Monday, September 22, 2014

The hidden side of disengagement

Employee engagement is said to be a good thing. More than any skill set, degree, certification, employers look for people who will be actively engaged in their work, or, in plainer, crosser terms: really give a shit about their job. It is seemingly good from the worker's perspective too; as we all are too keenly aware, we spend more waking hours at work with the random assortment of people we did not specifically chose to spend our lives with than we do outside of work, with the people we chose, the people we gave birth to, the people in our social circles. So, given that, wouldn't we rather be engaged i.e. actively interested in our job?

I worked for 12 years at a job where engagement didn't begin to describe my feelings towards it. I was engaged, married and actively intimate with my job. I was knee and elbow deep in every way possible with the company where I worked. I loved what I did. I felt recognized, rewarded in almost every way (financially being the exception). My co-workers were great; I could not have been more "engaged". But here is the hidden side to engagement... When something goes wrong (and in software companies something goes wrong all the freaking time) that feeling of engagement and involvement transforms into obsession, worry, sleepless nights wondering, thinking about which line of code is crapping out, why it is working on my machine but not on theirs, tossing and turning, driving into the office at 2 am to try out one potential solution RIGHT NOW. Oh yes, engagement has its downside.

Disengagement in work, on the other hand, means one spends a large chunk of one's life pursuing something without much personal meaning. Being disengaged in my work feels like everything is sort of happening in a bubble somewhere "over there". I hear talk of hugely impacting bugs or massive looming deadlines bugs and my thought is "oh wow, that sounds really bad. Oh look, it's 5 pm - time to go home! What are we having for dinner tonight?" I work hard. I care. I do my best. Between 9 am - 5 pm. All work related thoughts simply evaporate from my head the moment I walk out the door. It's rather liberating but also a little sad. Recently someone asked me what I do as a job and I really struggled to provide a meaningful description.

It's been 6 months now. I no longer fear I will be fired every single day. I no longer fear I will run away screaming every day. I have developed a deeper understanding of how I can be useful and what skills I will have to develop in myself in order to succeed. I am taking a night class to develop my skill set. I am well paid. I don't call in sick when I am not. I get along with people. On the surface everything seems ok. And maybe is just how it into work in a larger company. Maybe what I am describing is the norm, but still I struggle to find any meaning on a day to day basis. Something doesn't fit quite right. It has been six months. It feels like it is taking a long time to break these shoes in!

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