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Individual Mindset vs. Work Environment? What is More Important for Engagement?

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Every day, we can (and do) make choices about our demeanor and expression (e.g., positive vs. negative), but even the most positive person will corrode in a toxic environment. It would be hard to maintain a positive mindset if the work environment is unengaging. The two are linked in the real world, not distinct.

Here is what we have found in dozens of companies over the last year. Engagement comes from two primary sources — culture and managers. A company has to be doing the right things systemically, but a failure to upgrade managers with skills to connect with staff can prevent the cultural “fixes” from being effective. Why? Because no matter what is done at the culture level, an employee’s experience pivots around the work environment created by their manager. People join cultures (companies), but they quit managers.

Employees have choices, and they can ultimately vote with their feet if the workplace gets too toxic.  No matter how good our cognitive skills or training, or our “desires”, the body has emotional (visceral) responses below the surface that cannot be controlled by simply thinking differently. Corrosion will occur in a toxic environment — it is hard-wired at a neurological level. That isn’t to say we can’t help people have healthier responses.

Can we help people cope? You bet. Would resilience training be useful? Absolutely.  But the fact that we have choices does not obviate the reality that we are primarily emotional — not intellectual — animals. It’s our emotional capacity (empathy for example) that makes us so wonderfully human. And it is at the core of what organizations can do to create a workplace where people love coming to work.

So yes, let’s select the best using the most accurate assessment tools available, and then let’s be sure new hires arrive in a culture that nurtures and encourages their engagement.

BEST PRACTICES TIP:  We’ve done a pretty good job getting all the left-brain (cognitive) systems in place, now we need to reach out to the right-brain – that turns out to be much more powerful.

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Don Rheem’s presentation on Employee Engagement gets underneath the real “whys” on the behavior of discretionary effort. I found his examples to be relative and understandable. I see how our leaders are making better connections with the hearts of our people, so everyone better understands the goals of the enterprise.

--Peter Rittenhouse, Director of Supply Chain
Nestle Waters
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