The Real Reason You’re Not Engaged at Work

Polaris Alumni Board Uncategorized

(Written by Tim Wise (MBA, 90) who is the Sr. Director of Supply Chain at Seagate Technology. He is a coach, writer, speaker and career strategist with a passion for helping others get what they want out of work and life. When not writing, speaking or re-engineering supply chains, you can find him on his favorite rivers in Colorado or Montana. You can find out more about Tim at

No doubt you have read an article or heard where 70% of workers in the US are not engaged. To make matters worse, about 20% are actively voicing their displeasure in the workplace, no doubt contributing to the problem of engagement at work. You know who those co-workers are, you can see it in their work, their expressions and what time they leave the office.

Maybe you’re one of the 70%, if so, keep reading.

I have struggled with engagement, motivation and a general lack of interest for most of my work life. I have spent my career working for technology companies. Complex products that increase productivity and today, are largely taken for granted. If you work for a company where technology is the product, you cannot help but be immersed in the complex technical solutions that make many tasks seamless today. (Smartphones, apps, etc.)

But what if you are not interested in complex technical solutions? To compensate, you certainly can focus on the business side of things, like finance, supply chain, marketing etc. This is where I landed.

Can you truly be engaged with an organization where technology is the primary focus, if you are not interested in technology?

I have found it difficult at best and I have worked for companies deemed to be great places to work. Yes, it helps if the organization values their employees and treats them accordingly.

But, as the surveys show, it is not working.

Most of the literature on employee engagement focuses on management tactics to increase employee engagement. Vision, purpose, slick development plans, leadership development and opportunities for growth are just some of the practices I am sure you have heard about.

Companies that create a safe environment for employees to own their work and provide an atmosphere of teamwork and cooperation can certainly help increase engagement.

Capitalizing on employee strengths, having a culture where employee input is valued without fear of being shunned or shamed, can also increase engagement.

But, guess what? It is not working. And it is not the company’s fault.

If you are not engaged at work, you need to own that, not the company.

Most organizations have good intentions. They are not out to make it miserable for their employees, even though they put incompetent managers in leadership positions and make a host of other mistakes preventing engagement. Yes, some organizations are horrible places to work and no matter what you do, that is not likely to change. In those cases, get out. But there are far more effective ways to ensure YOU are engaged at work.

The question you need to ask yourself is – What does engagement at work look like for ME?

What do I care about? What keeps me interested? What problems do I want to and like to solve?

What unique contributions can I make and where can I go to make those?

What are my strengths and are they being used by the organization? (If not, why not? It may require you asking for another role.)

If I am a creative, do I get to do creative work?

What is the company mission? Is it a mission I can get excited about?

This is the most overlooked aspect of dis-engagement. Your company may pay great, have great benefits, have a great work environment, but if the mission/vision is not motivating, will you do your best work?

The biggest barrier to your own engagement is you.

The in-ability to fully recognize your personal preferences for engagement is the biggest barrier for you being engaged.

When we look for external factors (pay, management, etc.) to create engagement for ourselves, that never works.

When you examine the internal factors and preferences to create engagement for yourself, the likelihood you will be engaged is almost assured.

The real reason you are not engaged is that you have not defined what engagement looks like for you, relying on conventional thinking, tired management tactics and other external factors that are not motivating.

So, if you are un-engaged at work:

  1. Define what engagement means to you. What conditions and environment are motivating?
  2. Define what problems you like to solve and the skills you are naturally good at.
  3. Answer this question – What was a professional peak moment in my life? What were the vital characteristics and conditions of that peak moment? All the way down to the time of day, the weather outside, the people you were with and what specifically made it a peak moment. Are those characteristics available at your job today?

Employee engagement is a complex issue.

Only you can create the engagement in your work and the life you desire.