ATD Blog

Disengagement and The Walking Dead: Part Four

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Read Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of this blog series. 

All of this “engagement” and “passion” talk might sound like an idealist walking in idyllic zombie-free fields. And while there might be something said for cryogenic brains, life—a great deal of which is conducted at work—is for the living, and everyone would rather thrive in flow than be held in suspended animation. 

To naysayers, I’m compelled to ask, “What really is wrong with caring and sharing?” Had everyone done more of this earlier, we would not now have to be preparing for the engagement zombie apocalypse. Sure, cynics might walk in circles arguing, “If I’m more vulnerable and open, creating a legacy of growth and advancement of others, and capitalizing on the intrinsic motivations, the duplicitous Machiavellians and Nepotistic of the world will prevail!” 

We can concede one caveat: If distrust or control is culturally embedded, employees will be reticent to reveal their needs. Nonetheless, we can find certain salvation in the pragmatics of how well we practice values and other-centered ethic. Each work group’s culture (section, department, unit, and team) requires uniquely tailored approaches to ignite and fuel passion. 


Even without conducting an engagement survey, universal principles apply, with the foremost being recognizing excellence in the work product and potentialities in others. Resounding convergence exists on recognition practices to improve engagement: 

  1. Use both formal and informal means of recognition.
  2. Incorporate a wide variety of means to recognize or reward.
  3. Focus on recognition based on increased quality performance, not simply quantity of effort (for example, working overtime doesn’t count).
  4. Demonstrate specific appreciations immediately and frequently.
  5. Link recognition to specific business objectives or desired cultural values. 

The last factor is very important. Question: When you receive that raise, how much of your work ethic, habits, and behaviors substantially change? Recognition has to cost very little. As mentioned in an earlier post, immediate personal acknowledgments are more effective than extrinsic means, such as monetary rewards. Tapping into “intrinsic” requires a change in some management styles. Recognizing work that aids the bottom line is important, but even more important is knowing the person. 
Here’s an example that fits into three interdependent theories: fun and joy in the office theory, little things have big impacts theory, and friendship theory. The other day, I was chatting with the director of our section. While we were talking, he handed me a juice drink. I thanked him for the refreshment, and jokingly added, “What I need is protein.” A few days later, he stopped by my office and handed me a bag of beef jerky. 

The take-away from this installment is that that we can measure a great deal of engagement success by reciting the ED&W mantra: “Every day in every way.” And the penultimate way to reach this goal is with an abundance of affirming messages, which I find are scarce these days. Indeed, there are not enough “thanks yous” out there. My three-pound brain and “Tell Tale Heart” closes this installment by thanking you for taking the time to read this perspective and weigh the possibilities.

About the Author

Vincent Miholic serves with the Louisiana Division of Administration’s OHR Organizational Learning and Development Team. His doctoral studies were conducted at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Prior to his current role, he has served in wide-ranging post-secondary and secondary administrative and teaching roles.

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