Employee Engagement: Giving a Sh*t About your Job and your Company

Haven’t Won the Jackpot Yet?

At this point, it’s pretty clear I’m not going to win Powerball or Mega Millions or even five bucks on a scratch ticket. I’m going to have to continue to work for a living. It seems unjust, I know, but that’s the way it is.

I’ve been trying to come up with ways that I can become more engaged with my job and company. I sell headsets for a living – like the ones you see the operators wearing on late-night commercials when they say “Operators are standing by.” I sell a LOT of headsets. My quota is over $2M annually. Believe me… that’s a lot of headsets.

Remarkably, I didn’t dream of being a headset salesperson when I was growing up. I dreamed of becoming a teacher, but I got my Master’s in Elementary and Special Ed, and then I couldn’t afford to teach and pay for three kids in daycare. As Grandma Hazel used to say, “It’s not right, but it’s so.”

I’m a good employee; I always make “President’s Club” for achieving 100% of quota annually. I’m not a great employee, though. For example, I’m writing this during business hours. I have plenty to do, but my motivation is at the bottom of the pit of despair.

Why wouldn’t making a good living, a decent wage, be enough to motivate me every day? I guess it should. I should also be extremely grateful that I have a job with health insurance, dental insurance, and a 401K matching program. Without my job, my family and I would be in big trouble. Someimes the threat of losing your job isn’t enough to make you really care. It would certainly make you show up, but it’s not going to make you put your best foot forward. I want to be motivated. I want to be productive. I want to truly care about my job.

I’ve been doing a little digging around to find out how employees become engaged with their jobs and companies and thought I’d share a few nuggets of inspiration. I’ve listed five ideas for employers and then five ideas for employees.

What is an Engaged Employee?

First, I should explain that “engaged” means more than “happy.” An engaged employee will go the extra mile – just because. An engaged employee is motivated and productive.

Walk around your office for a minute. Take a gander at your coworkers. How many of them look engaged? Here’s a scary statistic: about 17% of employees are engaged in their work. That means, if you look at a workstation containing 5 people, 4 of them will be watching YouTube or surfing social media or daydreaming about the lottery or… (sigh)… writing a blog. That’s so sad — for the company and for the employee. The one person who’s engaged is probably generating 90% of the revenue/productivity for the group.

How Do Companies Engage Their Employees?

So, you want 100% of your employees to be engaged and productive? Here are five ideas for employers.

  1. Physical Proximity. Remote work is the trend right now. Working from home or on the road is good for your work-life balance, eliminates commuting time, and increases productivity by decreasing interruptions from colleagues. It also makes for a solitary existence. Why should I really care about my colleague who works in California whom I’ve met twice? If you have a remote team, you are going to have to work hard to make sure that it’s really a “team.” That means spending more time together than on weekly staff-meeting calls. Find ways to physically bring your team together. If that’s impossible, find reasons for them to all be together on the phone or a video call for very informal sessions where they can just chat. Bringing teammates together forms a sense of compassion for one another that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
  2. Talk about something other than work. People crave caring. People who feel like they’re cared for at work will have an emotional investment and interest in seeing the company succeed. We spend more time with coworkers than we do with our own children. Rather than encouraging a sweat-shop mentality where people just punch in, do their job, and punch out, try to develop a family mentality — one in which colleagues will look out for each others’ wellbeing.
  3. Make sure your employees know exactly what you want them to do. What does your employees’ success look like? If your end-game is to increase sales, what are some measurable goals you can develop together to achieve that increase? Have the employee put some skin in the game, though. Allow them to work with you to develop the goals. Goals should include steps that the employee can check off their to-do list every day and which will lead to their success.  During my review, my boss suggested that I work to clean up my pipeline. I would love to see an example of a clean pipeline. I would love to know the specific steps I can take on a daily basis to keep my pipeline clean. Would you like to see me set an activity so I touch base with each account on a bi-weekly basis? What makes a pipeline clean? How can I better estimate the size of the sales and the timeframe in which they’ll close? Give me specific examples so I can focus on tackling some piece of that goal every day.
  4. Find out what motivates each of your employees. It’s easy to say that money is a good incentive, but there’s something more that they want to earn. There’s something more that’s important to them. Ask them to really think about it and let you know. It sounds funny to suggest having everyone read “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, but it might help them discover what fills their emotional tank. You can even just have them take the quiz here. Be prepared, though. They might all have different answers, and you need to be able to come up with rewards that suit each individual on your team.
  5. Say thank you. So simple, and yet, so rarely done. Write it in a note; it’ll mean more.


How can employees develop their own sense of engagement? Here are five ideas for the employees’ side of the coin.


