Career Success Through Engagement at Work

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Several years ago, a friend shared the story of a sojourner who came upon three individuals working with stone.

Curious about what the workers were doing, the traveler approached the first worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” Without hesitation the worker quickly responded, “I am a stone cutter and I am cutting stones. ” Not satisfied with this answer, the traveler approached the second worker and asked the same question. The second worker paused for a moment and explained, “I am a stone cutter and I am trying to make enough money to support my family. ”

The sojourner then asked the third worker, “What are you doing with these stones?” The third worker stopped what he was doing, bringing his chisel to his side. Deep in thought, the worker slowly gazed toward the traveler and shared, “I am a stone cutter and I am building a cathedral!”

This story has been told in many variations, yet it highlights the situation employers face each day in every organization: How are you going to engage your employees in their work so that they are intrinsically motivated?

Worker engagement basics

Seven years ago, The Gallup Organization created an opinion-based tool that identifies and measures elements of worker engagement most powerfully linked to improved business outcomes — sales growth, productivity, customer loyalty, and more.

To identify the elements of worker engagement, Gallup conducted hundreds of focus groups and thousands of worker interviews in all kinds of organizations, at all levels, in most industries and in many countries. From these inquiries, researchers pinpointed 12 key employee expectations that, when satisfied, form the foundation of strong feelings of engagement. The result was a 12-question survey in which employees rate their response on a scale of one to five. These are Gallup’s 12 questions, known as “Q12”:

  • Do you know what is expected of you?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work correctly?
  • Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last week, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • Do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  • Are your fellow employees committed to quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend there?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

    While these questions may seem rather basic, Q12 has created quite a stir in the human resources community. Consider an environment in which an employee and his or her manager have discussed these questions. Just airing them provides an atmosphere of trust, open conversation and a forum for addressing issues directly that often impede productive work.

    Hiring for content and context

    There are two important factors in any job: the content of the work (what the employee does specifically) and the context in which this work is accomplished.

    Many employers hire for content, with much of the interview focused on whether or not the potential employee is capable of doing the activities that make up the majority of the job. Yet many potential employees come to the employment interview wondering whether this organization will provide a positive environment in which they can do their work.

    As organizations face their very survival today, whether an employee is engaged often gets put to the sidelines. However, nothing can be more important to the organization and the individuals within it.

    Companies using Gallup’s Q12 have seen a direct correlation between worker satisfaction and their bottom line. Engagement process requires employee, employer involvement It doesn’t matter whether your organization has a formal program designed by Gallup. No matter who you are or where you are in the organization, you can begin to focus on the important issue of providing a meaningful work environment. Employee engagement requires both employer and employee involvement.

    As a manager, you can explore the questions underpinning Gallup’s Q12 with your team. A good way to set the stage for this discussion would be for all to read the book First Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. The authors are members of The Gallup Organization and have closely aligned their methods to Gallup research.

    If you would like to engage your manager in a discussion of improving the context in which you operate, raise the Q12 questions at an appropriate meeting time. You might even clip this article and put it on his or her desk with a note suggesting that you want to talk about these issues. It is time to confront bringing the greatest satisfaction and meaning to your work. Like that stone worker who sees his work as part of a much larger purpose, you can feel the satisfaction of leaving your mark every day in your job.

    Melanie Keveles MA, CPCC, Certified Professional Life Coach. She’s a “dream champion, ” working with people who want to change career direction, start a business or publish a book. She’s available via e-mail at, by phone at 715-394-4260, or

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