Being Engaged as an Employee Can Be Your Competitive Advantage

Be engaged at work

By Jim Hasse

Only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work, according to a September 2013 Gallup report.

The research firm's 142-country study defines engagement as those "psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations." That number is up from 11 percent in 2010. Sixty three percent are not engaged, "meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals and outcomes."

Twenty-four percent are actively disengaged; that is, they are "unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers," Gallup says.

The U.S. and Canada enjoy the highest proportion of engaged workers at 29 percent, but, to me, that figure is surprisingly low.

In 2011, Gallup reported that employees who are engaged in their work and workplace are twice as likely to work in an organization that is hiring new workers than those who are actively disengaged.

On the other hand, Gallup pointed out, workers who are emotionally disconnected from their work and workplace are far more likely to report their organization is “letting people go.”

Check these Gallup conclusions:

  • Most of us spend a substantial part of our lives working. The quality of our workplace experiences is inevitably reflected in the quality of our lives.
  • Just one in eight employees worldwide are fully involved in and enthusiastic about their jobs.
  • Increasing workplace engagement is vital to achieving sustainable growth for companies in a global economy that remains relatively sluggish.
  • Employers can increase their levels of engaged employees with strategies to hire the right employees, develop their strengths, and enhance their well-being.

The Opportunity

Over the years, Gallup may have arbitrarily developed these concepts of employee “engagement” and “disconnectedness” as research descriptors. But I believe they are worth tracking because they indicate there is opportunity for jobseekers who can frame learning how to live well with a disability as an eye-opening “lesson in engagement.”

Has your disability experience helped you develop a level of emotional intelligence that helps you readily engage in a community or corporate project within a volunteer or workplace setting? If so, as a jobseeker, you need to seize that opportunity (which no one else has) and be prepared to cite examples of such engagement for hiring managers.

It may just be the competitive edge you need to outshine jobseeker competitors who are not as savvy in identifying where they land on the “engaged/not engaged” scale. And, it also may help you identify the right first “boss” for launching your career.

In other words, has your disability helped you acquire an emotional intelligence, which, unlike an intelligence quotient, can be acquired through learning – especially experiential learning.

These are the most intriguing characteristics of emotional intelligence that I’ve found.

  • You form optimal relationships with other people through the attributes of hope, empathy, trust, integrity, honesty, creativity, resiliency, consequence-thinking and optimism so you can build stronger social networks and manage difficult situations, write J. S. Stein and H. E. Book in The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success (Jossey-Bass, Hoboken, N.J., 2006).
  • You see the positive side of stressful situations and empathize with the less fortunate, states study team leader and psychologist Robert Levenson, University of California- Berkeley.
  • You have the ability to delay gratification in pursuit of long-range goals and the ability to “unlearn” helplessness and hopelessness when faced with adversity (again from J. S. Stein and H. E. Book).

The Key Attribute of Emotional Intelligence

In fact, Cynthia Kivland, MCC, co-founder and president of Workplace Coach Institute and president of Smart2Smarter, a coaching and career service firm, says most attributes in emotional intelligence have a common denominator: optimism.

I believe optimism is important for jobseekers with a disability because:

  1. We tend to attract people through our optimism. And those people we attract tend to be optimistic, too.
  2. We show our resilience by continually reinventing how to get things done. Resilience does not mean how we initially react to adverse events but how we eventually react -- how we navigate the transition.

    For example, what we tell ourselves about our disability -- that disability doesn’t have to ruin the rest of our lives -- is an example of our resilience. Like a rubber band, we’re elastic. We bounce back -- even though we may not always bounce back to what others may consider “normal.”
  3. We demonstrate that human beings can evolve, innovate and improve -- and that disability does not have to evoke pity or false admiration.

On the other hand, I also believe it’s important to avoid coming across to others as a “toxic” person, someone who is mired in old memories, fears and resentments. Together, toxicity and disability are a deadly mix.

By the way, one easy way you, as a jobseeker, can demonstrate engagement, elasticity and emotional intelligence is to ask your second interviewers for a particular job: “What was it about me that prompted you to call me back for this second job interview?”

In doing so, you’re showing that, “I can step outside of myself, and I believe I’m capable of mastering my destiny. I can shift my focus and check the reality of my perceptions.” That’s engagement. You are guiding your job interviewers toward deciding that you are the one person   for the open job.

If I were seeking meaningful work in today’s job market, here are seven attributes I’d want in a boss: social intelligence, personal optimism, service orientation, tolerance, resilience, focus and restraint. The questions I’d ask during that second or third interview would probe those issues.

In carefully selecting those seven key attributes for an effective supervisor, I’ve somewhat reluctantly begun to realize that I would need these same qualities as a job candidate to attract the potential supervisor I seek – basically someone who is engaged in his or her work as a people manager.

“Engagement” would be my prospective supervisor’s competitive edge – and mine.

Copyright © 2013. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Jim Hasse, Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org/), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse’s forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com).  He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy.