Does your job flow?

Everyday millions of us go to work; we get up and head out to perform our jobs.  Up until recently many of my jobs have been mundane and not very exciting.  I go to work and do my job for 8 hours a day, my last job my 8 hour work day felt like 20 hours.  I can barely focus on the task at hand, my mind wandered all over the place and I was barely motivated to do the job or task I was giving to do.  If you are experiencing this you are not alone, in fact according to Gartner (2013) nearly two thirds of all employees in the United States (Canada had similar statistics)  are no longer engaged with their jobs, costing somewhere between 450 – 500 billion dollars a year.

When we ask people who are engaged with their job, there are common elements that seem to be present, first that the flow of time seems to accelerate.  For example, ever been to a really great movie, and after 2 hours come out and wonder why it felt like 5 minutes, or perhaps you are working on a new project, and the only reason you knew it was lunch time is a colleague stopped by your desk and asked you to go to lunch.  Not only did time pass by quickly, but you lost all sense of awareness of what was going on around you.  The unfortunate part of this is that these instances in the work place are few and far between.  That intrinsic feeling you get of a job well done, is not always there, and sometimes we need a boost, but how often do companies provide that.  Most places work on extrinsic motivation, where you do work, I pay you every two weeks.  What more do you need?

Where does engagement come from, one of my personal favorite theories come from a Psychologist by the name of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.  A truly engaged world our jobs would exist in what Csíkszentmihályi calls a flow state.  According to Wu (2012) the flow state is a state in which our work exists somewhere between anxiety and boredom.  Where anxiety is the difficulty and the challenge of the job and boredom is the Skill and Ability to do the job.   In order to get into a flow state, a person must reach the activation threshold; this is a point when an employee becomes fully engaged in what they are doing.

Take for instance a new employee who is just starting a job, they are excited, highly motivated to learn new skills, and quickly adapt to the job they are doing.  The issue then becomes as the employee becomes more skilled at the task, a relaxation/boredom state starts to creep in, employees start becoming disengaged in what they are doing and at the very least stop caring about what they are doing, or worst start sabotaging the workplace.  Keeping an employee engaged and challenged in the work place is hard.  One such technique is called Gamification, which is the application of a game like mechanic in a non-gaming contenxt.

One example of how Target, a large US retailer, wanted to decrease the time people spent in lines during the checkout process and increase cashier accuracy. Target gamified checkout stations, by using the game mechanic of urgency, each item in the store was giving an optimum time of how long it should take to scan in the checkout.  For example measurements were taken of how much time it took to scan a pack of gum followed by a piece of clothing or even a TV.  This was done on every item in the store.  As a cashier scanned items, the system simply showed a green light if the item was scanned in the time allotted or a red light if not.  This simple mechanism created positive reinforcement, and it actually increased morale in cashiers by giving them the feeling of beating the system or achieving a high score.

Why does this simple engagement activity work, let’s take a very brief look into the science of psychology.  By simply swiping an item on time shows a great example of tapping into a person intrinsic motivation for wanted to beat the system.  This is accomplished by challenging the participant such as scanning items in and keeping the lights green, achieving success which then triggers Dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine release is at the heart of motivation, this fundamental triangle is one of the key concepts to gamification and engagement.  

Keeping your employees challenged and achieving in the work place is fundamental for engagement, if you have an engaged employee you have an employee who spends more time in the flow state, above the activation threshold.  It also means happier more motivated employees which leads to lower turnover, and higher productivity. Certainly if you have ever shopped in a Target around Christmas time (or any major retailer), you certainly can appreciate the higher throughput that this simple example of gamification has allowed. 

Gamification is a lot of hard work, retailers have 10’s of thousands of products, and that would lead to millions of scanning permutations.  But as you can see, with the right gamification design with the right game mechanic can increase engagement and productivity.  There is a lot more to engagement and gamification than this simple example, I can also say that this mechanic may or may not work in one’s own organization,  however, the take away here, is the holy trinity of intrinsic motivation, Challenge, Achievement and Release (Dopamine) .  Understand the issues you are trying to solve, understand the people who will be involved, and match the right gaming mechanic to the situation, will increase engagement. 

Want to no more, send me a Tweet @hb_jacobs ask a question, let me k now how I can help you solve an engagement issue.


G.A.M.E.R. Philosopy

I had a great chat with iGamify’s ( CMO Ben Bressington, He was kind enough to share his game/business/life decks with me.  We also chatted about what he was doing to bring process and procedure around Gamification in the work place particularly small to medium sized businesses.  However, after speaking with him for about 30 minutes I came to realize that his G.A.M.E.R. formula he uses to create “engagement opportunities” (I like this better than the world game) is more than just a process or a procedure, it is a philosophy to live by. 

Think about our adult lives, once we leave the parental home through to the time we retire we work approximately 2420 hours out of 8760 hours available to us through the years.  Of course some work more, some work less, but based on a standard 40 hour we work between 25 and 30 percent of the time.  Now for those who are in leadership positions within your organization, I ask are your employees happy and engaged? Do they come in everyday enthusiastic about their jobs?  As a person who is in a leadership position, if your answer is “I don’t know” to those to questions, I suggest that you may have an engagement issue, if you answered yes, I would challenge you to prove it, as I have shown in earlier blogs that only about 30% of the work force is engaged with their job.

