fbpx Skip to main content


Do you like me, hate this word? I find this terminology that describes an emotional detachment from work both annoying and disingenuous.

Annoying, because it’s one of those words that gets bandied about all the time. Can’t we find a different word to describe why people don’t enjoy the work they do or maybe even dislike it intensely?

It’s disingenuous because it implies it is the fault of the individual alone.

Surely not.

Doesn’t engagement imply a two-way process? The person being asked to do the work has to fully understand exactly what it is they are being asked to do and have the capability, resources and support to undertake the task and do it well.

These are the critical factors that need to be addressed when hiring for a particular position yet sometimes they are clearly not, leading to a mismatch of expectations.

When Gallup released its report back in 2013, suggesting that up to 70% of all workers in the U.S were either actively disengaged or not engaged with their work, a shockwave of horror and disbelief resonated around the world. Whether or not you agreed with those statistics, the implication was that this was a significant workplace issue that needed urgently addressing.

Three years on there is still a lot of talk about engagement and the lack of it, but talk alone is not going to fix the issue.

Rather than blaming the employee for their unhappiness, frustration or disinterest, what if a different set of questions were asked?

·       What do you enjoy about the work you do?

·       What happens on a good day at work that makes it great?

·       What would make the biggest difference to how much satisfaction you get out of your job?

Doing work that you love, with people you like (and respect) doesn’t have to be an endangered occupational species. Just take a look at the annual list of the happiest companies to work for. In 2015 in the U.S. Johnson and Johnson topped the list followed by Broadcom, Chevron, Texas Instruments and McAfee.

Do these companies have some kind of magic solution? Nope. Any workplace is constantly evolving and changing. There will always be an element of staff turnover and the need for time off for sick leave. But they have worked one thing out…

Business is about people.

When a business is people focused,  it becomes possible to create a brain safe environment that ensures everyone feels fairly rewarded for the work they do, that opportunities are in place for continuing professional development, that people get called out for doing something right, and importantly have a good relationship with the person they work for or report to.

The problem is not with engagement, it’s about relationships

All business is in the business of relationships and those with supportive positive interpersonal relationships at all levels hold the key to successful business growth and innovation.

Our brain’s primary function is to keep us safe; that’s why forming tribes of people like us, who share the same set of values and beliefs keeps stress levels down and minds open for more effective learning and higher performance.

The work may be challenging, the hours may be long, and stress levels may be high, but it is far easier to have a greater degree of stress resilience when we feel supported, valued and acknowledged.

It’s when we feel conflicted, unable to resolve the need to take time out, for example, to look after a sick child or take an ageing parent to a doctor’s appointment, that worry, resentment and frustration build. It’s hard too, to feel motivated or productive if you’re chronically fatigued due to continual cutbacks in resources and staff that have added to your ever-increasing workload.

It’s time to stop talking about engagement

Let’s talk about connection, real connection, instead.

Feeling related to, understood, being treated fairly and having the autonomy to get on with the job you know you are capable of drives trust, loyalty and performance.

We work better when we feel well and see that the work we do is a useful contribution to something bigger than ourselves.

So let’s look to connect.

Brain savvy business leaders with high-performance workplaces know that happiness and productivity are indistinguishable and it all starts with connecting first. That’s why the science of connection plays a crucial role in every business.

What can you as an individual be doing to increase the level of (insert your preferred word here) …… interest, motivation, happiness at work?

How can you ensure that that tolerance, understanding and lack of judgment are provided to keep all brains safe at work?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

One Comment

  • Hi Jenny – Tony Addiscott here,I feel sad for people who respond with "Whatever!". Yes, it is irritating but doesn’t it signify an underlying lack of self-esteem and a lack of respect from the other people in that person’s life? Disengagement at work for me indicates a failure of leadership to understand, acknowledge and seek to fulfill employees’ expectations. People don’t work for an employer any more, they work at an employer’s business for just as long as it suits them (and their career plan) to do so – a reality employers must live with these days if they wish to keep their top talent.

Leave a Reply