Feel Engaged at Work, Despite the Chaos

Rosie the Riveter

With the 75th anniversary of D-Day around the corner, it’s troubling that our current political landscape, to phrase it nicely, is a dumpster fire.

I keep writing curse words and deleting them, because I’m trying to be “professional.”  It occurs to me, however, that it’s important that I be real with you about how tough this is for me. . . because if I’m having a hard time, I think you might be too.  The growing levels of misogyny, racism, and xenophobia feel like a fight for our nation’s soul.  Are our World War II veterans despondent that we’re failing to safeguard the ideals they fought to preserve?

My editorial calendar calls for a blog on feeling engaged at work, and I’ve spent many days wondering how to frame my thoughts.  It’s challenging to think about wellbeing and burnout when we’re bombarded frequently with difficult news.  In light of the dismal headlines, is it really so important that we feel engaged at work?

You bet it is.

In fact, in the nonprofit world, there may never have been a more crucial time to be at our best, than now.  Our government is designed to help us and keep us safe, and there is an endpoint to what it can provide.  Where government ends, nonprofits take over and make the world even better.  Your work is more important than ever.

And it’s about more than saving our world.  It’s about saving YOU.

According to Emiliana Simon-Thomas at the Greater Good Science Center, one of the pillars to feeling happy at work is engagement.  When you’re engaged at work, you feel energized and fulfilled.  You find yourself deeply immersed in activities and enjoy a sense of curiosity.  You also feel safe enough to share your true feelings and creative ideas, and you bring your whole, authentic self to the office.

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?  Few of us, however, actually feel energized at work – a whopping 87 percent of people around the globe report that they don’t feel engaged, according to a Gallup study.  This means these unhappy folks are unproductive and unmotivated, and some spread negativity in the workplace.

As I reflect on current events and also ponder how to be more engaged at work, I seek out role models.  Again and again, I turn to Rosie the Riveter.  She represents the women in the 1940’s who shattered glass ceilings while building ships, planes, tanks, and weapons.  Their round-the-clock efforts made the United States a military and economic world power by the end of World War II.

The Rosies weren’t initially welcome in the shipyards and factories.  But they kept showing up, day after day, demanding jobs.  When a foreman said “No,” what the Rosies heard was, “Not today.”

They showed up, without training, still haunted by the Great Depression, yet possessed by the absolute belief that they could make a difference.  They could do the job.

In her article, How to Be More Engaged at Work, Jessica Lindsey,  with the Greater Good Science Center, describes four ways to feel more energized.  Let’s take her ideas and consider how the Rosies epitomized engagement.

Rosie the Riveter

  1. Exercise Autonomy and Self-determination

Employees who are engaged align their job responsibilities with their core values, the intrinsic guiding principles that they were likely born with.  It makes sense that the Rosies were motivated by their own deeply held beliefs.  Some, however, must have heard voices in their head whispering that they should stay away from shipyards and factories. . .

You don’t know how to weld.

Who are you to think you’ll make a difference?

Married women shouldn’t work outside the home.

You’re taking a man’s job.

In addition to our core values, we adopt values along the way from outside sources, such as our parents, friends, or media.  Sometimes these values serve us, but sometimes they don’t.  The results of these acquired values are the voices in our heads that keep us from taking risks.  The Rosies who were most successful would have recognized what was true for them – that they could make a difference – and they set aside the acquired values that were holding them back.

You might enjoy my previous post, where I discussed how understanding your core and acquired values will make you happier at work.  I’m trained in Values2Wellbeing, a science-based coaching technique, and if you’d like a free strategy session, click here.

The most successful Rosies also must have been gifted in expanding their perspective.  For example, they probably didn’t see their job as just welding joints together. Instead, they likely understood I’m building Victory Ships so that we can win the war.  “Cognitive crafting” describes our ability to reframe our job responsibilities, and it’s an important piece of helping your job fit you better.

  1. Celebrate Your Progress

We feel engaged and motivated at work when we make consistent, meaningful progress, according to researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.  It’s no surprise that we feel less motivated after small setbacks.

By 1944, women made up 41 percent of the welders at the Kaiser yards in Richmond, California.  That shipyard launched 747 ships, more than any other yard in the country.  The shipyard community gathered to celebrate the launch of each new ship they built.  These ceremonies not only reflected pride in their achievements but highlighted their progress in a visual and exciting way.  Rosies stayed motivated with their profound sense of purpose – to win the war, and bring the boys home.

