Welcome to the second full week of our special blog series, “Winning through Engagement.” We start the week with the conclusion to Josh Allan Dykstra’s post on making work environments that don’t suck! Suck work environments deplete engagement.

Right now our employee engagement sucks. Depending on who’s measuring it, somewhere between 70% and 80% of our people aren’t emotionally connecting to their work in a meaningful way, and we don’t seem to be able to move the needle in any significant way.

As mentioned in my last post, there are two invisible reasons why we haven’t been able to improve engagement statistics.

The first reason is that our own beliefs have thrown us off track. In the most terrible kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, we’ve decided to believe that work is supposed to suck—and because of this, it continues to do just that.

If we truly desire more life-giving places to work, the first thing we must do is believe they can be.

But that isn’t enough. We’ve got one more significant invisible challenge to contend with.


In our organizations we have all sorts of systems that deal with people. These are the rules and policies we put in place to govern the way employees behave with each other, and they include things like our performance reviews, vacation policies, compensation regulations, and dress codes (among other more subtle “company culture” things). Most of these systems are holdovers from when work was more linear and predictable. They used to work just fine, but they are now outdated; they are liabilities in a fluid and dynamic world.

Sadly, most of our current human systems are life-sucking. (Example: how energized were you by your last performance review?)

We’ve decided to believe that work is supposed to suck—and because of this, it continues to do just that

This is true for our engagement interventions, too. Most engagement “remedies” make things more complicated, overwhelming us with huge amounts of data and information—which is precisely what we don’t need more of (reference the last post: more “proof” has NOT helped us). We don’t have time for 100-question surveys or for more complicated theories.

We need simple, straightforward actions.

We need new behaviors.

Most importantly, we need new life-giving systems.

This is difficult, because while policies and procedures might be written down and shoved in an HR person’s filing cabinet, that’s not where they actually live. In reality, these things live in our organization’s culture, in the everyday interactions and in the behaviors we choose. They are invisible, too, and this “invisible-ness” is what makes them so hard to change.

We need better social agreements in our organizations, ones that focus on what’s right with people instead of what’s wrong with them. We need simple, focused ways to measure and track engagement. We need better strategies for meetings (many times we just need A strategy for meetings). We need organizational structures that work with people’s passions, instead of against them.

Until we 1) Find a way to change what we believe about our relationship with work at a fundamental level, and 2) Provide people new systems to use within organizations, engagement levels will stay right where they are.

We are not resigned to this fate. But we’ll never get there with the surface changes we’ve been trying; we must address these deep, invisible challenges instead. It may be more difficult, but it’s the only thing that will make our work work again.


Josh Allan Dykstra is a consultant/author/speaker and co-founder of Strengths Doctors, a consulting firm which helps leaders and entrepreneurs design energizing company culture. His eclectic background spans Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Starbucks, Genentech, Sony, and Viacom/CBS to startups, nonprofits, universities, and government agencies. He holds an MBA in Executive Leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his new book about the changing world of work, Igniting the Invisible Tribe: Designing An Organization That Doesn’t Suck, is available now. Connect with him online at http://joshallan.com.

Photo courtesy of  Andrew Vasil’ev