Engaging Your Employees So They Don’t Hate Work

Make  me happy

Make me happy

A New York Times article about employee engagement – or the lack of it – got a lot of people talking this past week. The headline Why You Hate Work sure was a grabber.

Employee engagement is a particular passion of mine. My SlideShare presentations on this topic have received over 12,000 views and 175 downloads. To me that indicates a lot of interest. But, as the Times authors point out, there is a lot of talk about engagement but not much happening. 

Why People Are Unhappy

The Times article talks about how modern technology is one of the principal culprits for employees feeling burned out, unhappy and hating their jobs. The authors partnered with the Harvard Business Review to survey more than 12,000 mostly white-color employees across a broad range of companies and industries. This is what they found.

Why employees work and how to engage them to be more satisfied and productive

Even Luke Kissen, the CEO of Albemarle, a multi-million dollar chemical company, reported that he was feeling so overwhelmed that he sought the advice of one of the article’s authors, Tony Schwarz, head of the Energy Project, a consulting firm. Kissen told Schwarz, “ I felt just felt that no matter what I was doing I was always getting pulled somewhere else.”

Engaged Employees are More Satisfied

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive when four of their core needs are met, according to the study authors:

  • Physical – through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work
  • Emotional – by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions
  • Mental – when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done
  • Spiritual – by doing what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work

A good friend told me she’s going to retire from her job at a Fortune 500 company soon. She’s sold her vacation house and is downsizing from her current home to something smaller. It’s worth it to her to get out from under. She’s not yet 60 and could continue to work, but she’s unhappy. “All I do all day long is answer emails and participate in conference calls.” She doesn’t feel a connection to the organization.

Hundreds of people work there but nobody talks to one another. They are glued their computer screens and sneaking looks at their smart phones all day. Emails are a constant interruption and yet another project is thrown at them with little direction and understanding of why it is important to the organization.

I have to say I was guilty, too, when I was working for a PR agency and sending emails to my colleague in the next office. Whatever happened to schmoozing at the water cooler? Except that if you went to the water cooler you likely wouldn’t find someone there. Small talk at the water cooler is fast becoming a thing of the past when so many people are working virtually.

What Would Make My Employees Happy?

It seems simple, but company leaders need to ask themselves, “What would make my employees happy?”  The authors suggest, for example, mandating time limits on meetings, setting boundaries on sending and responding to emails, creating fitness facilities so that employees can take a break to recharge, and training managers how to fill their own needs and the needs of their employees.

This presentation on SlideShare has gotten almost 3,500 views since I uploaded it four  years ago. Honestly, these are simple tips. It pleases me that people are searching for ways to engage and motivate employees. I hope you find these useful, too.

What would make you happier at work? If you are working for yourself now, is it because you didn’t feel satisfied at work? What might have kept you at your job?

Leave a Reply


  1. Hi Jeannette. Improving employee engagement is both essential and demanding. We all say Our People Are Our Greatest Asset but must be mindful to treat them accordingly. Several of the frustrations identified in the survey are closely related and can be addressed by a concerted effort to seek strategic input, to provide feedback on it and to clearly identify how each project or role supports the mission. If only lip-service is provided to this it will have the opposite effect. Some of the others, quite frankly, do not originate in the workplace and reflect unrealistic expectations of life in general. These are, in my opinion, much more difficult for employers to resolve.

    • Paul — interesting point that we can’t expect employers to fill every need of their employees. But if they would just start with the basics — like treating employees with respect and acknowledging their contributions — they would already be along the road to true employee engagement.

  2. Great post, Jeannette – your tips are spot on! It never seize to amaze me how the simplest ideas are always the best solution. You are right the tips in your slidehsare are super simple and yet – they are all you need to do to engage your employees.

    I no longer work at an office for someone and the reason for that is… yep, you guessed it – i wasn’t happy at my work place, almost never! I had to do too many things I didn’t enjoy.

    I don’t think I would have stayed anyway though – working in an office is too limiting for my taste. Working online gives me the freedom to choose with whom I work and on what projects – no employee engagement program can make up for this 😀

    • Diana — I’m not surprised you left to start your own business if you were unhappy. Unfortunately, that’s too often the case.

  3. Hi Jeannette; the only time I ever worked for someone else was during a two year stretch at the IRS. I was working in an automated collection call center. I was their only blind employee. There was a limited set of duties I could perform. I ended up spending weeks at a stretch taking incoming calls. You don’t want to be the first person they speak to after getting that certified letter detailing all the nasty things that could happen if you didn’t do what the government wanted you to. I had too many people complain about how we would be putting them on the street and handled three suicide threats in under two years. I think I could have stood it if they had just been able to show me some way or time when it would get better. Thanks for your posts. Take care, max

    • Oh Max — what a difficult job! I don’t think I could have done that. I’m sure you were at the receiving end of a lot of nasty callers. What you’re doing down has to be a lot more fun!

      • Hi Jeannette; not only is it more enjoyable but much more challenging. The many duties of a sole proprietor building a business online keep you learning and growing all the time. and with the possibility of mentoring other people blind and sighted in the future, it should get even better. And as far as the job at the IRS went most people can handle dirty and unpleasant jobs as long as they can see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. Take care, Max

        • Max — there are an awful lot of unpleasant jobs. I remember, when I worked for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, going through tuna packing plants and textile mills. Terrible work conditions and companies have to try that much harder to make their employees feel appreciated and valued for doing jobs that many people won’t do.

  4. I totally agree that making employee feel an important part of the organization is vital. I’ve been in both positions – employee and employer (manager) and I know I took my feelings as employee with me when I moved up the ladder. I always tried to make my employees feel an integral part – this did backfire some times when they started making decisions they didn’t have the authority to make, but for the most part I had a very happy, contributing staff.

