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Dec 11, 2015
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Employee engagement begins with the individual employee.

If the organization — corporation, not-for-profit, university, sports team, what-have-you — is the entire organism, then each employee is like a single cell. Change may appear on the scale of an entire organism, but change begins at the level of the single cell.

Let’s look at the process of growing a more deeply engaged organization by looking at the role that you, the employee, play in your own engagement.

At this point, your position and title are irrelevant. Even if you occupy a glass-walled office in the C-Suite, you are first and foremost an individual, working for the benefit of a wide range of stakeholders: Your colleagues, shareholders, customers, and family members, to name but a few.

A critical point about engagement

Even if you are at the managerial or executive level and have the power to shape and set organizational policy, your greatest impact on the level of employee engagement within your organization will be how engaged you are personally — how strongly you find MAGIC, meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in where you work and whom you work with.

To that end, it’s worth reiterating a critical point about employee engagement: Being engaged is a choice.

Even if you are the policymaker, engagement doesn’t just happen.

Remember, the organization’s job is to create the conditions optimal for its members to engage with their work, their mission, and each other. Once that fertile soil has been laid down, it is each individual’s responsibility to say, “Yes. I will trust, I will commit emotionally, and I will embrace opportunities to flourish in my organization.

It’s important to remember that engagement involves hearts, spirits, minds, and hands. This means that you must choose to both feel and act.

While some of the keys to engagement are based on innate qualities that are not always under your conscious control — you probably don’t have complete control of what you will find meaningful—how you choose to act on those stimuli is very much a conscious choice.

That’s why, in any organization, all employees fall somewhere along what we call the, Engagement Resistance Curve.

Engagement Resistance Curve

Some individuals engage more easily and eagerly than others due to both innate personality characteristics (autotelic personality, high self-esteem) and learned behaviors (high levels of trust, past positive workplace experiences). Others engage grudgingly, if at all, due to the same factors, from poor self-esteem and cynicism to issues like undiagnosed anxiety disorders.

Simply put, some people are wired for engagement, while others aren’t. Most of us, however, fit somewhere between these two extremes. We choose to be engaged (or disengaged) based on the environment we are in and where we find the MAGIC —meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection — in that environment.

It’s a 50-50 proposition. The organization builds the ballfield, and we choose to bring our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands to the game.

Most of us approach employee engagement with varying degrees of resistance. The engagement resistance curve doesn’t rank people’s current levels of engagement, but their propensity for becoming engaged. It looks like this:Engagement-Resistance-Curve

The 5 stages of employee engagement

  • Auto-engaged (5 percent) — This employee is innately inclined to find meaning, purpose, connection, and fulfillment in almost any work. She quickly and easily embraces organizational efforts to increase levels of engagement. She tends to be optimistic, confident, self-aware, and enthusiastic. In short, she will be engaged in nearly any environment.
  • Engagement optimal (20 percent) — This employee does not engage as instantaneously as the auto-engaged employee, but he does not require a great deal of encouragement to do so. He will respond positively to organizational opportunities to engage, provided they are authentic and promises are backed by action. He also tends to be optimistic, confident, self-aware, and enthusiastic, if not on quite the same “walking on sunshine” level as the auto-engaged person.
  • Motivationally engaged (50 percent) — Most of us will fall into this category. These employees are willing to engage if their motivational and satisfaction needs are met—if they are paid fairly, given appropriate perks, feel emotionally safe in their roles, shown potential paths of advancement, and so forth. They are not cheerleaders, nor are they saboteurs. They are potentially effective employees who can fully engage and deliver excellence under the right conditions.
  • Engagement hesitant (20 percent) — This employee would rather not engage, but is not opposed to it, either. She is likely to regard her job as something that pays her expenses and nothing more, and she is likely to regard efforts at engagement with a jaundiced eye. Relationships with organizations are transactional—quid pro quo. She will respond to engagement efforts only if they are persistent and personal, and she tends to step in and out of engagement. She tends to be naturally somewhat jaded and pessimistic about work.
  • Auto-disengaged (5 percent) — These are the lost causes, the people who are unlikely to engage regardless of what the organization does. This employee cannot view work as anything more than a paycheck, and he is likely to hold an adversarial view of his employer, whether that attitude is justified or not. He is likely to be cynical, suspicious toward his employer’s motives, and a negative, indifferent clock puncher.

Sometimes, if the conditions aren’t right for an individual to engage, that also means speaking up and saying, “This is what I need if I’m going to engage.”

So where do you fit on the Engagement Resistance Curve? Remember, you are responsible for your ability or inability to engage, regardless of your position within your organization or your organization’s efforts to “get employees engaged.”

Individual employees can drive engagement, too

Engagement may be a 50-50 proposition between employer and employee, but the individual has as much power to drive employer engagement initiatives as the top decision makers do. Don’t wait for your employer to come to you, because doing so pres-upposes that your employer  …

  1. Understands engagement;
  2. Realizes that you and others are not engaged; and,
  3. Knows the unique factors that will engage you, the individual.

Do you simply knock on your superior’s door, complain that you’re not feeling engaged, and demand (whether implicitly or directly) that he do something about it? Of course not. The process begins with YOU, not your employer. So where is your current engagement level?

To find out, try taking this online Engagement MAGIC Self-Assessment. It’s completely free and you will surely gain insight into how engaged you are, you’ll also have a much clearer idea of how engaged you wish to become and what to do about it.

This was originally published on the DecisionWise blog.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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