Now I do understand that we do need a separation between work and home life, but does the separation of work and fun have to also exist.  Bringing fun into the work place does not equate to gaming.  Gamification as we know is not game, it is not about games, it is about game mechanics, and applying them to real word process or procedure.  By taking ahold of the G.A.M.E.R philosophy we can apply this to not just the work place, but our lives as well, (there is a life deck). 

First find the goal, describe the goal in terms of the future state, and secondly take a couple of minutes and think about the actions you need to take to achieve that goal. Along with the goal, we have to provide a purpose to what we are doing, giving it context.  For instance, if your goal is to increase sales, my first question is “for what purpose.”  Goals need to have a purpose, without purpose there is no direction.  The purpose of the goal will help us define the verbs which are “doing” words; they define some sort of call to action how can you take action if you don’t have a purpose. 

Along with our purpose we need to determine skills and resources needed to obtain these goals. You may want to increase your sales for the purpose of wanting to expand your product lines, however if you don’t have the skills and resources to towards the purpose you cannot succeed.   Next you’re your goal and purpose you begin creating a to-do list of action statements that will move you from your current state to the new state.  The statements will reflect those actions that include ensuring that you have the skills and resources needed to move towards the goal.

Thirdly, when we start down the path towards are goals, we have to monitor the goals, what is the feedback loop we are going to use.  If we want staff to increase sales, then the staff needs to have feedback in order to know where they are.  If the goal is to increase a person’s sales by 10% per day, then they need to know what their average sales are for that day and then have the feedback to see where they are.  But it is more than that, if you did not tie this feedback to actions that give your staff the skills to sale add-ons or up sell, the feedback may backfire, so care must be taken in monitoring. 

Another factor is how we can add enjoyment to those activities that lead us to our goals.  As a business owner, do you take the time to create an engaging work place that taps into those motivations that align with the goals and activates.  We can create fun through some game like mechanics, such as competition, or perhaps something that gives someone bragging rights.  In order to deliver the right type of enjoyment, there needs to be an understanding of what enjoyment means, we all enjoy different things, so what motivates me may not be the same as another person.  Enjoyment needs to come from within, so while there is nothing wrong in building extrinsic motivations,  the need to look at those who are participating in your goals and determine what makes them tick is important so that you can speak to those internal motivations, the ones that give a person that feeling of a job well done.

Lastly in our G.A.M.E.R. are the rules of what we are doing, if the goal was to lose ten pounds, than a rule would be that eating 1500 Calories a day is how I am going to achieve that goal.  Putting it all together, the weight loss scenario is good.  The goal I would state as “I wish to lose ten pounds so that my blood pressure lowers and I will not need to take medications.”  Now list a few goals, I will buy a new digital scale, I will count calories, I will eat less and exercise more, I will eat health foods”.  Of course monitoring this would be counting calories and stepping on the scale. 

Adding enjoyment can come in many different ways, such as using a new app, to count calories, I have a great one I use called “Lose it”, I talk about this all the time.  You might want to try new recipes that use healthier choice foods.  Then take the time to brag about the recipe on face book.  Lastly the rules, such as how often you will get on the scale, maybe you want to eat at specific times.  I always run at lunch time, at work that is a rule my colleagues know I follow and therefore try to avoid scheduling meetings when I run.   I believe that if we add G.A.M.E.R. to our lives not only at work but at home, we will succeed in the goals.  In essence we are breaking down the components of success so that our goal is manageable and attainable.

Employee Engagement, Who’s Responsible

After yesterday’s post on engagement it got me thinking about who is responsible for employee engagement. Is it the responsibility of the employee to keep themselves engaged at the work place or is the employer’s responsibly. Lear (2013) states that “it is the responsibility of the people who want the employee engagement; managers.” Therefore the focus of employee engagement should come from the managers not the employees themselves.

In most cases, engagement starts off high, new hires are excited; there is a lot to learn as the new job presents a challenge to them. However, as the gain mastery over the job, engagement will start to fall as boredom will set in quickly. There must be mechanisms in place to ensure that employees remain engaged or else risk the consequences of what disengagement brings to the organization. There are four arenas that organizations need to look at for areas of change; these are Goals, Culture, Structure and processes.
Goals, does the organization have well defined goals, do employees understand them and how they as employees fit into the company’s goals. Goals come in two categories, Broad and Implicit as well as Tactical and explicit. For engagement levels to be high those broad strategic goals, must be expressed in a way that can show an employee that they clearly adding value in what the day everyday by showing up to work.

The culture arena is an area that to me is one of the most important in employee engagement. Culture is the Behavior of employees, the stories, the vocabulary, the artifacts/symbols, the visions, norms, values, systems, beliefs and Habits. If the culture does not foster engagement, then how can we expect to keep them engaged? I couple of years ago I had the experience of working in the most cultural toxic culture you can imagine. When I was taken to meet some of the employees of my department there were literally warning me not to take the job, can you imagine walking in the door of a business of a good paying job and being warned off by employees not to work there. After taking the job, I lasted less than six months, in fact the entire department quit. Moral of the story, ensure that the culture fosters engagement.

