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 be 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.