  1. Get up and get grateful. Before you even get out of bed, lie there for just a second and be grateful for any part of your job. Are you grateful that you have a coworker who’s funny? Are you grateful that you’re getting paid today? Are you grateful that you get to go out for sushi at lunch time? There has to be something — at least one thing — that you’re grateful for at work.
  2. Look good. Putting on a nice outfit or spending a few minutes to polish your shoes is actually tied to higher self-esteem. If you don’t want to upgrade your clothes, just put a smile on your face when you walk into the office. People who smile are more attractive. When you look good, you feel better.
  3. Think about where you want to be in your company (or in another company.) What does that position look like? What skills will you need to get there? What type of person holds that job? What qualities make them successful there? Write those qualities on sticky notes and pop them up around your desk. “Creative.” “Analytical.” “Relationship-focused.” “Collaborative.” Make it your life’s mission that others perceive those qualities in you.
  4. Organize your day. Ever tried using a bullet journal? It’s a great way to keep track of anything and everything. It’s a task-list, a calendar, and a journal all in one. I combine both work and personal life in my bullet journal. Not sure if that’s how it’s supposed to be, but it works for me. Think about what your manager’s image is of the perfect employee. What specific steps can you take to get there? Write ’em down and mark them off as you accomplish them. Kendra from “The Lazy Genius” has a good guide to creating and using a basic bullet journal. Find a link to her site here.
  5. Get in the zone. Have you ever had a day where you sat down in the morning and the next thing you knew it was time for lunch? You were in the zone. It’s much easier to get in the zone when you’re busy. Open your bullet journal, put on a great noise-cancelling headset (see what I did there?), and do the first task. The longer it takes you to get settled and going in the morning, the harder it is to get into the zone. Go in, say hi to your friends, sit down, and get going. Tell yourself that you’ll get up at 11 to step away from it all. If you have a “Darrell” who wants you to go buy a lottery ticket with him, tell him that you’ll go at 11. Pretend that the president of the company is coming to your desk at 10:45 to inspect all that you’ve done during the morning. You want to impress her. Get in the zone and get ‘er done.

Employee engagement leads to lower turnover, higher productivity, higher customer loyalty, lower number of sick days, and a more positive office environment. Do a little more research and find a way to engage your employees and yourself. Do you have more ideas about how to engage? Please leave them in comments below. Thanks!

The Break

I didn’t know what my dream looked like. I’d read about visualization…. “You have to see your dream if you really want it to come to fruition.” I saw flashes of it – images of the Eiffel Tower and my feet on a beach, but I couldn’t picture what my perfect daily life would look like. I guess the only thing I knew for sure was that the dream didn’t involve 2 hours of commuting time, sitting at a desk for 9 hours, dragging myself home to make dinner for myself and my very-unhappy daughter, scooping the cat litter, or crawling into bed alone.

I had been working at the same job for 4 and a half years – selling headsets. It wasn’t a bad job, as jobs go… I worked with nice people and was paid a fair wage. They had a 401K match and tuition reimbursement. If a person wanted to work in an office, they would have been entirely satisfied.

I didn’t want to do it anymore, though. I found myself unable to get out of bed in the morning, dreading the day that lay ahead. It wasn’t normal depression. I was stuck.

I started thinking about why I felt so stuck, so tied to a job that I felt like I was the caged tiger, my zookeeper-boss watching my every move, her cattle-prod at the ready. I’m sure other people felt trapped in the job, too, but no one ever discussed it. I never once heard a coworker complain that they needed to get out – to be free.

The reason was so clear. FEAR. I was petrified of leaving, because I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to support my kids, my cats, or myself. If I didn’t have a steady paycheck coming in, I was going to let the WHOLE WORLD down. The conflict between my secret yearnings and my expectations was a full-blown, life-long, Ultimate Fight Night. I didn’t have any problem when the world put these responsibilities on my shoulders. I accepted the expectations and responsibilities as the next step in life’s process. I even  added to those burdens myself. I thought, “only someone who was completely immature, selfish, and irresponsible would live outside these tidy boundaries.”

I have gossiped about people who’ve walked away from their jobs as if they were shooting heroin in the alley.  I’ve judged them and condemned them to serve a life sentence in the little box in my mind labeled “disgraceful.” I have talked to other people about them and said the words: “how could they?” I have pitied their partners and their children. Not once have I ever wished them success.

If they were successful having moved outside the envelope, then the only thing holding me back from doing the same thing was me.

I can’t tell you how long I might have stayed in status-quo-land. I probably could have made it through another 15 years and then retired with some piddly little retirement fund and moved to a condo in Boca, but my daughter unwittingly became the catalyst for the biggest life-change I would experience.

Jillian is a magnificent girl. She is everything – truly everything – that a mom could want in a daughter. She’s loving, smart, evolved, beautiful, hilarious, and just plain good. She stands up for the things that mean something to her. She supports her friends. She challenges herself every day to become a better person. She challenges me to become a better person.

