Episodes to Change How You Think About Work 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

I am a podcast junkie.

I struggle to find as much time to read as I’d like. But podcasts have helped me feed (or distract) my brain in times when I can’t read but I can listen (walking the dog, running, doing yard work, etc.). I love them.

That said, I don’t only listen to brain-nourishing podcasts about work and success, etc. I also love great true crime podcasts, but that isn’t what I’m here to write about today.

Over the course of the past several years, there have been some specific podcast episodes that really interrupted my thinking and challenged me to think differently about some aspect of work and life.

Most of these episodes introduced me to a person, idea, or body of work that became important in some way to my continued learning and the evolution of my own work.

So, for those of you who love podcasts, I thought I’d share these with you. For those of you who don’t listen to podcasts, seriously? It’s time. And these would be a great place to start.

  1. Podcast: Invisibilia. Episode: Emotions. Invisibilia is one of my favorite podcasts overall. I don’t think they’ve made an episode I haven’t enjoyed. But, this particular episode really left a mark on me. In it, they highlight the work of neuroscientist, Lisa Feldman Barrett. In short, it will challenge everything you think you know about where emotions come from.  I also found the episode titled Reality to be really thought-provoking.
  2. Podcast: Freakanomics Radio. Episode: People Aren’t Dumb, the World Is Hard. In my opinion, behavioral economics may be the most important field of research when it comes to fixing work (and a lot of things). And, one of the most important and accessible experts in that field is Nobel Prize Winner, Richard Thaler, who is interviewed in this episode.   If you aren’t familiar yet with behavioral economics, this interview is a great way to whet your appetite.
  3. Podcast: Revisionist History. Episode: The Big Man Can’t Shoot. This one of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts. I am a fan of all things Gladwell. This particular episode is about basketball players Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain. It’s a thought-provoking piece about conformity and the power of social norms. It’s also an example of why behavioral economics is so crucial to help us understand why humans do such irrational things.
  4. Podcast: Hidden Brain. Episode: Life, Death and The Lazarus Drug: Confronting America’s Opioid Crisis. There are several reasons to listen to this podcast. We all need a deeper understanding of the opioid crisis and this will give you another perspective. More than that, it’s an exploration of unintended consequences. This episode really had an impact on me and left me pondering how thoughtful we need to be when trying to solve big problems.
  5. Podcast: Against the Rules. Episode: Ref, You Suck. This is a project from Michael Lewis, author of Money Ball and Liar’s Poker. It’s an exploration of implications of living in a time when the referee’s in our life (those whose job it is to ensure fairness) are under attack. I’m recommending this episode because it’s the first one. But really, I’m recommending listening to the whole series. If you are like me, you’ll be left feeling both unsettled and motivated to do something by the end of the season.

The list could go on, but these are the best of the best in my opinion. I have linked to the show pages here, but they should all be available wherever you get your podcasts.

Please let me know what you think of these.

And if you have any episodes or podcasts that have profoundly impacted your thinking, please share them in the comments of this post. I’m always on the lookout for great ones.

Enjoy!

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How Did Your Parents Impact the Way You Experience Work?
How Did Your Parents Impact the Way You Experience Work? 1080 721 Jason Lauritsen

When I was 14 years old, my dad quit his job. It was a job he’d had since I was born.

He didn’t quit because he’d accepted another job. He quit because his boss asked him to compromise his integrity.

Let me explain.

As a cattle buyer, my dad’s customers were the farmers and ranchers who lived within driving distance of our home. He’d known many of these people for a decade or longer. This was a business that ran on relationships and trust. Deals are made with one’s word and a handshake. Contracts come later, but they were really just a formality.

One cold winter morning, dad had made a deal to buy some cattle from a customer based on the information he’d been given at the start of the day. When he called in the deal to his boss, he was told that he needed to go back to the customer with a different, lower-buy price. In other words, my dad was told to go back on his word.

It’s important to note that my dad really disliked his boss. Thirty years later, I still remember the guy’s name because Dad had talked so much about him when I was growing up (and not in a good way).

Instead of going back on his word with his customer, he called my mom to tell her to get ready to drive the 150 miles on slick, icy roads to pick him up because he was going to turn in his car and quit his job.

There was no backup plan. A line had been crossed. Dad could put up with working for an a-hole, but his integrity wasn’t for sale.

The following weeks were a little crazy. My mom’s desire for stability and low risk meant that her stress level went through the roof. I thought for sure our family was going to move out of state, so I was preparing mentally for that reality.

But then he found another job locally where he could do what he was good at, make similar money, and be much happier.

For those who know me well, this story probably helps explain a few things about why I think about work in some of the ways that I do. There are so many lessons that I took and internalized from this experience.

  • Never compromise your integrity. Your word is everything.
  • Bad bosses cause a negative ripple effect at home.
  • Quitting your job is never fatal. Things will work out.
  • Change is good.

These lessons, probably because of my age, became part of me. They are deeply ingrained into how I have approached and thought about work throughout my career. Fortunately for me, the lessons were all good ones that have helped guide me in a pretty remarkable way.

I started thinking about this recently after listening to a podcast episode of Sacred Conversations on Work. The podcast is hosted by Carol Ross, a colleague and really wonderful coach, and her guest is my friend Sara Martin Rauch, COO of WELCOA.

Much of the episode is about how Sara’s experience of watching what a terrible job did to accelerate her dad’s addiction, abuse, and other destructive behavior. She found her calling to do the work she does today in part because she lived through that trauma and turmoil and wanted to prevent it from happening to others.  It’s a powerful story. I recommend you check out the episode.

So what?

On an individual level, to find our way to a healthy relationship with work, we need to understand what we are bringing to the table. If one of your parents was fired or laid off when you were a kid, you might have some trust issues with any employer. If a parent was harassed or demeaned regularly by their manager, you might carry some pretty negative baseline emotions about managers in general.

I sometimes wonder in what ways I am biasing my kids’ perception of what work is. As far as my kids know, “work” means sitting on the couch in your pajamas, typing on your laptop, or going to the airport to fly someplace and speak to people. It also means no boss. They might have a tough time joining the traditional working world.

I’d encourage you to spend some time reflecting on your memories of what work meant for your parents as you grew up. What stories do you remember? What impact did your parents’ jobs have in your life? By being aware of these things, it might help you either navigate around negative mindsets or lean into the lessons that are more positive. It might even help you identify a barrier that’s been preventing you from getting farther ahead in your career.

As a manager, it is always valuable to know more about your people. Every single person on your team has some biases and mindsets about work that they didn’t chose but learned through what they observed growing up. This can be either positive or negative. In either case, it’s good to know because it impacts how they will experience work and you as their leader.

On occasion, asking your people about when and where they grew up can lead to a conversation about their parents. Don’t push if they don’t want to talk about it, but people are often very open to sharing their story. Listen closely when they do and ask them what they think they learned about work from watching their parents.

So, how did your parents’ work experience shape how you feel about work today?  

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