What is engagement? Why is it important in the world of work? How do we restore our ability to engage? Unpacking this critical factor to the success of people in the workplace raises three questions.
What is engagement?
Engagement has entered the world of business and we have become somewhat besotted with the term. What does it really mean?
Forbes says that “employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. The emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company”.
Emotional commitment to the workplace will result in success, but the process to achieve emotional commitment is through supportive behaviours. We drive people’s behaviour by making constant, real and reciprocal connections – personal connections, not digital!
Engagement therefore depends on human connections and human connections occur through the senses. Each of the senses is an intricate web of neural systems to take stimuli to response and response to behaviour. We have seven senses which kickstart daily interactions with our environment and facilitate the process of engagement.
Our eyes and ears are primary information systems to process the world. The eyes see and look to observe. The ears listen and hear to respond. Our skin, nose and mouth are key social receptors and systems through which we touch, feel and connect.
The five visible sensory organs are well known, but we also have two hidden movement senses. They are the vestibular system – an intricate set of miniature organs in our inner ear that act as our body’s GPS and orient us to space and gravity. They work together with the proprioceptive system – located in muscles and joints to help us move and manoeuvre our body from point A to point B. The movement senses are our primary regulation senses – in other words the best way to control, calm or change the state of our brain and body. Have you ever wondered why the exercise industry is so popular? It is not only a matter of pumping iron, hitting the tar and pushing pedals. These activities facilitate a myriad of positive hormones and brain responses to de-stress, regulate and optimise the working of the body and brain.
Our seven senses kickstart, maintain – and terminate – engagement. Through sensory stimuli we orient and attend to our world and choose the appropriate responses needed to be productive, successful, healthy and happy.
Why is engagement important?
Any business success relies on core processes to be delivered for the benefit of customers. However, the quality of interaction with customers relies heavily on how the business staff translate the process into meaningful benefit for customers. If staff are fully engaged as teams, they work together optimally. If staff are fully engaged with customers, it means that customers’ needs will be identified and met.
However, disengagement is rife in the modernday workplace, with stress and pressure leading to health issues and high absenteeism. People are battling to fulfil daily demands. We are functioning in constant sensory overload.
As technology raises the level of workplace activities, it also destroys our capacity for engagement. Meetings probably only capture 50% of the attendees’ attention as they check their smart phones and laptops – so missing key information. We may occupy social spaces (restaurants, lifts, airports, etc.) but our eyes are cast down, rather than up. Digital distractions create disengagement. It is as if technology has overrun humanity – it interferes with our concentration, our relationships, and ultimately our engagement and productivity.
How do we restore our ability to engage?
High-level solutions are often thought to be the definitive factor when having to solve problems. However, simple, practical common sense will do the trick.
Here are three basic principles to start your journey of understanding and improving levels of engagement in your organisation. There are many more, but the brain has a relationship with the number three and finds it easier to remember information clusters of three.
These principles are fully rooted within neuroscience and how the body-brain interaction facilitates engagement. It is deceptively simple.
Moments of pause will result in our assessing facts so often overlooked in the mayhem of business activity. The easy answers lie right before us, if we would just take the time to look for them. We have to create moments where we slow down and become innovative and solution-focused.
2. Stop, look and listen
Communication 101 tells us to stop (disconnect from technology), look (make eye contact) and listen (in order to understand, not to respond). Our senses are powerful channels which ensure that we get the basics right. Looking means observing the facts; listening means condensing the facts one step further. The eyes and ears are information channels and boosters to help us be fully connected and engaged with the immediate world around us. We will however have to start with JOMO (joy of missing out), instead of FOMO (fear of missing out), and switch off the smart phone, laptop, I-pad and I-watch. The core message is: learn to unplug. Watch Adam Alter’s Ted Talk explaining why our screens make us less happy.
3. Time – quality not quantity
Time will remain the biggest commodity of modern times. It all depends on the way we use or lose it. We will never feel that our quantity of time suffices – therefore we should focus on quality. Start using small increments of time during your work day to connect and engage with yourself and others. Looking people in the eye and greeting them can go a long way to ensuring highly productive and engaged teams. Taking regular two- to three-minute stretch breaks throughout the day will increase health and energy. Making time for family is critical – again we can take our relationships to the next level with 10 to 15 minutes of quality time as opposed to two to four hours of co-existence, each absorbed in our own world of technology, information overload and social media.
I wish you quality human connections every day. It is important and worth it.
Dr Annemarie Lombard is the founder and CEO of a sensory intelligence consulting firm and is author of the book Sensory intelligence – why it matters more than IQ and EQ. She also acts as a facilitator for USB-ED programmes, New Managers Development Programme (NMDP) being one of them.