The Key to Employee Engagement - Don't Hire Clock Watchers
Note to Those Wishing to Turbocharge Career Search: Use the Word "Titantic" on Your Way Out in Print...

3 Big Ways to Look Engaged/Passionate When You Have to Watch the Clock...

You know, as a VP of HR, I'm pretty black and white when it comes to considering whether someone is engaged in what they do for a living.  Like most of you, I like to see someone passionate about what they do, and I think I know the signs of a clock watcher.

Which brings us to the rub of that perspective.  You've got a company (big or small), and it's going to beClockwatcher comprised of team members in various stages of life and work/life circumstances.  It's easy to look engaged when you can spend 60-80 hours a week on the job and simply outwork people. 

Of course, many folks can't simply choose to outwork their co-workers for whatever it is they value on the job - whether it's the next promotion, more money or the public professions of "why can't you be more like Bobby" from their boss.  As Debbie Brown commented in a recent engagement piece at the Capitalist, people who have to pick up the kids face a dubious choice:

"The only exception I take is the passionate parent that has little one to pick up that has day care deadlines with hefty financial penalties by the minute. I have seen these passionate workers get very stressed when they want to plow ahead at the office, yet have no choice but to watch the clock- and frankly are torn- let's give those folks a shout out- these are great people too!"

Debbie's observations are absolutely correct, yet I've never seen someone who didn't outwork others emerge with the tag as "most engaged" in any workgroup.  No, it's almost always the grinder who puts in extra time (and hopefully adds extra value) who is viewed as the most engaged.

So, what's a working mom or dad to do?  If you've got to pick up the kids at 5:15pm every day but want to be viewed as a hard-working player with the tag of "most engaged", I humbly offer these 3 simple suggesstions:

1.  Have a big win in the hopper at all times (1 is plenty) and deliver on it. The day job is what you get paid to do.  Everyone expects that.  Stars get the day job stuff done but are always working on "game changers" - things that, if executed, can make a real difference to the business.  They get the stuff you expect done, but always have a game changer in the hopper.  You leave at 5pm every day, that's fine.  Where's your game changer coming from?  How are you going to find time to work on it?

2.  Tether thyself and use thy tether.  You've got a blackberry or an iPhone that's connected to email.  Use it.  You don't have to wear it out, but if you refuse to use it after hours out of principle, you're creating your own prison (shout out to Creed). Don't want to use the tether?  That's OK, but you allow others to define you on their terms.

3.  Keep the balls in the air when you aren't there.  So you have to leave at 5pm every day, but you keep email flowing after hours with your blackberry/iPhone.  Good job, but it's not enough.  If you want to be viewed as engaged, you've got to counter the suck ups who can stay until 8pm.  To do that, not only do you need to use your tether after hours, but you need to keep the flow going when you're on vacation. 

I know, it sucks. But I didn't say you weren't world class at what you do just because you leave at 5pm.  I said that if the world defines you as non-engaged because of that, you've got to do things differently to make sure you don't get stereotyped. 



Here's my concern about your premise.
When, truly, did working 60-80 hours per week add value? In my experience, it adds to exhaustion and burnout more than anything else.

As we move forward, and the concepts of balance in our professional and personal lives becomes a topic in the forefront of discussions instead of a peripheral, I think there will be more of a backlash against the 60 hour work week. It may make us the most productive nation in the world, but I think it also makes us the grouchiest.

Just because you want to send me an email at 9:30pm on a Saturday night, doesn't mean I should have an obligation to respond to it, or be penalized when I'm spending that time doing something other than work.

I mean, seriously, I don't need to have the conversation at 930 on Saturday night about something that no one can do ANYTHING about until Monday. I'm glad you think its important, make yourself a note, lets discuss it on Monday. I've already put in my 60 hours.

Vioce Of Reason

Couldn't agree more. I know the people who claim to "work" the 80 hour weeks as well. Seems like half the time I'm working, I can hear them in the office on their cell phone trying to coordinate babysitters and other personal matters.

