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Staff Engagement - 12 October 2010

Last week, the man in this picture, Liu Xiaobo, won the Nobel Peace Prize. He didn’t accept the award in person because he’s currently serving an 11-year prison term – the fourth time he’s been locked up for peacefully advocating democracy in China.

Despite receiving endless threats by the communist government over three decades, Liu has remained engaged with his work. Despite being incarcerated in labour camps, he’s remained committed to his vision. Despite having his phone calls tapped, his internet movements scrutinised, his documents vetted, his computers confiscated, and his every action monitored, he has remained fully engaged.

Yet in the corporate workplace – where obstacles are nowhere near as harmful – people are commonly more enraged than engaged. The key to promoting more of the latter can be found in two places: the first is the statement Liu gave at his latest trial, and the second is a study by Harvard researchers who discovered the four main drivers that engage us.

“No force can block the human desire for freedom,” said Liu on behalf of the Chinese people, displaying the drive to acquire. At work, this includes superficial items (such as status and bonuses) as well as more meaningful stuff like job fulfilment and autonomy. It’s also about how fairly performance is rewarded and the competitiveness of your salaries.

“I have no enemies, and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested and interrogated me, the prosecutors who prosecuted me, or the judges who sentence me, are my enemies. While I'm unable to accept your surveillance, arrest, prosecution or sentencing, I respect your professions and personalities.”

What Liu eloquently demonstrated there was the drive to bond. At work, this is the need to have caring relationships, which is influenced by the support your employees have, not only from you but also from each other. There’s a greater likelihood of this being met when collaboration is valued and when managers are people-focused.

“I hope therefore to be able to transcend my personal vicissitudes in understanding the development of the state and changes in society, to counter the hostility of the regime with the best of intentions, and defuse hate with love.”

Liu’s humility in that sentence showcases the drive to comprehend. At work, this has a lot to do with learning and is best seen in environments that encourage employees to be curious. The setting of challenges, the attainment of knowledge, and the gaining of new skills are all important factors, as is the desire to be doing work that’s meaningful.

“I was never again allowed to publish or speak in public in China. Simply for expressing divergent political views and taking part in a peaceful and democratic movement, a teacher lost his podium, a writer lost the right to publish, and a public intellectual lost the chance to speak publicly. This was a sad thing, both for myself as an individual, and, after three decades of reform and opening, for China.”

And that is the drive to defend. At work, this is associated with providing employees with opportunities to respond to perceived threats, whatever they may be. Work environments that excel at this are characterised by open and transparent communication, trustworthy managers, and a workplace free of intimidation.

When those four drivers are in concert, engagement at work can be achieved. In their absence, it’s the workplace equivalent of an authoritarian regime.


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