Do you and your teammates celebrate the progress you make each day? Or, do you punish yourself for not meeting unrealistic deadlines?  Feeling grateful for your small wins will keep you motivated with an overwhelming workload.

  1. Prioritize Activities that Feel Good

We’re more engaged at work if what we’re doing makes us happy, and sharing laughs with our co-workers is a great way to remember our foibles and common humanity.

I love imagining the Rosies laughing with each other during breaks, or at the end of their shifts.  They must have made mistakes as they learned how to weld and rivet, and how they responded to these goofs would have been critical to their long-term success.  They understood well that they were building ships to transport cargo, weapons, and men.  There was no room for error.  Yet they also would have benefited from seeing glitches as learning opportunities, and a sense of humor would have lightened their spirits.

I also imagine the Rosies feeling deeply grateful.  Although they endured food shortages, sexism, and racism, they were thankful for their newly created jobs that helped end the Depression.  They were also grateful for innovative social programs, such as employee health care and child care, which made their work at the shipyards possible.  They cherished their years as defense workers.

Gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves, and it helps people deal with adversity.  Research shows gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness.

What are you grateful for, at this moment?  If you’re like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed by the headlines and not feeling like your usual spiffy self.  There is always something to be thankful for, no matter how small, and at this moment I’m appreciating my dog Boo’s amazing sense of humor.  I laugh at her antics every day.

  1. Create Space for Flow

When we’re in a state of flow (coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) we enjoy being completely immersed in a task.  We forget about the outside world and focus intently on our activity.  We feel energized, creative, and productive as we lose track of time.

When I visited the Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park in Richmond, California, I learned an exciting nugget of information.  Experts today often can tell the difference between joints welded by men and those by women.  It seems the Rosies brought a new precision to the industry, and their immaculate techniques created joints that look like embroidery.  Some of the ships they built still exist today.

The Rosies who welded joints with such attention to detail were surely in a state of flow, completely focused on their task.  What activities do you most enjoy?  When do you find yourself completely immersed?  How can you minimize distractions in the office, so that you can enjoy a state of flow?

Rosie the Riveter

Tips for Team Leaders

If you’re a manager and you want to increase the engagement of your employees and create a culture of wellbeing, be sure to:

• Help your employees understand how their responsibilities transform your team, as well as your organization. Let them know they’re an important part of meeting your mission.

• Celebrate often! Don’t wait until your team reaches your year-end goal, and instead celebrate small wins each day.

• If you created a financial goal for your development team, and it’s not based on a history of success but on what you wish were true, it’s unfair to evaluate your hard-working staff based on dollars raised. Instead, evaluate them on completing projects on the development plan and building strong relationships with donors.

• Encourage your employees to see setbacks as learning opportunities, every time. Create a safe space so they can openly share with you not only what happened, but how your team might do things differently next time.

• Nurture your employees by assigning them activities that inspire joy at work. If they’re upset by the political dumpster fire, explore how your mission may help them feel vibrant and engaged.  It’s possible that they may want to volunteer at another organization outside of work, and your support will give your employees a sense of safety and appreciation during troubling times.

• Provide an environment that promotes a state of flow. Give them permission to keep their smartphones tucked away, shut their doors, and respond to emails on a limited basis.  When they say they can complete certain projects more efficiently at home, believe them.  When you can be flexible about how they meet their needs, you build trust.

Marsha Mather-Thrift, the executive director of the Rosie the Riveter Trust, describes the women as, “Ordinary people who did extraordinary things, motivated by the need to help others.”  The Rosies show us how to fight our present-day despair.

We are not superheroes.  We are ordinary, troubled, wobbly humans but together, we can accomplish extraordinary things.

We can do it!

Rosie the Riveter World Record Primavera Danielle Collins

P.S. If you want to move forward – to feel more engaged and energized at work – then coaching may be right for you.  You can learn more about transforming your life here.

P.P.S. Are you intrigued by the Rosies?  If you want to learn more about the home front during World War II, visit the National Historical Park in Richmond, California.  You can talk with real-life Rosies during scheduled meet-and-greets.


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