Want employee engagement? Transform, don’t transact!

There are any number of tools on the market designed to enable and increase employee engagement: platforms that make remote collaboration easier, apps that allow for instantaneous recognition of team members, project management software that promises golden sparkles with every use. The great flaw with all of our engagement interventions, is not the intervention itself, but the way we understand the work context.

We tend to view work as a transaction. An employee gives their employer 40 hours a week of work, and in return, an employer offers the employee a salary and other tangible and intangible benefits. And then, in that transactional context, we try to increase engagement between transactors. That’s where it all goes wrong. Transactional relationships don’t allow for the kind of engagement that we want.

So what do we need to change?

We need to change the way we understand work and the relationship between employer and employee. We need to view work and the relationship between employer and employee as transformative not transactional.

We need to move away from viewing work as a linear progression from point A to point B where we start at point A, and then with a series of inputs and activities, emerge at point B. Instead, we need to think of an employee’s work as a chrysalis, enabling the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly. Let’s unpack this.

Consider a task that needs to be done. For that task to move from an idea to a completed project, we need employees to make it happen. And we’d like them to be engaged in the process, so that they’re doing their best work, enjoying themselves, and staying with the employer from one process to the next. Either we incentivise the employee to do their job, by dangling a salary at the end of the stick, or we help the employee understand that they are a critical part of transforming the idea into a completed project. Which option enables greater engagement? Well, that should be clear!

How do we view work as transformative?

  1. We need to move away from an obsession with outputs and instead zoom out to focus on the nature of the work. Is this a problem to be a solved, a product to be developed, a customer to keep happy? Why are we doing this work?
  2. In moving away from outputs, we can also focus on all of the possibilities that a combination of our team’s unique skills and resources can generate. What could the team do with the caterpillar in front of them?
  3. We need to recognise the human element involved in achieving the completion of a project. What does each person bring the work, that only they can bring?
  4. We need to understand that while our work does not need to be our life’s purpose, it does need to transform us in some way. After the completion of each successful project, how has each employee grown and developed?

If you’d like to chat about to transform your view of work in your organisation, we’d love to help you! Reach out to us at hello@merakicollective.co.za.

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