Employee engagement: a "new deal" for a new experience @ work ?

Employee engagement: a "new deal" for a new experience @ work ?

Building a sustainable engagement and performance for organizations and individuals relies on the ability to challenge the traditional drivers of employee engagement and rethink the drivers of this engagement : 


A "new deal" can rely on a few drivers that both employers and employees should or could agree on:

1 Sustainable Engagement: acknowledge that increasing the awareness of one’s “true Self” and investing in body-and-mind development is a vital ingredient in managing a better work-life integration, thereby improving the overall intensity, quality, and sustainability of engagement both at work and in life.

2 Sustainable Performance: acknowledge that business success and organizational efficiency both rely on individual and collective performance, which is sustainable when individuals can focus on clear and tangible outputs while being allowed increased autonomy and flexibility in space and time to deliver those outputs and better integrate work and life.

3 Sustainable Employability: acknowledge that the key to a successful and happy professional life is to build on one’s performance and engagement, with organizations developing the skills of their employees for the long-term while employees engage to develop themselves and build their “personal brand” to remain “employable anywhere and anytime,” instead of seeking job security in the short-term.


The food for thought I would like to put forward is three “enabling pairs” combining paradoxical but non-dissociable elements on which a “new deal of engagement” can be built and developed:

1) Space and Time: focus on output, digital engagement anywhere and anytime

Leaving home early in the morning, drivingor taking public transportation to “the workplace,” struggling to fit two days in one, sometimes staying late and commuting back home is the reality today for millions of employees worldwide. This reality may lead to either disengagement or over-engagement with its counterproductive consequences. Some kind of alienation arises from our struggle to leave the “old world” (fixed working schedules, fixed physical workplace)  as we have not yet fully reached the “new world” where the workforce is much more mobile and where space and time are revisited for a more sustainable engagement and better performance of employees and organizations. In fact, stress or discouragement (potentially leading to disengagement) is due to our “cumulating” both ways of working: we are still required to be physically present in the office and respect official schedules, and we also need to respond quickly and with quality to the demands out of the work “space and time.”

This first enabler is also a request from all parties to reinvent the link between expected performance (what the employee should deliver in terms of time, quantity, and quality) and the new ways of working in the flourishing digital age, with three main dimensions:            

  • From “input” to “output” expectation: in a fast-moving and more demand ing economic world, organizations will tend to focus more and more on the “output” and delivery (time, quantity and quality) of their employees rather than on their “input.” This means the “input” or time spent on “delivery products” can be in and out of the workplace.
  • From “office hours” to “work anytime”: as a consequence of the above trend, the time spent in the workplace itself might be revised. Emails and digital tools don’t stop at 5pm or even at night in multinational organizations, so employees and especially managers should be prepared to work differently.
  • From “office presenteeism” to “work from anywhere”: the workspace of today and tomorrow is the addition of a “physical” space (the good old “office” with its “desk codes” and meeting rooms) and a “virtual” space (internet, intranet, company chats, emails, video-conferences, webinars, e-learning platforms). In this context, it is important to acknowledge that “digital spaces” are fully part of the workspace, and not just an appendix. I believe this expectation for a revised “space and time engagement deal” is mainly among engaged or over-engaged employees who are seeking to sustain the quality of their engagement through more flexibility in their way of working. Unfortunately, organizations who engage widely in the “new world of space and time” remain exceptions, with the risk of engaged employees being discouraged or even taking the road to disengagement.

I am convinced that “freeing” work space and time is a key to leveraging more engagement, not the other way around. The future is “flex”! This new way of working mainly relies on trust between organizations and their employees. The challenge of finding the appropriate mix between office presence (important to foster a collaborative approach and human bonding) and “working from anywhere, anytime” also remains.

A “New Deal” of Space and Time The new way of working in space and time calls for new commitments from both parties:            

  • Employer: will not stop the train of acceleration and global productivity, will expect more from employees on delivery and outputs, but at the same time will design organizations and ways of working that will allow the development of more flexibility in space and time, anytime and anywhere, focusing on the employees’ needs to increase their performance and engagement.
  • Employee: will need to jump onto this “non-stop train,” will adapt to the new context of digital engagement “anytime and anywhere,” focusing on the expected output and delivery (time, quantity and quality), will leverage digital tools provided by the organization to better manage his or her “space and time” in a trustworthy manner.