You've either got to balance, or one or the other is going to suffer. You make the choice... Is it going to be your family or your job. This 80 hours a week talk and contantly being tethered to your blackberry is garbage. Get a life!


I am of the same view point as tlcolson on this one. I don't believe that just because someone is at work more than another co-worker necessarily means that they are being more productive. I think co's should focus more on balance in the workplace and not just for those that have families. I mean truthfully isn't the point of a vacation to give an employee a reprieve from the demands of work? And I am of the mindset that if you are preparing yourself and/or your co-workers for a vacation everything should be covered enough so that you don't need to be attached to your email or blackberry.


I understand the points above, but really think it depends on your level and your organization's culture. If you want / need to prioritize your personal life over your work life there can be a cost and people need to realize that.

I have never seen anyone "have it all". If you want to advance to a senior level there are often expectations around your engagement. If your company is paying for your blackberry there is a reason for it. They expect you to be connected when you are not at the office. If you don't want that responsibility, you should find a job or company that does not come with that expectation.

For me, personally, this not an issue. I enjoy my work and while I also enjoy my time away I like to feel connected and on top of what is going on back at the office. To me, a few minutes here and there checking in is a very small price to pay for my career.

Kris Dunn

Hey Guys -

I get the reaction on work life balance. Agree with Michelle's point that if you want balance, that's a choice.

Fortunately, there is a way. None of you commented on #1 on my list - the big win. Keep the buses running on time and deliver a big win quarterly, and you can leave anytime you want and put the blackberry down in the evenings...

BUT... you have to deliver a BIG WIN....



Corporations should be aware that consumers are necessary for them to stay in business, a steady flow of consumers, which means a steady flow of babies. While this is not going to happen, let's say that 25% fewer children were born each year over the next ten years. How would your industry fare? If you manufacture disposable diapers, you'd get hit pretty hard, as would pediatric hospitals, and makers of baby clothes. As time passed, the trickle down would affect most industries to one degree or another. Overall, corporate growth is predicated on population growth, not just maintenance. Just one more reason for corporations to get family friendly.


Aine.... Never really thought about it that way, but it's a great point.

Kim Bailey

Life has always been about what you are willing to pay. There is simply a cost for everything...think back to your economics 101 folks. My father always said, "there is no such thing as a free lunch." and he was right. If you want to go into executive levels at work, then home takes a back seat. If you want to improve your home/marriage/parenting life, then work takes a back seat.

I think Kris' best point isn't that whatever we choose has a cost, but rather that if we are looking for ways to add value (those big wins), in BOTH our work and home lives, then that is probably as good as it gets.

Keep in mind....some people will never work past 5. While others will only see their kids at kindegarten and high school graduation........WHO WINS???? WHO KNOWS?? It is a question of your personal priorities so long as you realize, it is all your choice.

I know my choices and I can live with them. I'd love to have it all, but in the absence of all, I'll take the things highest on my list.

Great converstaion here!

Michael Salamey

This is an Industrial Revolution mindset in the Information Age. There is no reason to sacrifice work/life balance for a successful career if we stop managing by Time + Presence = Results. With the advent of new paradigms like a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), "clock-watching" should be a relic of times long past.

The con-game with "Work/Life Balance" is that "work" occurs IN "life"--they are not two separate things. It is no longer necessary to compromise one for the other when there is technology and possibilities that offer both.

To me, it is shameful that corporations and people in leadership roles are living in 2010 as if it is 1984 (figuratively and literally).

Here are some options to tethering yourself, keeping balls in the air, and "the big win":

1. Make all your wins big. Produce results, not water-cooler chat.

2. Tether yourself as necessary. With e-mail, cell-phones, Google Voice, and a Laptop--you are the master of your work, not the other way around. If working at 3am is your most productive time, get to it. If working at 5p is best for you, get the job done at 5.

3. Keep the balls in the air when you're not there? See number 2. There is no reason to be there. Do your job from the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower. Is there anywhere someone can not get hold of you today?

Show you are engaged by producing results instead of time drooling in front of a screen, begging for the mercy of the second-hand to free you.

Work does not have to suck. And when it legitimately does not, engagement is not an issue.

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