engagementIf you’re struggling to feel genuine engagement in the work you’re doing for pay – or perhaps even in the parenting you’re doing on the home front – you are most certainly not alone.  Whether we’re concerned about how to engage a team of remote direct reports, or how to get our own heads “back in the game” after parental leave, engagement is an important daily concern.

I am honored to welcome Donovan Baddley to the Mindful Return blog today.  He’s here to shed light on the deep and real factors that actually drive engagement in our workplaces.  Donovan studies this topic from an executive coaching lens. He also happens to be a working dad who gets the challenges that come with feeling engaged while combining work + family.  Welcome, Donovan!


Much media attention has been given in recent years to the idea of ‘quiet quitting.’ The term is meant to refer to a pandemic-fueled phenomenon, in which an employee simply stops doing the work while continuing to collect a paycheck. Those of us who work in organizational, team, and individual talent development recognize that these clickbaity articles do not reveal a ‘new normal’ phenomenon.  Rather, they assign a buzzy name to good, old fashioned disengagement.

Similarly, for those of us who are working parents and caregivers, the motivational scramble and disengaging effect of the pandemic have a whiff of familiarity. A previous major reckoning with the meaning of work in our lives had already come with the arrival of another being who was solely dependent on us for sustenance and support.

We had already looked our career in the eye. Held it up against the profound context of the moment. And asked it to tell us what its intentions were for our lives and the lives of those who counted on us.  So when the pandemic similarly reflected its blinding light off of our careers and into our eyes, did we blink? Well yes. Of course we blinked. And some of us quit, and did so loudly and proudly.  Why?  Because it was the right thing for us and our families.

But the rest of us needed to reengage with work.  Yet again. It turns out that engagement is a fickle and contextually contingent thing. Just because you are feeling motivated today doesn’t mean you will show up that way tomorrow. Whether it’s a global pandemic, a new baby at home, a co-worker resigning, or even a traffic-snarled commute, things happen to disrupt our motivation and challenge our engagement all the time. My colleagues at Avion Consulting and I have experienced this ourselves. We have discussed it in countless coaching conversations and workshops. And we identified it is a primary concern of many of our clients.

So, we got curious. What drives engagement, really? How can we help individuals, leaders, and organizations to harness it?  A review of the research and our own collective gut check quickly told us that true engagement doesn’t come from promises of external reward or threats of punishment. In fact, there is compelling research suggesting that things like pay raises and rewards-based employee recognition programs can actually decrease engagement over time. It’s clear that sustained engagement comes from inside of us.  Those intrinsic motivations that fuel our will to get out of bed in the morning and give at least a little bit more effort than we have to.

This is not exactly a revolutionary insight. Whether through a review of the academic research or a simple sense of self-awareness, organizational psychologists and laypeople alike understand that internal drive is exponentially more powerful than being dragged along by outside forces. The tougher questions are: How do we build intrinsic motivation within ourselves?  And how do we apply it to remain engaged through both the profound and the mundane circumstances life throws at us? We think we’ve come up with a pretty good answer for this, which we call The Inner Drivers of Engagement.  (You can read about them in more detail in this whitepaper on our website.)

The Inner Drivers of Engagement model is a tool you can use in moments of major disruption and challenge in your personal or professional life.  Yes, these are moments parents experience more or less daily! By reflecting and acting upon each of the drivers below, you can engage more deeply with all of the roles you play in life. And hopefully feel more happy and fulfilled as you do it.


Driver 1 – Integrated Self: Who are you?

We feel motivated when we bring a sense of personal identity to the endeavor at hand. We are all shaped by our life experiences and the values they have given us.  The more we are able to be a genuine version of ourselves, the more engaged we will be.

3 tips to bring this driver to life:

  • Identify your defining values. For example, taking care of others, being innovative, etc. Then, connect each value back to your life experience and to your experience at work. Did you learn the value from your parents? Did it emerge from a personal tragedy or triumph? How have your values changed over time? How can you better live your values at work?
  • Keep meaningful personal possessions on your desk or in your virtual meeting background. Don’t be shy about using them as conversation starters with your co-workers.
  • Consider getting involved in employee resource groups (ERGs) and other diversity and inclusion initiatives. Either as someone who identifies as a member of the group or as an ally. (Here are some suggestions for getting a working parent or caregiver group off the ground at your organization, if there isn’t one already in place.)

Driver 2 – Competence: What are you capable of? 

We want to feel a sense of growing competence. We want to feel we are using our full skillset in pursuit of impact and results. Continually building our expertise and feeling useful is a powerful recipe for motivation and engagement.

3 tips to bring this driver to life:

  • Complete a skills inventory. Make a list of the primary skills you use at work and ways you can get even better at them. Make a list of skills you have but rarely or never use at work and ways you can more regularly deploy them. Finally, make a list of skills you desire but don’t yet have, and ways you can develop them. Discuss your inventory with your manager and co-workers.
  • Seek out training opportunities and look for mentors wherever you can find them. On the flip side, find opportunities to train and mentor others.
  • Look for new ways to challenge yourself at work. Also, don’t be afraid to embrace failure as a learning opportunity.

Driver 3 – Autonomy: What is the best version of you? 

We have a strong desire to control the way we manage ourselves and get things done. When we have a sense of personal accountability, self-direction, and proactivity, we have the motivation and the engagement to give our best effort.

3 tips to bring this driver to life:

  • Make a list of your most important personal and professional priorities. Hold this list up next to a list of the things you are actually devoting the most time and effort to. Think about the underlying reasons for any discrepancies. Then make a plan to adjust and realign accordingly.
  • Stay proactive rather than reactive, by spending a few minutes creating and/or revising your to-do list as your first activity every morning. You can also be proactive by shutting down your email for at least a few minutes several times a day, during the workday.
  • Identify at least one new or lapsed self-care activity. Treat it as a part of your job by scheduling a time to do it on your work calendar. (It can be done outside of working hours.)

Driver 4 – Relatedness: Who is with you?

We are social beings who need to feel a sense of interdependence with our group. Connecting with our community and understanding the ways in which we rely on others and they rely on us is a powerful fuel for intrinsic motivation and a key driver of engagement.

3 tips to bring this driver to life:

  • Map out your key relationships at work and diagnose the level of connection and mutual trust in those relationships. Make a plan to strengthen, repair, or create relationships with everyone on your map.
  • Turn at least one would-be email per day into a phone call or virtual meeting where you can spend a few moments connecting with a co-worker in person.
  • Get in the habit of recognizing co-workers and direct reports not just for doing their work, but for the ways in which their work enables others on the team to contribute. Think about how your own tasks and responsibilities enable others. And regularly ask for the feedback of those on your team as to how you can better support them.

If the last few years of inviting our work into our most personal times and spaces has taught us anything, it’s that the line between our professional identity and our personal context is drawn in pencil. No matter what the world or our own lives has in store for us next, we can see it through by understanding and applying our own Inner Drivers of Engagement.

engagementDonovan Baddley is a Principal with Avion Consulting, a leadership, team, and organizational development firm. His areas of focus include employee engagement, executive coaching and team building, and leadership assessment and transition programs. He lives just outside of New York City with his wife and two wonderfully precocious children.

The Inner Drivers of Engagement model offers 4 distinct ‘drivers’ that can be used as a coaching method, applied to the design of programs for working parents and other training and employee resources, and brought to life for individuals in an Avion-led workshop experience. It also provides a collaboration framework organizations can use to ensure they are holding up their end of the bargain in creating environments where intrinsic motivation and its resulting engagement are most likely to flourish.



Back to Work After Baby

Want more practical tips on working parenthood?  Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave

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