Engagement vs. Productivity: How to Begin Balancing Your Work Life

Tell me you’ve been in this situation before. You go to work, you meet up with the rest of the team, and you have a great conversation and then another one and then another one after that. It feels like you’re brainstorming, but when you take a step back and look down you realize you’ve done none of the work you planned to. And suddenly those conversations didn’t really feel very productive either.

There’s a difference between being productive at work and being engaged. But the truth is to work in a happy, healthy, and efficient way; you do need a mix of both. Let’s take a look at how to begin negotiating those tricky boundaries.

The first step here is probably to take a closer look at the word ‘engagement’. It’s not entirely clear what exactly it means especially when compared to productivity. While there are many types of productivity, it’s fairly easy to conjure images of how exactly that’s going to manifest in a given work day.

The Harvard Business Review defines engagement as anything from “job satisfaction, emotional investment in the cause, willingness to invest discretionary effort, or advocating for the company as a good place to work.”

In theory, these are all great things, but the problem comes when we judge them as the end all, be all for an effective workplace. Many statistics hold engagement as the absolute gold standard without taking the time to be critical about what it really means.

Don’t get us wrong, we love engagement. We’ve talked endlessly about how important it is to feel invested in the work that you’re doing. But there’s more to a successful workplace than that. Critically, you can’t let it become the only goal and overshadow that other great driver of success: productivity.

Here is where a little regimentation of the day, the week, and the month can actually be incredibly useful. Ideally, you should be able to trust your employees to handle their weekly agenda at the required pace. And as an employee working under someone, you should aim to foster that trust and respect with your leader. Once you’ve built that trust, and you begin to gather a sense of how everyone works best, you can begin introducing engagement actively into the workflow.

What does “introducing engagement” mean? Basically, all the things that we’ve spent so much time defining as valuable to each individual on your team and the company as a whole. Meetings where everyone can lay out their thoughts, feelings, and feedback — whether those be one-on-one or within a larger group. Opportunities for people to share their thoughts on what steps your startup should be taking for the future. Chances for everyone to come together and break up the tedium of their individual tasks.

Essentially, culture building. Stepping stones that push each team member toward those definitions that HBR defines. Satisfaction, investment, and advocacy.

Finding the right balance is really just a question of knowing the people you are working with. Not everyone is going to be able to maximize their productivity in the same way or engage as readily. The best thing you can do as a leader is keep an ear to ground.

Get to know these people, learn what they want out of this, and do your best to give them the environment they need to do the best work for you. If you’re the team member, make an effort to communicate what you want to your boss. There’s not much more anyone can ask out of a healthy working relationship than that.

— ZK

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