Have you or someone you know been personally impacted by disengagement? Do you manage someone (or more than one) who isn't engaged? Is a loved one struggling to reconnect and reengage in all facets of their life? Whether at work or at home, many people suffering from disengagement share a common trait: they feel invisible around others. It doesn't matter if you are a secretary, a CFO, a nurse or a stay-at-home wife and mother, you can still feel like no one knows you are there or even cares about how you feel.
While I was writing my book on reengagement, I had the opportunity to interview a number of successful people who had one thing in common. Some level of disengagement had touched them all. In some cases, they clearly knew they were disengaged. In others, they just knew something wasn't right but thought that maybe there was something wrong with them. Hearing the word disengagement for the first time was like a light bulb suddenly going on as it hit them that hey, I'm not crazy, I'm just not engaged.
When I asked people what's one word you would use to describe how you felt during that time they said things like marginalized, isolated, frustrated and the most oft repeated word... invisible. So many stories centered on this feeling that when they spoke, they didn't know if words actually came out because no one reacted. Looking back on my own bout with disengagement, I wondered did I really say hello when I walked in to a room because I don't remember hearing someone say hello back. Did I actually speak up to provide input on a topic being discussed or was that imagined by me since I don't remember anyone acknowledging my words? Did I really ask a question because I can't recall the answer?
To this day, some three years later, I still can't say for certain that this actually happened or was a figment of my imagination (or some combination of both) given how invisible I truly felt.
If you think others are marginalizing or isolating you, it's probably because you are allowing them to do so. There's a famous line in one of my favorite movies, Dirty Dancing, where Patrick Swayze's character says of Jennifer Grey's character, "nobody puts Baby in the corner." There would be a lot more happiness in work and life if all of us who have experienced disengagement simply stood up and refused to be placed in the proverbial corner. Hating your job is the cornerstone of a miserable life, so why would you ever want to live like that.
One of the first things we need to do to begin the journey to reengagement in the workplace is to find your voice and become visible again. It's time to stop the following behaviors that will only keep you silent and unhappy instead of vibrant and visible.
- Don't hang out and talk with others who are constantly putting down your organization. Misery loves company. But in this case, all it will do is cause you even more unhappiness and dissatisfaction with your job and the workplace. Disengagement is contagious and spreads uncontrollably like an undetected virus.
- Don't fail to take responsibility for your own career; it's much easier to sit back and complain that you are stuck in a rut. No one will ever care about your professional and personal development in the same way that you do. You are the only one to gain from continual growth.
- Don't stay in a job proven to be unchallenging and unrewarding. If you do this for too long you will become numb to the pain that comes with being stuck in place.
- Don't continue to work for a bad or toxic manager. He will not magically wake up one day and turn into a kind and supportive boss. If you are a target of bullying or other abusive behavior at work, you will not come out a winner at this game. In fact, there are only losers.
- Don't work for a company whose business practices you can't support. Integrity, ethical practices and trustworthiness are the foundation of a good culture that fosters high engagement. Not having these is a breeding ground for the spread of disengagement.
Ruth K. Ross is a former senior human resources executive with over 30 years of experience at some of the world's most admired companies. She is the author of Coming Alive: The Journey To Reengage Your Life And Career and gets to live the dream everyday by writing and speaking about her passion for engagement.