It wasn’t all-at-once, but I saw her start to fall apart about a year ago. She hated being the last one left at home, the only one left to navigate the chasm between ex-spouses she called “mom and dad.” Her sisters had both moved away, one to Boston and one to college in Vermont. I knew it was wearing on her. She would grudgingly pack her bags to get ready for “Dad’s nights,” not because he was a problem (he was a problem, but that’s another story), but because she had to pack her worldly belongings twice a week – every week – and move to another home.

She had a great job at a farm stand with a bunch of other people who, like her, came from broken homes and slightly fucked-up lives. They worked together, played together, and made their own family. I realized she was spending extra hours at the farm. She would be there after closing and never seemed in a hurry to get home. Her grades started to suffer which led to further depression and anxiety. In her entire life, she’d never gotten any grade lower than an A minus. The classes were hard, though. She was taking a bunch of AP and Honors classes, and she couldn’t slide through them like she’d been able to do in the past.

A lot of things happened and a lot of things changed over the course of the last year, but her inability to reach the level of academic perfection she’d set for herself never subsided. When they announced the Class of 2019’s top-ten students, and her name wasn’t on the list, she was devastated. This time she wasn’t bouncing back. I was afraid that her lightbulb had finally burned out. How can you continue to make that big an effort if you’re not going to end up being the best?

Before you start judging me, please know that I told her the same thing that I’ve said throughout her whole life. “Your grades are fantastic and I couldn’t be more proud. The only thing that matters to me is your physical, mental, and emotional health.”

The thought hit me like rubber hitting the road. I needed to put my life where my mouth was. I needed to stop saying this stuff to her and start showing her that I meant what I said.

Making a huge change at the beginning of her senior year wasn’t easy. She was bound and determined to get into a great liberal arts college. What would they say if she withdrew from her high school in October of her senior year? What about the AP classes she wouldn’t be able to finish? AP Psych, AP Gov, AP Spanish, AP Anatomy…? How would a college look at that? How badly would she be penalized?

Could we have an adventure that was cool enough and academically-enriching enough to allow her to qualify through the rigorous admissions process? Or would I just end up looking like another one of those hippy-freak home-schooling moms? What if they thought I’d withdrawn her because I was a religious zealot who didn’t want her to attend a school that taught about safe sex? I was worried about what other people thought, but not as worried as I was about Jillian.

I went online and looked into homeschooling. The idea seemed preposterous to me. I didn’t know how to teach Calculus – or any other subject for that matter. Who did I think I was? Except, guess what? I wasn’t the first person to home school a high-school student. There were so many options, so many programs, so much potential.

It was time to start thinking specifically about my dream. What did I want my life to look like on a daily basis? What did I want for Jillian? I could live with less, but not a lot less. I mean, I didn’t have cable, what more could I give up? I didn’t want to move to a yurt, no matter how much money it would save me. A personal bonus for me (go big or stay home) would be to go someplace warmer – a place without boots or shovels or snowplows. I wanted to start somewhere new, but I didn’t want to isolate Jillian. I wanted her to have friends and activities – a real teenage life without the stress and drama.

I started thinking about how I could create that life for her. How could she start over in a new place where she didn’t know anyone or know where to find the best coffee-house? I realized that she didn’t need to start over. We weren’t talking about a lot of time before graduation. Her real new start would be when she went to college. I was looking for an interim place. It would be temporary for her and permanent for me. She’d need some friends, though, and it’s difficult to make friends your age if you’re not enrolled in school. But it’s not too hard to make friends if you have a job doing something that you love and you’re working with people who are also doing what they love. With the flexibility of homeschooling, she’d be able to get a job during typical school hours. She’d be able to get a job at the best coffee-house in town. She’d probably also get a discount. Killing all the birds with one stone.

And what about me? What was I going to do? I really mulled this over. I was making so many changes and there was so little security. I held fast to the fact that I felt very certain that my decision was the best I’d ever made. My job, however, was one thing that didn’t need to be rushed. I needed to keep my job and work remotely. That would give me time to figure out how to homeschool and  provide me with a paycheck.

First things first. Where were we going? My friend, Lisa, has a house in Hilton Head, SC. I’ve been down to visit and loved the area. It was much warmer, but not crazy-Florida-warmer, and the beach was a stone’s throw away. I saved a search in Zillow: condo, townhouse, single-family house, garage, 2+ bedrooms, 1+ baths, under $300,000. I didn’t want to throw money away on rent anymore. I wanted to buy something, and do it quickly before I quit my job and ruined my credit.

The house popped up in the search that very day. It was just what I wanted and it was just the right price. I sent Lisa a note to make sure I wasn’t moving to the ghetto of Hilton Head, and she confirmed that it was a great area. Turns out, it’s hard to go wrong in that community.

I called my boss and told her my idea. She confirmed that, although the company couldn’t pay for relocation, they would allow me to work remotely.

