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Loving What You Do: What Chicago Cubs Fans Can Teach Companies About Employee Engagement

Loving What You Do: What Chicago Cubs Fans Can Teach Companies About Employee Engagement

If you want to learn something about employee engagement,  it’s useful to consider Chicago Cubs fans for a moment.

Chicago Cubs fans aren’t world famous because they go to baseball games on pleasant days for a few late afternoon innings. No, Cubs fans are world famous because they show up in every kind of crazy weather, with a goat, a blue-faced baby, a Cubbies helmet head shave.  They stand on rooftops to solemnly witness another mid-summer defeat. They travel thousands of miles to make it to Arizona for another season of spring training.

Of course,  Cubs fans were elated when their team, after 107 years,  finally clinched a world series victory.  It was as if the whole city of Chicago sprouted wings of joy so it could savor sweet heaven for a while….

But here’s an important point for companies curious about employee engagement: Cubs fans didn’t need this victory to ignite them.  Long before the big win, Cubs fans were world  famous for their hope, dedication, and fierce loyalty. This is why companies can learn something from Cubs fans: they remind us all that engagement means a lot more than “showing up.”  Of course, attending games is an important part of being a fan. But the larger part of being a baseball fan is the emotional commitment that turns ordinary people, people who could just sit around, drink beer, barely pay attention on the third pitch of the seventh inning ,  into a pack of people who can– despite heat, bugs, itchy sunburn, a 14-game losing streak– remain focused and wholly committed as that third pitch is thrown.

Cubs fans provide a perfect illustration of what is meant by the word engaged: to be engaged means to be activated, invested, and personally connected to some cause or endeavor.

Cubs fans can also inspire corporations interested in  employee engagement.  What if your workers were as fired up, loyal, and dedicated as a crowd of Cubs fans?  What might that be like?  Gallup and Towers-Watson surveys offer a clue.  They have indicated that an engaged workforce is correlated with a 45% reduction in turnover, 13% upswing in productivity, and 12% gain in customer satisfaction.

Quite simply ? Engaged employees are much better employees. 

But in a way, even saying engaged employees are better misses the mark. It’s like comparing some bored dude from Toledo sitting in seat DD17 with an actual Cubs fan. Sure, Toledo guy is at the game, but no one would ever confuse him with a Cubs fan, or even an “underperforming Cubs fan.” He is in no way a Cubs fan.

Perhaps the easiest way of expressing the difference between engaged and unengaged employees is to note that an engaged employee doesn’t just “go to work,” she loves her job.

In fact, she loves her job so much she might even consider doing it for free if she didn’t have bills to pay, and that’s because the engaged employee is motivated.  She’s motivated  by a deep sense of connection, loyalty, and dedication that makes her job part of an important mission that is larger than herself . When this happens, her job isn’t just a job anymore.

Companies can experience this difference in work culture by nurturing a positive work environment that invites people to bring their whole self– their passions, ideas, and creativity— to the game.

When this kind of invitation isn’t offered, many employees may feel they have to wait until after work to express their energies, passions, and enthusiasms. This situation  means a lot of human potential remains untapped, which can result in a robotic, discontented, uninspired, and decidedly unfun workforce.

However, when a whole person is not only allowed, but encouraged to show up to work, employees change.  They may even start to resemble Cubs fans, because when people feel connected to a mission, and when they know that their own genuine, exuberant self is an important part of achieving the mission, they are moved to do whatever it takes to move the team forward.

 Can a company really expect employees to be as engaged and fired up as a crowd of Cubs fans? Is this a reasonable expectation?

To answer that question, it would be good for companies to reflect on what makes Cubs fans passionate.  The easiest answer is that Cubs fans are passionate because they are human.  It’s in our nature to care and connect.  But there’s another key here, which is that Cubs fans have been encouraged to express their natural human exuberance and enthusiasm. They have gotten the message from Chicago, Wrigley Field, Wrigleyville, and, of course,  their favorite ball club, that their investment and caring are not only allowed but much appreciated.

So, for companies  who want to experience a happier, more energetic and productive work force, there is good news here.  The good news is that people can be encouraged to bring more of themselves to work.  All they need is an invitation.  Invite employees to connect with their natural desire for tribe, mission, purpose and connectivity. Invite your employees to participate with their whole self and they will respond in kind.

This is one fantastic first step toward creating a happy, thriving, and ultimately sustainably successful workplace.

Wendy Maland is a writer and a college teacher for the past 20 years. After twenty years of writing, teaching writing, and meditating, Wendy knows that human beings are much happier and far more productive when nestled into connected, caring communities that encourage people to be more of who they are. She loves creating content that inspires companies to experience the many benefits of working in lively, happy, and connected workplace.

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