    • Leni — I felt that way, too, when I moved in the management ranks. I tried to remember what I wanted from a manager — quick and honest feedback, respect, and being rewarded for a job well done.

  5. Great SlideShare presentation with excellent suggestions on how to engage white-color employees.

    When it comes to people on a lower level I think pay has to be included. When someone is paid next to nothing they hate the company and really do as little as possible. Needless to say they are not engaged and lack motivation.

    • Catarina — Agree totally that what you are paid is a great motivator. WalMart has been in the news a lot because it pays its employees so poorly without benefits. Costco, on the other hand, pays employees an average of $20 per hour (high for unskilled workers) and even part-time workers receive benefits. Their employees stay and Costco saves hundreds of millions of dollars in not having to train new works all the time with all the attendant costs.

  6. Appreciation is the keystone here I think. Once your employee feels this then loyalty will begin to grow. I believe another good tool for a company to build community is to engage the employees in what the organization is doing in terms of giving back. Everyone likes to work for the good guy.

    • Tim — Companies that give employees time off to do community service are to be admired. But their employees also welcome the time to give back and they’ve got to respect their companies for partnering with them on good works.

  7. These are great generalized findings Jeannette. One of the most effective approaches for the willing manager is to ask – each employee. In the end, helping people engage about what they hate about their work, or what makes them happy about their work, is an individual issue.

    Since organizations today (I’ve been out on my own for 20 some years now) have likely not even caught up with the findings you present here, this is a fabulous primer for them!

    Valuable post Jeannette.

    • Pat — Sounds so simple when you say it. Ask employees what they like about their jobs and what the company could do to improve it. Simple, but not enough companies do it.

  8. I read that article and it really struck a chord. It was hard for me to leave the classroom because I knew I was a good teacher, but when I looked at all the factors that made me unhappy with my work situation, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Too often, employee engagement is an afterthought and it’s too easy to feel replaceable rather than valued.

    • Jeri -.- how true. When the economy is bad employers feel that their employees should feel lucky they have a job. But when the economy improves and employees have more choices, they will leave companies where they are mistreated or don’t feel valued. It’s a shame you had to quit teaching. As Henry Adams famously said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

  9. I think part of the problem with the discontent in the workplace has stemmed from the problems with the economy. People have been required to do the work of several team members after layoffs. This has lead to them being pulled in too many directions, often times not being able to do what they enjoy (or what they were hired to do), not having a clear understanding of what their role in the company is, and not having time for strategic thinking or planning. Hopefully now that the economy has picked up, people will become happier at their jobs.

    • Susan — In a bad economy companies expect more of employees but are stingy with praise. There are so many simple things that make employees feel happier: like giving an employee who has pulled a few “overnighters” some compensatory time off. I worked for agencies where we worked into the night on proposals and it never occurred to management that they could reward us that way. Sad.

  10. My 20 years in the Corporate World were great until the last five when all I did was work, didn’t play at all, and was dog-tired all the time. I didn’t see my then infant daughter and got out. I never looked back. Now, I have two part-time assistants, I work from home, and I really try to make them feel appreciated on a daily basis. We laugh, drink tea, get our work done, but they have flexible hours and, as long as what I need is completed by my deadlines, I am happy and so are they. I have been out of the Corporate culture for so long that I truly do not think I could survive going back into the jungle. So, I make sure my team is well cared for!

    • Laurie — how wonderful that you’ve been so successful in your business that you have two assistants. Having not been treated well yourself, you obviously understand how important it is to show appreciation for a job well done.

  11. The slide share was fantastic. Seems simple, but again I think our culture has leaned more and more towards dis-engaging. A bad economy has helped fuel more production and I don’t think that employers realize how feeling appreciated really means! Wonder how much this has to do with the ‘everybody gets a medal’ mentality?

    • Thanks, Jacquie. “Everybody gets a medal” may devalue praise when it’s doled out to everyone indiscriminately. But no praise at all is a worse option, in my view.

  12. I think we tend to get burned out. Sometimes that is a good thing we may move on to something better. I agree with you points you made. The one I think that has been the most important to my employees is ” Emotional – by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions” I know making a certain amount of money is important but being appreciated as I can also speak for myself is such a top priority. I guess I must be doing something right as I retain employees.

    • Arleen — it’s great that you retain your employees for the reasons you state. And it must be easier and more gratifying for you, too, to have employees who feel valued and value you, in turn.

  13. Making time for small talk, for engaging with other people is so important. Being in an environment where you have to leave your soul at home and only bring your production to work is a major stressor! Connection is a fundamental human need and your article highlights that so well.

    • Sue — it is so stressful to work in a toxic environment. If only employers recognized that happy employees are more productive employees.

  14. Lisa — timely feedback is so important. Too many managers wait for the annual review and then pile on the employee for all the things he did wrong. That’s a real spirit-breaker.

  15. Great information Jeannette. So much of what you have to say here is familiar to me. I recall in one position leaders gathering in a meeting to look at what were fairly dismal results from an internal staff survey. The staff loved the core aspects of their jobs, but disliked just about every point of intersection with the organization. What followed were essentially two or more years of talking about engagement but not really doing what was necessary to change results. It is a pervasive challenge and although solutions seem simple in many cases, they remain elusive for many organizations. Thanks for sharing these great tips.

    • Debra — that’s the problem: a lot of talk, but no action. A close friend recounted a story of his well-known company holding a retreat — billed as pep rally to engage the troops and a reward for a job well done. Lots of excitement until they got there and found they had to pay for their own lunches and the discussion turned into a stern admonishment that the year was good but not good enough and their unrealistic expectations for the following year. So much for engagement!