I went to the high school and sat with the vice principal to discuss homeschooling. The paperwork was easier than I could have ever imagined. She was able to sign up for VLACs (online learning) classes and take most of her classes remotely.

Once I knew this could really happen, I met with my bank and got pre-approved for a mortgage. I called the realtor and made an offer. Sight-unseen.  Closing date: December first.

I called my landlord and invited him over for coffee. I didn’t have a lease, so we were operating on a month-to-month basis. I was nervous about giving him the news, but he understood, and my 60-day notice was official.

The funny thing about fear is that it isn’t real. It’s a dream you have in your head. It’s no more powerful than excitement or happiness or peace. You’re writing the story of your life and you can change it up to be fun or challenging or, yes, scary. You’re writing it. Make it turn out the way you’ve always dreamed it would be. Every morning you wake up and choose what your life will look like on that day. Most of us have become complacent. We’re too tired or overwhelmed or bored to think of anything different when we wake up. “Today’s going to be just like yesterday, with the same stressors, the same funny moments, and the same food for lunch. I’m not going to change, because this is how I’ve done it before. Even though I’m not particularly happy, I’m safe. It’s always worked in the past, and it’ll work again today.” We let the fear – that made-up feeling – dictate how we’re going to act and how we’re going to live our lives.

I’m no different, no better no worse, than anyone else. I just let the bigger fear – the fear that my daughter would drown – outweigh the fear I had of rocking our little boat. What I began to understand, is what fear-itself is afraid of. Fear fears action. Fear loves complacency. Fear loves watching people get stuck – in jobs, in relationships, in life. Fear hates it when you wake up and say, “I’m going to do my very best today. I’m going to challenge myself to move beyond my status quo. I’m going to write a different story for myself.”

I’m still not sure what my ultimate happiness looks like, but my vision is becoming clearer. It involves action and proximity to a beach and a daughter who is confident and healthy. It’s a fuzzy vision, but I’m pretty sure it looks a lot like where I am right now.


Mrs. Bed

I love my bed more than is natural. Have you ever heard about people who fall in love with inanimate objects? I saw a video once about a man in Japan who fell in love with a doll. He’d dress her up, take her out to dinner, and order her a drink. He pushed her around in a wheel chair and dressed her appropriately for the weather. She was a true companion for him, and he clearly loved her enough to withstand sidelong glances and snickers from passersby.

There are people who take it further than that, though, people who fall in love with their refrigerator or their garage door opener. “Objectum-sexuality “is the term which refers to intense feelings of love, emotional attachment, and sometimes sexual attraction to things.  In 1979, a Swedish woman married the Berlin Wall. In 2006, a woman named Erika Eiffel married… can you guess? (Last name is a big hint.) You are actually free to marry whomever or whatever you want to marry. Will the state recognize it as a legal marriage? Sorry. You can’t marry your lawnmower and have your accountant complete your taxes as “married, filing jointly.”

My bed and I are not getting married. We’re still just dating, but we are definitely sleeping together.

I think I got off on a tangent there…

What I really meant to say is that I love to sleep. I particularly love to sleep in my bed. It’s so comfortable, and the blankets are just the right thickness, and the 25-year old sheets are super soft. I recognize that it doesn’t actually speak words, but it surely calls to me. It’s worse in the morning, right after I slap the snooze button on the alarm clock. (I have absolutely NO romantic feelings about my alarm clock.)

“Come back to me…….”

I have a really nice bullet journal. Someday I’ll write about that, but not today. Part of the bullet journal is a habit-tracker. That may sound adolescent, but it makes me feel intensely proud to check the boxes off when I’ve completed a task. My morning routine is right there – written in ink on paper. I know that I need to get out of bed at 6am in order to leave the house by 7. I know that as well as I know my name. I just can’t. I’ve never been able to. It’s a lifelong struggle.

I bargain with myself. Maybe if I don’t shave my legs, I can save 4 minutes. If I buy lunch in the cafeteria, it’ll cost me $11, but I can save 3 minutes packing. I’ll scoop the kitty litter the moment I walk in the door after work. There’s another 2 minutes. Before you know it, I’ve convinced myself that I can spare a 9-minute snooze.

Then the alarm goes off again.

I can hear the whispering, ever so gently, coaxing me.

“Come back to me…..”

And I do it. I’m so weak. I’ll be lying there with my eyes closed thinking about what else I could possibly cut out. Makeup! That’s five minutes right there! I’ll just put it on in the car… Maybe I can be four minutes late to work. Would they really notice?

The only way to save myself is to make the bed right away. Once it’s made, it’s made. I’m certainly not going to get back in it at that point. I’m crazy, but I’m no fool. It’s uncanny though, as I pull up the sheets and adjust the pillows, I could swear I hear a muffled whisper…”Come back to me…..”