We generally hear about employee engagement being defined as that intangible quality which exists within an employee that stimulates him or her to work that additional discretionary hour beyond what is required for the basic performance of his or her job. In the Western world, we usually think this comes from having “cool work” or having engrained adopted the company’s philosophies and strategies for the future. What this translates to is that there is a pride of work and company that employees are stimulated by to achieve more. Often, we target our engagement communications to heighten these specific factors. However, this idea of engagement is not always true across the world.
As the world spreads into Asia and specifically China, there may be a case to be made that the exact opposite may be factors for engagement. In fact, we’ve already seen it in Japan where rather than a sense of personal pride in the work, many asian countries have replaced the personal pride with an aggregated sense of community pride in the work. The personal level is redefined as the fear of shame, letting down the community and the group. In many Asian cultures, the idea of shame or “losing face” is so powerful that working hard in order to not let down the community is much more powerful than the idea of personal pride and self promotion.
The reason these comparisons are so important is that we have a very different way of thinking about not only engagement in the Western world, but this impacts how we think about collaboration. We’ve seen innovation being clearly tied to collaboration in an ever increasing way, but we fail to change our core motives to allow individuals to perform at their best with the team or group involved. Instead, many of the communications and rewards are still tightly tied to individual performance, and we really don’t always know how to even approach a conversation about working in teams.
Rather than suggesting that instilling a sense of shame into our workforce as the correct course, I would suggest that a better combination and commitment to the team is certainly in order. We create teams as collections of individuals with unique skillsets. Some form of the opposite has successfully existed in Japan for decades of industry, and as we utilize Asia more often and approach a world where collaborative innovation is a primary goal of business, this is one of the areas where we can adapt our workforce cultures and expand our own thinking and approach.