On a bleak and bleary February day, with the holidays a distant memory and spring just out of reach, it may be hard to summon any dormant positivity. It’s on these short shadowy days – when we may arrive at and leave the office in the dark – when our social connections and relationships with colleagues matter the most. Its days like these when both the culture of the organization and our individual engagement levels have the greatest impact on our ability to be satisfied, productive, and positive.
Too many times we see overly hierarchical workplace cultures with ineffectual metrics of success and a physical office space that hampers work processes. Productivity, satisfaction and, most importantly, engagement, suffer as a result. According to Gallup, a mere 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work and 18% are actively disengaged. Engaged employees, defined as those who are enthusiastic, positive, connected with their work activities, and able to deal with the demands of their job, have an overwhelmingly positive impact on the success of an organization.
At OPX, we use a statistically validated engagement survey that measures engagement on three attributes – vigor, dedication, and absorption. Vigor is characterized by high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, the willingness to invest effort in one’s work, and persistence even in the face of difficulties. Dedication refers to being strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge. Absorption is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work, whereby time passes quickly and one has difficulties with detaching oneself from work.
While our clients tend to have average engagement scores overall, we have been surprised to find that particularly low vigor scores – measuring levels of energy and resilience – bring down otherwise above-average scores in dedication and absorption. What this suggests is that, while employees experience their work as meaningful, inspiring, and challenging, there are aspects of the workplace that drain their energy and ability to deal with the demands of their jobs.
Our clients are unique organizations with lofty and inspiring missions. Their work is challenging, exciting, and impactful. Because of this, they often attract employees who are drawn to that mission and committed to making a difference. However, both our quantitative and qualitative findings suggest that certain cultural characteristics and physical office attributes hinder these employees’ ability to fulfill their jobs most effectively. These impediments drain employees’ energy, positivity, and stamina.
When there is friction in simple daily tasks, such as reserving conference rooms or finding an adequate meeting space, for instance, the compound effect can be detrimental to energy levels. When waiting for the elevator is as uninspiring as sitting in a dentist’s waiting room, you can understand how employees might be lacking in energy. When distractions make it easier to do work at home than in the office, it is no wonder employees are exhausted at the end of the day, regardless of how personally meaningful their work is.
The good news is that these are fixable issues. Workspaces, tools, and policies that better support employees’ day-to-day tasks go a long way in cultivating a culture of positivity. People, tools and places that reinforce preferred cultural characteristics and that highlight and support an organization’s mission meaningfully support the needs of employees. Individual control, the ability for an employee to pick the setting that is most suitable to the task at hand, has substantial impact on productivity and engagement levels. Environmental branding that reminds employees of the organization’s mission and connects them to their clients, customers, or end users acts to reinforce a cohesive culture and sense of positive connection. Opportunities for social engagement and bonding reinvigorate a mentally depleted workforce. These interventions, among many others, help employees feel valued and supported and bolster engagement at a time when employee engagement levels are on the decline.
As I write this post, I’m taking a moment to watch the snow fall and the early dusk sweep across the city. February is presenting itself in its full austerity. But inside it is a beautiful spring day. Our team is creating striking, impactful designs and inspiring ideas. We are engaged with each other, our workspace, and the work at hand. We are all supporting a mission that is important to us‑ to make good companies work better. Our positivity abounds.