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The writer with some of the participants in his Prolintas training programme.
The writer with some of the participants in his Prolintas training programme.

I have just started a series of programmes for non-executives at Projek Lintasan Kota Holdings or Prolintas, Malaysia’s second largest highway concessionaire or Build-Operate-Transfer entity.

And at each session, I begin by asking the same question: “Why do you come to work?”

The first answer I get is that people come to work for the necessary money to generate their lifestyle choices. I suppose this is true, at a fundamental level, for all of us.

But a Gallup poll from 2018 indicates that 85% of the people in the world hate their jobs. This means that if you arbitrarily select 10 people, it would appear that 9 out of them will tell you that they hate their jobs. I reckon this is a staggeringly shocking statistic.

There is sufficient data suggesting that vast numbers of employees are disengaged at work.

Of course, there are organisation-specific reasons why employees are so disconnected. Issues like bad management, low transparency, being overworked and underpaid, a severely toxic work environment and so on, play a role on how people feel about their work.

But sometimes the issue is much closer to you. It is to do with your own personal motivation and an understanding of why you actually come to work.

To deliver better results for my client Prolintas and to be of real help to the trainees attending my programme, I delved deeper to find a way to codify or to think systematically about why so many people are disengaged.

My objective was to help the participants cognize what their own problem might be.

So, here are my three most important ideas on why you might be disengaged at work, and some suggestions on how to overcome them.

I start with the first and most obvious reason for coming to work; to earn money.

If you are dissatisfied with the amount of money you earn each month, it is really going to be hard to like your job. Nearly everyone in my training programmes feel that they are underpaid. Not just in the one I mention above, but in all my programmes.

The salary you earn is directly proportionate to the perceived value of your skills and knowledge. Therefore, if you want more money, you must increase your perceived value.

And, you become valuable only when you add value to others. If you just do what is listed in your job description, this really isn’t that special. Of course, it is crucial that you do what’s expected of you, but this is not what I mean when I say you have to enhance value.

When you do things that are over and beyond what is expected of you, then you are truly adding value. As your additional contributions produce measurable outcomes for your company; help make a better workplace; add to profitability or long-term sustainability; you will increase your personal value.

It’s a cycle. You want more money because it is a motivator but for this, you need to add value, first.

The next demotivator is the “nine to five, time for money trap” as some would call it.

You probably work anywhere between 40 to 60 hours per week, on average. And most of you will moan about your long work day, and that you don’t have enough free time for friends, family, and yourself.

However, this is the reality you have accept; that it’s the norm around most of the world to work a minimum 8-hour day. Naturally, you feel trapped in your office, and you are counting down on how much working time is left before you can “escape” for the day.

How do you break this time for money trap, if you are not self-employed?

The only way is to increase your personal value at work by being efficient; by being valuable to others; and by learning to develop strong relationships with your line leaders.

When you successfully do this, you can “negotiate” your time better. That’s how the most successful executives operate, because their ability to ask for more benefits, like flexi-time, increases exponentially.

The third major reason for disengagement at the workplace has to do with your co-workers, because many of you will have tense relationships with your boss or some of your collea


Again, the reality is that having a toxic boss or a dysfunctional colleague is a very high possibility in modern day workplaces. Such relationships decrease your productivity and at times, can even damage your health.

How do you manage toxicity at your workplace?

What stands out with people who succeed in companies, notwithstanding any toxicity, is that they are absolutely focussed and clear about their purpose, and why they actually come to work. They stay connected with this driving emotion, and deftly navigate the complexities of difficult bosses, or colleagues.

The key is to be personally interested in creating and delivering as much value as you can, for yourself.

Care immensely about what you do, and as you do this steadily, your motivation to get engaged with your work becomes increasingly more sustainable.

Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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