How You (and Your Clients) Can Feel Engaged at Work, Despite the Chaos

Rosie the RiveterAs we celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day last month, I struggled with our current climate.  The headlines are deeply troubling, and in stark contrast to the unity of our efforts during World War II. 

It occurs to me that if I’m having a hard time, you – and your clients – may be too.  My editorial calendar calls for an article on feeling engaged at work, and I’ve spent many days as a wellness coach wondering how to frame my thoughts.  It’s challenging to think about wellbeing and burnout when we’re bombarded frequently with difficult news.  In light of the dismal headlines, is it really so important that we feel engaged at work?

You bet it is.

In fact, in the coaching profession, there may never have been a more crucial time to be at our best, than now.  Our government is designed to help us and keep us safe, and there is an endpoint to what it can provide.  Where government ends, coaches, counselors, and nonprofits take over and make the world even better.  Your work is more important than ever.

And it’s about more than saving our world.  It’s about saving YOU.

According to Emiliana Simon-Thomas at the Greater Good Science Center, one of the pillars to feeling happy at work is engagement.  When you’re engaged at work, you feel energized and fulfilled.  You find yourself deeply immersed in activities and enjoy a sense of curiosity.  You also feel safe enough to share your true feelings and creative ideas, and you bring your whole, authentic self to the office. 

Sounds ideal, doesn’t it?  Few of us, however, actually feel energized at work – a whopping 87 percent of people around the globe report that they don’t feel engaged, according to a Gallup study.  This means these unhappy folks are unproductive and unmotivated, and some spread negativity in the workplace.

As I reflect on current events and also ponder how to be more engaged at work, I seek out role models.  Again and again, I turn to Rosie the Riveter.  She represents the women in the 1940’s who shattered glass ceilings while building ships, planes, tanks, and weapons.  Their round-the-clock efforts made the United States a military and economic world power by the end of World War II.

The Rosies weren’t initially welcome in the shipyards and factories.  But they kept showing up, day after day, demanding jobs.  When a foreman said “No,” what the Rosies heard was, “Not today.”

They showed up, without training, still haunted by the Great Depression, yet possessed by the absolute belief that they could make a difference.  They could do the job.

If you’re a coach, keep reading for tips on how to help your clients feel more engaged and create a culture of wellbeing at their workplace.

In her article, How to Be More Engaged at Work, Jessica Lindsey, with the Greater Good Science Center, describes four ways to feel more energized.  Let’s take her ideas and consider how the Rosies epitomized engagement.


  1. Exercise self-determination by aligning yourself with your core values and strengths

Our core values are our intrinsic guiding principles that we were likely born with.  It makes sense that the Rosies were motivated by their own deeply held beliefs.  Some, however, must have heard voices in their head whispering that they should stay away from shipyards and factories. . .

You don’t know how to weld.

Who are you to think you’ll make a difference?

Married women shouldn’t work outside the home.

You’re taking a man’s job.

In addition to our core values, we adopt values along the way from outside sources, such as our parents, friends, or media.  The results of these acquired values are the voices in our head that keep us from taking risks.  The Rosies who were most successful would have recognized what was true for them – that they could make a difference – and they set aside the acquired values that were holding them back.

I’m trained in Values2Wellbeing, and you might enjoy my previous post, where I discuss how understanding your core and acquired values will make you and your clients happier at work. 

The most successful Rosies also must have been gifted at expanding their perspective.  For example, they probably didn’t see their job as just welding joints together. Instead, they likely understood I’m building Victory Ships so that we can win the war.  “Cognitive crafting” describes our ability to see our job responsibilities in a new light, and it’s an important piece of helping your job fit you better.

  1. Celebrate Your Progress

We feel engaged and motivated at work when we make consistent, meaningful progress, according to researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer.  It’s no surprise that we feel less motivated after small setbacks.

By 1944, women made up 41 percent of the welders at the Kaiser yards in Richmond, California.  That shipyard launched 747 ships, more than any other yard in the country.  The shipyard community gathered to celebrate the launch of each new ship they built.  These ceremonies not only reflected pride in their achievements but highlighted their progress in a visual and exciting way.  Rosies stayed motivated with their profound sense of purpose – to win the war, and bring the boys home.

