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Part 2: Engagement or non-engagement – it’s all about emotions.

Aug 15, 2018 | Blog, News, NEWS2USE

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When we begin to see emotions as ‘energy seeking purpose’ we can understand the simple truism that employees will move towards that which they find appealing, and away from that which is not. The required skill is to be able to identify the emotional drivers.

In the previous posting we identified the emotional drivers of engaged employees. And we suggested that we should see ‘emotions’ as ‘energy seeking purpose’.

E = energy       M = motion.

It is a simple psychological truism that we are drawn to what we find appealing (positive motivation) and we move away from what we find distasteful or threatening (negative emotion). It follows that the emotional experience of employee engagement is in the ‘towards’ direction; that is pursuing an attractive purpose. By contrast the emotional experience of non-engagement will either be neutral, essentially unmotivated, or in the ‘away from’ direction; that is an impulse to avoid. Before analysing the emotions of active disengagement let us look at a simple model of emotions.

A good benchmark for engagement would be joyful and fulfilling workplace experience as including (i) gratitude, (ii) positive expectations, (iii) self-confidence, and (iv) enriching relationships. Here we must emphasise the importance of a defined sense of purpose to enable those experiences.

The ‘away from’ emotions characterising non-engagement can be briefly described in four categories, namely; (i) mad, (ii) scared, (iii) sad, and (iv) averse.


In the ‘mad’ category the essential experience is one of being trapped in a situation or feeling prevented from pursuing intentions and aspirations. Something is blocking the way to achieving that which is desired or intended. This feeling can then range in intensity from mild irritation, through frustration, to resentment, to anger, and ultimately to blind rage. That, of course, is when things tend to get ‘trashed’.

In the ‘scared’ category the essential experience is of being apprehensive about the future. The mind is more engaged with negative expectations than the good stuff. This feeling can then range in intensity from concern, to anxiety, to worry, to fear and ultimately to terror. And that is when folks freeze into inactivity.

In the ‘sad’ category the essential experience is of some loss of value. Something important that was previously available is no longer there, or it is either slipping away or has been taken away. This feeling of loss can range in intensity from mild disappointment, to sadness, to grief, and ultimately to devastation. Whether it is the incremental experience of a loss of positive feedback, or even just missing those small regular reassurances, or the greater shock of retrenchment, the effect on self-esteem is energy robbing and demotivating.

In the ‘averse’ category the essential experience is of dealing with something that is an affront to personal values and preferences. It is being confronted with something that is disliked, or simply goes against the grain. This aversion can include having to work with persons with different notions of behavioural etiquette, or even challenging cultural values, and it can include having to do things for which there is no natural aptitude. More seriously it includes being required to do things that challenge personal morals. With aversion the feeling can range from mild discomfort, through intense dislike, even to disgust. And that’s when people will simply walk out of a job.

With this understanding of emotions, we can now begin to analyze both challenges of non-engagement and active disengagement. And what we will likely discover is that both phenomena can represent a toxic mix of the negative emotions described above. There could be fear, for example, arising from uncertainty. There could be a loss of self-esteem resulting from the absence of positive feedback. There could be dislike of having to do a job that is experienced as demeaning, or trivial, or immoral, or even unfair. Note that with active disengagement, there will likely be a strong sense feeling trapped in a situation from which there is little escape. The outlet for this resentment then easily becomes expressed in undermining the workplace.

Read here about the disturbingly prevalent of this experience in the South African workplace.

We will examine this phenomenon more closely next week. Most importantly, we will explore creative ways of redirecting that misplaced energy.


Email: [email protected]   Skype: claudiuspvwyk

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