2) Work and Life: Work in Life and Life in Work, Not Life After Work

For a long time, and even today, separating work and personal life (physically, in time, and emotionally) was the standard, and well-accepted as such by organizations and their employees. More recently, the “work-life balance” concept was brought to the table as a quest shared by all communities (women, millennials, seniors, “burn-out” employees, etc.). My view is that today, sticking to this quest is challenging. In the acceleration of our digital age, as previously analyzed, space and time management make it impossible to really separate work and personal life. Two attitudes can be adapted in facing this reality: refuse it (difficult, we are not alone, etc.) or accept it but invent a way to manage and monitor it. Furthermore, employees today (and this is even more so for “millennials”) aspire to communicate the same way in their personal and professional life, and this is what makes them engaged or disengaged. And the way of living today is  “social” and “digital,” but also merging personal life and work. It seems “merging” (work and life) has already won the game over “splitting” the two dimensions. This second enabler relies onthe following two pillars of trust: 

  • Trust That Work and Life Can be Happily Merged: contrary to general belief, a growing number of employees do not seek “work-life balance” (which they believe is out of reach in today’s world) but “work-life imbrication,” ready to engage even more if their life and personal organization is being recognized fully as part of their working day. The previous enabler to perform one’s duty “anywhere, anytime” is helping things to move in that direction (working from home, managing personal matters during office hours).
  • Trust That One’s “Self” Can be Allowed at Work: as much as you should learn how to work “anywhere, anytime,” you should also dare to express your true Self “anywhere, anytime,” including at work, instead of “leaving your personality at home and playing a role at work.” The new deal relies on trust and what the individual and the organization are ready to share. However, this does not mean that there is no “secret garden” anymore, as full human development is also about being “Self” in all circumstances of work and life.

A “New Deal” of Work and Life Effective integration of work and life calls for new commitments from both parties:            

  • Employer: will foster engaging organizations and engaging managers to build trust and engaged teams (diversity) and selves, will seek to communicate and clarify organizational goals, will match business challenges and required skills, thus allowing employees to bring the best of their “whole Self” to the organization and help them integrate their personal agenda into the daily life of the organization.
  • Employee: will engage their “body-and-mind” into the organization, not only their brain but also their heart and spirit, will optimize their personal and professional agendas to reach required levels of performance, will rely on their manager’s support to develop their “whole Self,” not just for the current position but for the long-term.

3) Work and Life: Work in Life and Life in Work, Not Life After Work

Although organizations and managers have their role to play as “engaging actors,” it is obvious that individual physical and psychological factors are as important in explaining the intensity and quality of engagement. Fatigue and stress are not caused particularly by what the employee does or how much he works. It mostly depends on how he works. This third enabler could be named the “enabler of the other enablers,” as the quality of the “Self” management by the individual will (or will not) allow full performance in space and time as well as engagement in work and life. This builds on three pillars:

  • Monitoring health and wellness: at the individual and organizational level, taking care of healthy dimensions of body and mind is “fuel” for engagement and performance. It is important to manage the potentially conflicting roles and territories of engagement (job, family, self, friends, and community), otherwise there is a clear risk of distress, ulcers, hypertension, and many other burn-out scenarios. This awareness is a growing trend, although more developed in the East than the West, where physical and mental activities are often separated, whereas in the East the concept of “physical Self” and “body-and-mind” is more widespread due to traditions.
  • Increasing performance through Mindfulness: the concept of mindfulness has been made more popular since 1979 when Jon Kabat-Zinn, an MIT educated scientist, developed his “mindfulness based stress reduction” (MBSR) model. It is based on giving full attention to what we feel and what we do, which you must admit is a challenge in this crazy and fast-moving digital world! However, it is even more important to be “mindful” in a sustainable way, thus improving our ability to manage ourselves and our environment, and to engage and perform while enjoying life. Organizations and business schools have been turning to approaches such as “mindful meditation” (rooted in eastern and Asian traditions) in the recent years in order to increase well-being and efficiency. Scientists have even proven that meditation and mindfulness practice can actually lower blood pressure and positively impact the brain structure!
  • Building your “engagement identity” based on your “true Self”: another key dimension that leads to more sustainable “employability” (I hate this word, but it speaks for itself and nobody has found a better one) is helping employees to invest in all dimensions of body and mind to design their own “employee branding” not only on hard and soft skills but also on their “engagement identity” based on their “true Self.” In the long run, nothing is worse than a wrong professional orientation or a fake engagement.

A “New Deal” of Body and Mind Genuinely taking into account the body and mind dimension calls for new commitments from both parties:    

  • Employer: will invest in the health and wellness of employees, will develop awareness of their “true Self,” will improve the ability of the management to assess the engagement profiles within their teams, will support employees’ initiatives to develop themselves out of their current position of “comfort zone,” thus contributing to enhance their future employability within or outside the organization.
  • Employee: will seize any opportunity to increase their “global mindfulness” (of their health, their engagement identity, and their current and future employability), will adopt a “monitoring attitude” on these topics which are key for their own body-and-mind balance and performance, thus increasing their “value” in the global labor market (internally today, potentially externally tomorrow).

This article first appeared on LinkedIn

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