If you were on almost any social media platform in the last couple of weeks you could almost hear the strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.  This is convocation season at universities and social media sites have been inundated with proud graduates announcing and celebrating their achievements.

Although I spend most of my non-teaching days in jeans and a t-shirt and I go to great lengths to avoid formality, I have always enjoyed convocations.  I like everything about it.  I enjoy being part of the academic procession and wearing my own academic gown (a subtle little number in bright red with blue lapels and gold trim – the Queen’s tricolour).  Each university has its own gowns and colours so when the faculty join the procession there is a riot of colours and oddly shaped floppy hats right out of the Middle Ages.  For the most part, I enjoy the speeches – although if the speaker starts to ramble I have also discovered that the convocation program booklet is a standard size that will neatly conceal my Kobo reader.  I like the symbolism of the robes, hoods and the ceremony of conferring degrees on the candidates. Basically, I like the whole spectacle.

My favorite part is the post-convocation reception that my university always hosts.  There I get to see my students who are graduating and often meet their parents and families.  It is a great moment – a real celebration.   Typically, I have not seen these students for a couple of months. Classes are long since over and the graduates have already begun what for many is their first career job. I always make a point to ask them what they are doing and how they find their new career.

“I love it!” – the answer is almost always the same.  They tell me about the exciting work they do, the great company they work for and the team that they have joined[1].  They are clearly motivated, inspired and engaged.  Their answers stand in stark contrast to the literature on engagement that suggests that [a] most employees NOT engaged in their jobs and [b] those figures have not changed appreciably in 30 years or so despite the millions of dollars that have been spent on identifying the predictors of engagement and the characteristics of good, healthy work environments[2].

So, here’s a thought.  What if we started by trying to eliminate the negatives – the aspects of work that destroy motivation -the workplace bullying[3], the destructive leaders[4], and the other working conditions that attack the dignity of the individual[5].   Let’s be less worried about trying to create “engagement” and more focused on creating work environments that don’t crush the motivation that these new employees bring with them.  As my post-convocation conversations attest, they were engaged when they left here – trying to ensure that they stay that way seems to be a goal worth pursuing.

[1]Kelloway, E.K., Inness, M., Barling, J., Francis, L. & Turner, N. (2010). Loving one’s job:  Construct development and implications for individual well-being.  In P.L. Perrewe and D.C. Ganster (Eds).  New Developments in Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches to Job Stress, Research in Occupational Stress and WellBeing, Volume 8(109-136). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

[2]Day, A., Kelloway, E.K. & Hurrell, J.J. (Eds., 2014) Workplace Wellbeing: How to build a psychologically health workplace. Wiley

[3]Cregran, B. & Kelloway, E.K. (in press).  Physical intimidation and bullying in the workplace. In P.D. Cruz et al. Handbook of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment 4.  Springer.

[4]Kelloway, E.K., Sivanthan, N., Francis, L. & Barling, J. (2005). Poor Leadership in Barling, J., Kelloway, E.K. & Frone, M. Handbook of Workplace Stress,Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

[5]Kelloway, E.K. (2017).  The Dignity of Labor: Dignity as a core resource. In A.M. Rossi, J.A. Meurs and P. Perrewe (Eds). Stress and the Quality of Working Life, 6thEdition.  Information Age Publishing


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