The Recipe for Engagement: Happiness Not Included

When I go to work every day, I have a general routine that I hope to follow: Get some coffee, check my email, list my daily priorities and get to work. By the end of the day, I can tick off my tasks one by one and enjoy the lovely feeling of accomplishment.

Then I wake up and face reality.

I’m sure we can all relate. Our days are never as we plan them to be. Our managers get ideas for new projects and ask us to work on them (crazy concept, right?). “Emergency” (a.k.a. last-minute-due-to-improper-planning) tasks get thrown at us from every direction and we are often expected to complete them “yesterday.”  Putting out fires seems to have become the norm, right?

Many employers understand this, and whether we’d like to believe it or not, our managers are under the very same pressure. The world is becoming extremely fast-paced and we are kidding ourselves if we think we can slow it down. We need to adjust to the pace instead of trying to change it. Many employers understand this. They want employees to look forward to coming into work every day, or, at least not dread coming into work every day. So, with very good intentions, they seek ways to keep their employees happy.


Happiness: Sweet, But Not the Same

There are several ways to make employees happy, but I’ll share with you what I know best. Here is what my employer does to make me happy:

  • Coffee, tea and hot cocoa, in a variety of flavors – free for all employees to enjoy
  • Free, local fruit delivered regularly (they care about our happiness AND our health!)
  • A “marketplace” in our kitchen, where deeply discounted snacks, prepared lunches, frozen foods, and all kinds of beverages (non-alcoholic, of course – they don’t want us THAT happy!) can be easily purchased with the swipe of a credit card
  • A designated room for ping pong or gaming (yes, I just said that)
  • A well-appointed gym, available 24/7 to employees at no charge

So, am I happy? Abso-freaking-lutely! Do all of those wonderful perks make me any more engaged in the work I’m producing? Not really. These perks definitely boost morale and save money, but they’re simply not the right ingredients for engagement. Now, I’m not saying that I’m not engaged in my role (I hope my manager is reading this); I’m just making the point that a happy employee isn’t necessarily an engaged employee.  But before I introduce ways to engage employees – let’s first discuss what engagement is, exactly.


Understanding the Key Ingredient

According to Merriam-Webster, engagement is an “emotional involvement or commitment.” It means being dedicated to our work, being focused out of interest, not necessity. We have to care about what we do. Let’s use the analogy of learning how to swim. A new swim suit or a free trip to a Hawaiian beach would definitely make us happy, but it wouldn’t make us deeply care about swimming. There are deeper needs that have to be met to develop that motivation. The tricky part about caring is that it is an internal process. It cannot be forced on us. So, it’s no wonder that so many employers and managers struggle with creating an engaged workforce! It’s not as simple as free food or a nice bathing suit!


Engagement: Full-bodied, Long-Lasting

Although caring cannot be forced, the right atmosphere can be created to build and sustain engaged employees. What does that look like? What makes employees want to face their workdays – and their workloads – with commitment and dedication? What makes employees want to go the extra mile even if they don’t have to?

  • Managers must learn to get closer to employees and learn what makes them tick; they have to meet employees’ needs on a much deeper level than they might be accustomed
  • Employees should be given opportunities for development so they can create a meaningful impact on the organization and their clients or customers
  • Managers should adopt a selfless and genuine approach to leading employees. Demonstrate that employees’ efforts are valued. Help them maximize their potential.

Let’s finish with our swimming analogy. Along with the new bathing suit and free trip to Hawaii, we are given an opportunity to train with one of the top swim instructors in the country. All of our questions are answered and we are fully supported along the way. Over time, our interest in swimming builds and we want to learn more. Soon we join a swim team and start practicing regularly; then we start competing, and so on. We do all of this because we are committed, because we care, and because we are engaged.


How do you engage your employees? How do you, personally, stay engaged in your work? Share your thoughts below!

Jeanine D’Alusio

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Relias

Jeanine spends her days writing for the Health and Human Services industry at Relias. Before her career in marketing, she worked extensively in human resources and learning and development. Jeanine has more than 10 years of nonprofit experience, including as an HR Director at a multiservice behavioral health and community services organization. Jeanine is also a licensed massage therapist who enjoys helping her clients feel better in her spare time.

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