Lately you may be feeling uncertain about your job, your career or your future. News about the economy and companies who are laying people off or cancelling job openings are concerning, for sure. In addition, it’s tough to ignore all the press about everything from world conflicts and political polarization to weather catastrophes. You want to stay positive and engaged, but it’s tough.
In fact, engagement is one of the best ways to shore up your job security and increase your value to your employer—and it just feels better as well. If you’re downhearted, you’re probably de-energized. And if you’re stressed, you’re probably also feeling fatigue and losing sleep. Engagement can counter these experiences.
In addition, engaged employees are more secure. Your company will want to keep you around, or a new organization will want to hire you when you’re enthusiastic, energized and committed to great performance.
High Levels of Worry
If you’re concerned about job security, you’re not alone. An analysis of search trends by Lemon.io, found searches for “will i lose my job in a recession” are up 9,900%, searches for “what to do when you get laid off” are up 336% and searches for “lost my job can’t pay rent” have risen by 467%. In addition, a survey of 25,000 people by McKinsey & Company found a 5% decrease in optimism regarding economic opportunity.
Bottom line: Engaging will be important for your security going forward. And you can increase your engagement and reinvigorate. You don’t have to wait for the economy to turn around or for your employer to get everything right (no organization is perfect, so that would be a long wait, indeed). Instead, you can take action to engage.
Engagement is related to optimism, and there are actually two types of optimism. Passive optimism is when you believe things will get better, but you wait for the conditions around you to change. On the other hand, empowered optimism is when you believe things will get better and take steps to make the future happen. To engage and re-energize, you need a measure of hope—believing things will get better—but you also need to step up and be proactive to create a positive situation.
How to Engage (or Re-Engage)
According to research by Erasmus University, there are key elements you need for engagement. From your work, you need social support, feedback, autonomy, variety and growth. And from your own store of resources you need esteem and optimism. Here’s how to create these.
Connect With Your People
One of the primary elements for all kinds of health, happiness and engagement is connections with others. So if you want to be more engaged, you’ll want to reach out to colleagues. Get to know those who are working in the trenches with you. Ask questions, tune in and listen to what they’re going through. Invite your co-workers for coffee or lunch, or show up a bit early to a meeting so you can have a few moments to check in with others.
Ultimately, you’ll benefit when you grow your social capital—your links with others from whom you can learn, get advice, find out about new opportunities and figure out how to succeed in your organization. You’ll want to build two kinds of social capital—bonding social capital with those on your team and bridging social capital with those across different parts of the organization or outside your company. Focus on expanding not just your network, but also your meaningful relationships with people whom you can support and who can support you.
Ask For Feedback
Another way to stay engaged is to know how you’re doing and how you matter to the organization and its success. Ideally, your boss will provide feedback to you regularly, but if they don’t, ask for it. Set up one-on-ones with your manager in order to stay connected. Share what you’re working on and ask for feedback about what they appreciate in your work or what they’d like you to do better. Ask what they’d like you to start, stop or continue doing so your contribution can be as significant as possible.
You can make this check in a regular occurrence, so it doesn’t have to feel like a big deal or an intense conversation. You’ll send a message that you care about your performance and want to stay engaged—all very positive for your performance and your relationship.
You can also ask for feedback from co-workers or project team members, and you can even suggest reflection sessions as a regular part of the work process for everyone. At the end of a project cycle, you can suggest a retro (short for retrospective) where you talk about what went well and what could have gone better. Your goal isn’t to be high maintenance, intense or overly dramatic about asking for feedback—but rather to make performance information a regular part of your work so you can stay engaged, regularly improve and know how you matter.
Seek Growth Opportunities
Another key way to stay engaged is to have autonomy, growth opportunities and variety in your work. If your employer isn’t good at providing these, you can take some simple steps for yourself. You can keep your leader in the loop about what you’re doing so they build trust in your actions and give you increasing freedom. You can share your career goals with your boss and volunteer for new projects. In addition, you can point out problems or challenges, and suggest solutions which you can spearhead.
You can also seek out new learning opportunities. Look for a class on how to listen better, explore new analytical skills or build a relationship with a mentor. Learning is significantly correlated with happiness, so be open with your boss about where you want to go, build a relationship of trust and take initiative to contribute to the company and hence, your own career.
Interestingly, the research on engagement also shows you’ll tend to be more engaged when your job is somewhat demanding. Of course, it’s nice if you can do some things easily, but if you’re bored, it’s a quick path to burnout and deterioration of your motivation.
In fact, there’s a Goldilocks rule to levels of demand in your job. If your job doesn’t offer enough challenge, it will be tough to stay motivated. And on the other end of the continuum, if your job is too difficult, it will also be demotivating. Eustress is a term which describes the optimal level of challenge—when things are difficult enough to make you think, challenge your skills and cause you to dig deep to solve problems.
Look for new opportunities and take on challenges. Find ways to contribute both inside and outside of your department, and go for the next promotion or job opportunity when you’re 70% ready for it. Don’t wait until you’re totally ready because the challenge will be part of your satisfaction when you get there.
Bring Your Best
Engagement is also significantly affected by your own personal resources. When you’re more confident and more optimistic, you tend to be more enthusiastic and put more into your work. It’s a reinforcing relationship—you feel better about yourself and the future, and you invest in your performance—and these pay off in terms of your satisfaction and energy.
Remind yourself about all you bring to your role and the unique skills you contribute. Reinforce your own sense of esteem by focusing on what you do well and how you positively impact projects and others around you. Be aware of difficulty around you and be real, but also focus on the future and the ways you can have a positive impact. You have a greater influence than you may realize—on others and on problems and situations—so empower yourself to take actions that matter to you.
Engagement is the best job security because organizations want employees who care and are committed, and colleagues value those who bring performance and concern to their work. Perhaps most importantly, engagement will help you feel a greater sense of wellbeing—from emotional and cognitive to physical.
When things are tough, it really is possible to balance a healthy sense of reality with a positive sense of the future. It’ll be good for you, and those around you.