January 9, 2013
Much is said about a company’s responsibility to create an environment that fosters an engaged workforce, one in which employees are fully involved and enthusiastic. And while it’s true that employers should treat their employees fairly, provide them with achievement opportunities, recognize their contributions, and promote cooperative relations with others, employees also have a responsibility.
Yesterday afternoon, I went to my local Home Depot to pick up, among other things, a 3-volt battery for my home’s furnace humidifier. Unlike a standard AA or AAA battery, a 3-volt battery is unique and, therefore, not as familiar to me. To make sure I selected the correct type, I brought the old 3-volt battery into the store with me.
After searching the battery rack, I approached a woman standing in front of the self-service checkout lanes, held up the battery, and asked, “Where could I find one of these?”
Indifferent toward my question, she pointed to the battery rack behind me and said, “Over there.”
About that time, another employee approached me and said, “Here, let’s take a look.”
Together, we scanned the battery rack. Unfortunately, they were out of 3-volt batteries so I left the area in search of some other items that were on my list. When I returned to the self-checkout lanes a few minutes later, I noticed the woman I’d approached earlier leaning back against the center register and yawning widely.
Just then, we made eye contact. To my astonishment, she sighed loudly and said, “I started at 7:30 this morning and it still feels like 7:30. I’m just going to walk out of here. It’s awful. I don’t want to experience this again.” (Those were her exact words.)
Some might say that this employee’s behavior exposes The Home Depot’s inability to create an environment that fosters an engaged workforce. To me, this encounter reinforces the truth that the quality of an employee’s work environment is not determined by the effectiveness of his or her employer’s engagement strategies. Rather, it’s ultimately decided by the employee’s chosen demeanor and willingness to expend discretionary effort in the service of others (customers and coworkers). There’s a point at which the company’s responsibility to create an engaged workforce stops and the employee’s responsibility to demonstrate that he or she is engaged starts.
Like the listless Home Depot employee, we’ve all had days that have crept along at a snail’s pace. And there have likely been times when we’ve all wished to be someplace other than work. At times like these, we must be intentional about exercising enthusiasm in the moment of choice. Doing so will reenergize us, enliven the service that we provide others, and accelerate the clock!
Consider our Home Depot friend. When I first approached her with my 3-volt battery, instead of lazily pointing in the direction of the battery rack and saying, “Over there,” she could have expressed genuine interest by requesting the sample battery I held up and, while escorting me to the battery rack, said, “This is an unusual battery. What’s it for?”
Then, after learning that I have a home furnace humidifier and assisting me with the battery, she could have said, “How often does your system advise that you replace the filters?”
This question could lead to all sorts of possibilities. For instance, what if I responded, “Filters? Isn’t there just one filter?”
She might have answered, “Depending on their size, home furnace humidifiers have at least two filters: one filters the air, the other filters the water. Most manufacturers suggest that you replace each filter twice a year.”
By sharing her “insider” (unique) knowledge about the proper maintenance of a home furnace humidifier the employee not only adds a spark to her customer encounter, she also better serves the customer through her counsel, and creates an opportunity to generate more sales for her employer. Everybody wins!
Employers have a responsibility to treat employees fairly, provide achievement opportunities and recognition, and promote cooperative employee relations. Beyond that, it’s up to employees to exercise enthusiasm in order to renew their personal energy, enliven the service they provide to others, and make the workday hum.
How do you exercise enthusiasm at work?
Illustration by Aaron McKissen