Employee Engagement: What’s Making Us So Unhappy?

When getting to the nature of human performance and well being it is important to understand the relationship between three vital words: 1) Achievement; 2) Expectation; and 3) Happiness.

Happiness results when our achievements meet our expectations. If you come to work, for example, with the expectation of your boss is “100,” and your boss achieves an “80,” then we say you will be “20% unhappy” with your boss.

If, on the other, you have an expectation of your boss of “80,” and you she hits “100,” then you will be “125% happy” with her.

Now what happens when this same boss, who meets the expectations of one employee, yet doesn’t meet the expectations of another employee? One employee will be happy. The other will be unhappy. Maybe the problem isn’t the boss. Maybe the problem is the nature of our expectations.

People these days bring enormously high expectations to work, but also to all their relationships. We are, frankly, all pretty spoiled. The more we get in this society, the more we expect. Look at the result:

  • In Canada, 47.1 million prescriptions for antidepressants were filled by retail drugstores in 2014, representing sales totally $1.91 billion. 11% of all men, women, and children in our society are on antidepressants.

According to a recent Gallop poll:

  • 70% of Canadians are “unhappy,” “not engaged” at work;
  • 6/10 employees intend to pursue new job opportunities somewhere else in the next year, and 2/10 say “maybe” and are working toward it.

It appears to be human nature that the more we get, the more we expect. In academic language this means that we are spoiled. Research will bear it out that the societies with the lowest GNP are often the societies with the happiest people. If you have travelled much you know that the people around the world who are the poorest are often happier than people in this country that have so much? Why are they happy? They are likely happy because their expectations are lower. They aren’t always striving for something better. There’s something to be said about simply being satisfied with what we have.

While I’m all in favor of boss’s continuing to learn and develop ways to create environments that engage people, I know some people who could walk on water for their employees and they still won’t be happy. This is because most people who are unhappy at work aren’t just unhappy at work. They are unhappy with all aspects of their lives. They achievement is low and their expectations are high. That’s a good formula for unhappiness. And no amount of “employee engagement programs” are going to turn that around.

Let’s all look at ourselves when it comes to employee engagement. It’s a shared responsibility. Yes, positional leaders have a responsibility. But so do employees. It starts by looking in the mirror.

How is your own personal relationship between 1) Achievement (e.g. How committed are you? What are your own goals? How much responsibility are you taking for your own level of achievement; 2) Expectations (e.g. How realistic are your expectations of your boss? How much responsibility are you taking to meet your own expectations? And 3) Happiness (e.g. How does the answers to these questions affect your level of satisfaction and enjoyment – at work and away from work?

How much responsibility are you taking for your own happiness? How much is your unhappiness affected by your unrealistic expectations of others – independent of what your boss does? How much are you willing to give rather than expect?). It was my father who taught me that you get what you give, not what you expect.