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“The New Normal.” Are you tired yet of this cliché?

In case you aren’t, here is a list of some more clichés we’ve heard in 2021. Employee engagement. Employee experience. Customer ethnography. Customer experience. Productivity. Performance. Innovation. Talent retention. The Great Resignation. The list seems endless, no?

What matters to me, though, is not the terms, but how do they influence my work?

Why does employee engagement matter to me?

I am a freelancer working for a start-up in a distributed hybrid environment, exploring a new field of expertise within a culturally and geographically diverse team. In short, I am part of the new normal workforce. A lot of you may wear similar shoes.

Dr. Mary Hayes and Marcus Buckingham have defined employee engagement as “the emotional state of mind that causes people to do their best work, sustainably.” So, why wouldn’t I want to be engaged? So I can do my best work?

Most importantly of all, for me, is the word “sustainably.” Sustainability is crucial because continuous participation is essential for achieving results.

Hayes and Buckingham’s study shows a direct link between employee engagement and performance. Employees rated highly by their managers are twice as likely to be fully engaged compared to employees rated in the bottom quartile of performance. I certainly want to be rated well!

Most of the reading I have done about engagement talks about how the company should make me feel engaged. But in my opinion, it’s not only up to the company. As a freelancer, I also want to create my engagement myself.

So, how can I create the “emotional state of mind” they are talking about? Here are a few ideas I have come up with.

1. Tools and technology

I have found that working in a distributed hybrid environment can be difficult. My commitment to the project and therefore my performance may slump if I do not have access to the right tools and technology. I need tools that allow me to communicate, collaborate, and contribute at my best. But it’s not only me. 92% of employees agree that effective workplace technology has a considerable impact on their job satisfaction, according to a survey by Freshworks and the Harvard Business Review. So where my company has not provided those tools, I need to ask for them. Luckily, at Innovation Minds, we have all the tools I need.

2. Sense of purpose     

We all need to feel a sense of purpose in our work. I feel proud when I know I am part of something bigger than me. It gives me a reason and a vision that help me focus on my goals. When I see my organization’s mission as aligned with my own beliefs, it becomes much easier to participate and give my utmost. So if I don’t see that, I need to speak up.

3. Recognition and Appreciation

I also want to feel truly appreciated. Authentic and specific comments from my leaders and peers make me feel valued. An occasional “Good job” or “Nice work” doesn’t help. I would rather receive constructive criticism as to what I did well and even more so, what I need to improve. Again, it’s best I be clear, and ask for this. 90% of workers who receive gratitude or acknowledgment from their supervisor report a high degree of trust, according to Forbes. And trust is a key factor in engagement.

4. Trust

Did I just mention this? Trust is a must-have, not a nice-to-have, in my opinion. Hayes and Buckingham’s study also shows that an employee is twelve times more likely to be fully engaged if he or she trusts the team leader. But I can’t insist on others trusting me until I prove myself trustworthy. I can do this by listening and providing support to my team. Yes, trust is a two-way street. But it’s easiest to build trust from my side first, by trusting my team before demanding they trust me. And a funny thing – I find the more I listen to them, the more they listen to me.

5. Growth

When I know I am delivering the best results I can, I feel empowered. And when I feel empowered, I do even better work. This kind of growth makes me even more empowered, and my work improves again. So, how can I stay out of my comfort zone as much as possible? How can I attempt new things? Solve new problems? Take on greater challenges? And not just once in a while, but again and again. Sustainably! I have learned this is not up to the company. It’s also up to me. When I empower myself by focussing on continual growth at work, I feel I can breathe more freely, innovate better, and be more engaged.

6. Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

I feel more comfortable working in an environment of equal pay and benefits. To experience my company as having a welcoming, objective, and non-judgmental atmosphere is critical to me. I need to have a powerful sense of belonging in my team. When we work together to achieve common goals without friction from bias or judgment, I get a sense of belonging that engages me. And I am not alone in this. Employees who feel like they’re part of a team are twice as likely to feel engaged (again per Hayes and Buckingham).

These are a few ways that I have found to make sure I stay engaged.

The next challenge is this. Since engaged employees are far more likely to stay with the company, and I prefer to keep working with the people I’m working with today: How do I make sure my colleagues are engaged, too, in the new normal?

Hmm. Sounds like a topic for an upcoming blog post!

Meanwhile, please share some tips that help you stay engaged at work. What drives YOUR engagement?

Jayanthi Palanisamy is Head of Marketing at Innovation Minds. She is a seasoned software expert who enjoys learning new skills, mentoring, and guiding others on how to solve problems. Over the course of her sixteen years in software development, she has improved customer productivity and business results for a variety of sectors, products, and engagement models by working in both client-facing and offshore operations.

Edited with Michael Lee, SVP Strategy, Innovation Minds