Structure, how is the company structured, is it more vertical than horizontal, is it easy to get to a manager, do they have open door policies, or is the vertical, stove piped and slow moving. Can it react to issues within the organization and changes in the environment quickly, can you speak up and offer opinions and ideas. Working in an environment where you cannot approach your manager with a suggestion or an idea is not a lot of fun.

Processes, does the workplace have processes that foster engagement, like goals, do processes align with the companies goals, are there training programs and opportunities for personal growth. I work in a job where processes are changing all the time, the issue is that they are often not well communicated and you bump into new requirements only after a quality review is performed. Are the processes at work setting employees up for failure, if so maybe it is time for a change?
Where should an organization start, not an easy question, but quick wins are always good, structure changes are not often in the quick win category and culture can also take a long time to change especially if the organization is highly toxic. Areas that are easier in my opinion are at the grass roots, look at the company goals, and think how that translates to an action I can take with my employees so that they can see that there are positive changes coming. Changing an organization to a more engaged work place will not happen overnight but it will happen if employees perceive change in a positive way.

Lear, G. (2013) ’Who is responsible for Employee Engagement?’[Online] Available at: (Accessed: October 6, 2013)

Building Better Employee Engagement in the Workplace

Working for a large consultancy has its merits; certainly being one of the top 6 companies in the world is something to boast about.  The fact that for the most part as long as you do your job there is always work, however l believe that engagement is a large issue within the company.  Franz (2013) states that she read a definition of employee engagement that defines it as “the emotional connection or commitment that an employee has to the organization that then causes the employee to want to put forth the additional effort to ensure the organization and the brand succeed.”  In my opinion, this definition work well in describing what engagement should feel like.

The Temkin Group (2012) in their current report define what they call the five I’s of employee engagement. These are Inform, Inspire, Instruct, Involve and Incent, large companies are going to need to look at each of these areas and create strategies to help increase employee engagement.  There have been a number of studies that have looked at employee engagement, and the news is better according to Temkin Group as stated in Chief Learning Officer(2013) that of 200 companies with 1000 or more employees, most do engagement surveys (94%), however only 43% of the respondents believe that the leadership of their organizations put any priorities based on that feedback.  What this suggests to me is that large companies talk the talk about engagement, but almost 60% do not walk the walk.

As a manager we need to take a hard look at what we are doing in our organization, are we creating and fostering an environment that creates engagement.  The issue I often seen over the last 30 years of work is that managers are not trained in employee engagement.  I always like to state that Management by Walking Around is a great technique to observe staff in a casual informal manner.  Once we get managers off their chairs and out there with the employees, we need to start asking the hard questions to determine how the engagement levels are in our departments or teams.

Here is a list of 12 questions you can ask yourself about your employees, be honest and up front with yourself and see how you might answer them.

  1. Do your employees know what is expected of them at work?
  2. Do your employees have everything they need to do the work right?
  3. Do your employees have the opportunity to do what they do best every day?
  4. During the last seven days I have given recognition or praise for a good job?
  5. As a manager do you care about your employees and take an interest?
  6. Do you encourage employee development?
  7.  Do your employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions?
  8. Do the employees understand the mission or the purpose of the company and understand how they add value?
  9. Are all your employees committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do your employees have an opportunity for social interaction throughout the day?
  11. Do you sit down with your employees and talk about how they are progressing?
  12. Do you give employees the opportunity for growth and progress within the company through training and educations programs?

These questions are very important; if you cannot answer with a positive answer to these questions you may have an engagement issue in your work place.  Lack of engagement within your team, can have many negative effects not only to your department or team but to the organization itself.  Look for the signs, are your employees absent more often than in the past, have you noticed employees taking longer breaks or lunches, Do employees come in late and leave early, is productivity down, is your employee turnover higher than industry averages, is expenses going up while revenues are stagnating or decreasing.  Any one of these could be an indicator of poor employee engagement.

The good news is that employee engagement can be turned around.  Clear strategies from leadership, HR programs for feedback cycles, training and career planning as well as getting our mangers to manage the people will all go a long way to helping employee engagement.  With the high costs of recruitment and training can large businesses and organizations continually afford to recruit and train new employees in the workplace?  It is time to break the cycle and engage our staff and organization now, or find your business/organiztion behind the marketplace playing catch up to those 40% of the businesses that do care.



Chief Learning Officer (2013) ‘Weak Employee Engagement Affects Six out of Ten Large Firms’[Online]. Available at: (Accessed: October 5, 2013)

Franz, A.(2013) ‘Employee Engagement Stratgy? Nay! Leadership Strategy!’ [Online Blog]. CX Journey 31 May. Available at: (Accessed: October 5, 2013)

Temkin Group (2012) ‘The Five I’s of Employee Engagement’ [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: October 5, 2013)