Do you and your clients celebrate the progress you make each day? Or, do you punish yourself for not meeting unrealistic deadlines?  Feeling grateful for your small wins will keep you motivated with an overwhelming workload. 

  1. Prioritize Activities that Feel Good

We’re more engaged at work if what we’re doing makes us happy, and sharing laughs with our co-workers is a great way to remember our foibles and common humanity.

I love imagining the Rosies laughing with each other during breaks, or at the end of their shifts.  They must have made mistakes as they learned how to weld and rivet, and how they responded to these goofs would have been critical to their long-term success.  They understood well that they were building ships to transport cargo, weapons, and men.  There was no room for error.  Yet they also would have benefited from seeing glitches as learning opportunities, and a sense of humor would have lightened their spirits. 

I also imagine the Rosies feeling deeply grateful.  Although they endured food shortages, sexism, and racism, they were thankful for their newly created jobs that helped end the Depression.  They were also grateful for innovative social programs, such as employee health care and child care, which made their work at the shipyards possible.  They cherished their years as defense workers.

Gratitude helps people connect to something larger than themselves, and it helps people deal with adversity.  Research shows gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness. 

What are you grateful for, at this moment?  If you’re like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed by the headlines and not feeling like your usual spiffy self.  There is always something to be thankful for, no matter how small, and at this moment I’m appreciating my dog Boo’s amazing sense of humor.  I laugh at her antics every day.

  1. Create Space for Flow

When we’re in a state of flow (coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) we enjoy being completely immersed in a task.  We forget about the outside world and focus intently on our activity.  We feel energized, creative, and productive as we lose track of time.

When I visited the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park in Richmond, California, I learned an exciting nugget of information.  Experts today often can tell the difference between joints welded by men and those by women.  It seems the Rosies brought a new precision to the industry, and their immaculate techniques created joints that look like embroidery.  Some of the ships they built still exist today.

The Rosies who welded joints with such attention to detail were surely in a state of flow, completely focused on their task.  What activities do you most enjoy?  When do you find yourself completely immersed?  How can your clients minimize distractions in the office, so they too can enjoy a state of flow?

Tips for Coaches

If you’re a coach and you want to help your clients feel engaged despite the chaos, be sure to:

  • Help your client understand how her responsibilities help her team, as well as her organization.  Ask your client about her important role in meeting her company’s mission.
  • Celebrate often!  Don’t wait until your client reaches a major goal, and instead celebrate small wins in each coaching session.  One effective technique is to ask your client at the beginning of each session what he’s celebrating today.
  • Encourage your client to see setbacks as learning opportunities, every time.  Create a safe space so she can openly share with you not only what happened, but how she and her team might do things differently next time.
  • Help your client understand his core values, as well as his favorite activities at work that inspire joy and fulfillment.  If he’s upset by the headlines, see if the mission at his work helps him feel vibrant and engaged.  It’s possible he may want to volunteer at another organization outside of work.
  • Ask your client how she experiences a state of flow, and help her discover how to create a supportive environment at work.  She may need to give herself permission to keep her smartphone tucked away, shut her door, or respond to emails on a limited basis.  In addition, she may realize she can complete certain projects more efficiently at home.  Help her think through the components of an effective conversation with her boss, where she requests changes in her work environment.  If she is a team leader, assist her in understanding the power of modelling healthy behavior.

Marsha Mather-Thrift, the executive director of the Rosie the Riveter Trust, describes the women as, “Ordinary people who did extraordinary things, motivated by the need to help others.”  The Rosies show us how to fight our present-day despair. 

We are not superheroes.  We are ordinary, troubled, wobbly humans but together, we can accomplish extraordinary things. 

We can do it!


About the Author

Danielle Collins is pioneering a movement to create a culture of wellbeing where employees in the nonprofit world are cherished.  Using a values-based approach, she helps dedicated people who are burning out to renew their passion.  Danielle earned her Associate Certified Coach credential and is also a National Board Certified – Health and Wellness Coach.