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Vulnerability is the Path to Engagement

There are a million articles written about employee engagement and ways to keep employees happy and passionate about their work.

But, there is one word that doesn’t usually come to mind when we think about employee engagement: vulnerability.

Brene Brown, New York Times best-selling author and speaker of one of the most popular Ted Talks in history, defines vulnerability in her book Daring Greatly as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure… the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”

While it’s obvious that vulnerability plays a major role in our personal relationships, there is also significance to being vulnerable in the workplace. If being vulnerable opens the door to more belonging, courage, creativity, and empathy, imagine how this will affect our employees.

Here are few of the ways vulnerability impacts employee engagement.

Vulnerability Impacts Employee Engagement by Creating a Sense of Belonging

One of the most crucial aspects of employee engagement is helping employees find a sense of belonging in their workplace. They need to know their work is valued, and employees who develop meaningful friendships at work are said to be more productive and loyal to their company. In fact, according to a Gallup survey, 50% of employees who had a best friend at work also feel a strong connection to their company. Vulnerability creates a sense of belonging as it enables people to be true to themselves in the workplace. Unnecessary stress and tension disappear when people feel known and accepted for who they are. This includes acknowledging both victories and short-comings and pushing employees to be their true, and best selves.

Vulnerability Impacts Employee Engagement by Provoking Courage

In the same way that vulnerability enables employees to feel a sense of belonging, this also stirs up courage in the workplace. Vulnerability is not an easy task, and while we aren’t talking about spilling your deepest darkest secrets, there are elements of vulnerability that are crucial to a productive workplace.
Examples include:

  • Asking for help
  • Saying no
  • Speaking up in the face of resistance
  • Admitting ignorance or fear
  • Accountability for mistakes
  • Being able to walk away from projects or people that aren’t working out

Each of these aspects of vulnerability requires an act of courage. For some people, asking for help doesn’t come naturally, while others struggle to make their voice heard. By the same token, perhaps you’re a manager realizing an employee simply isn’t happy and needs to move on. Each of these examples pushes us to make the workplace a better place to be. Managers and executives should lead by example by pursuing these elements of vulnerability and in turn, create an open, judgment-free space for employees to do the same.

Vulnerability Impacts Employee Engagement by Stimulating Creativity

Finally, vulnerability can also do wonders for stimulating creativity. When you think about creatives, you may think about how raw and transparent they are with their emotions. Many creatives, including Graphic Designer Marina Willer, believe that vulnerability is essential to their creative process. “[Feeling vulnerable] makes you face the experience fully and almost embrace it,” she says. “Those moments can bring a lot of creativity and make ideas flourish.” Vulnerability can stimulate a part of our minds and emotions that we may not tap into on a daily basis. Imagine what your employees can accomplish if they aren’t afraid to speak their minds about what they really think; if their ideas are able to flourish, instead of being suppressed.

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