What does it take to (dis)engage young professionals?

#HIVEX conference takes a two-prong approach to understand what makes the city’s key demographic “click.”

Alyssa Lai - Headshot
By Alyssa Lai
Web and Graphics Manager: Hamilton Media Guild
Twitter: @alyssaglai

Doing your job well requires energy and focus.

If you have little idea how to make a meaningful contribution and fit into your workplace, you can easily become disengaged.

Disengagement takes work, says Hendershott (Photo by: Alyssa Lai)

Disengagement takes work, says Hendershott (Photo by: Alyssa Lai)

But a veteran Dofasco executive believes it is crucial to understand disengagement in the workplace if we are going to be able to fix it and cultivate engaged employees.

“If you have tons of energy, but no idea on what to do, that’s work [for you]” said for Charlie Hendershott, in his tongue-in-cheek keynote address at the 2013 #HIVEX conference Saturday morning.

The 55-year-old Hamiltonian has had many encounters and meetings with senior leaders in his 35 years at ArcelorMittal Dofasco, where they think a lot about employee engagement.

From his work, Hendershott said he has learned that disengagement is created when employees have a sense of meaninglessness, there is an apathetic climate and they feel a lack of ownership in their work. Employees will tune out in a workplace where passion is disregarded and tasks are irrelevant, he added.

These things depersonalize the work experience, said Hendershott, senior executive consultant at Dofasco, to about 240 young entrepreneurs and professionals who turned out at the Sheraton Hotel for the day-long conference.

The key factor for engagement is a sense of ownership. Hendershott has spent 15 years creating what he called a “team environment” at Dofasco.

“Teaming is all about getting people involved, to get people interested,” he said, as employees need to feel that they are making progress and a difference in the community.

He told the young professionals to seek meaning in their work.

“Find your hat which succinctly separates you from everything else,” said Hendershott.

Charlie Hendershot and his daughters, Laura (left) and Katie (right). (Photo by: Alyssa Lai)

Charlie Hendershot and his daughters, Laura (left) and Katie (right). (Photo by: Alyssa Lai)

The discussion on engagement came full circle at the citizen builder workshop. The “speed-dating” style session included representatives from non-profits, community agencies and members of city council. From the women-focused YWCA Hamilton to the art-based Cobalt Connects, the session had more than 10 representatives.

They moved from table to table for 10-15 minute conversations on various topics, including neighbourhood development, retention of international students and participatory budgeting.

Nii Addo, a Ghanaian native, found the discussion on volunteerism stimulating.

A recipient of the Paul Harris Fellow of the Rotary Foundation, Addo spent much of his youth in Ghana taking part in Rotary-sponsored walks, a longstanding family tradition. The recognition is given to any individual who has contributed $1,000 (US) to the foundation.

Volunteering offers a sense of community, said Addo, who came to Canada in 1998 and then pursued a bachelors in economics and business at McMaster University in 2003. He has since established his own business, The Addo Group, which sells construction equipment.

Public art also helps build community. Rhiana Ehara, of Sakana Media, said public art is a way of communicating to and welcoming newcomers.

“I know what it is like to be a stranger, not knowing how to get engaged,” said Ehara, who worked as an English language assistant in Hong Kong for five years.

"I know what it is like to be a stranger, not knowing how to get engaged," said Ehara (Photo by: Alyssa Lai)

“I know what it is like to be a stranger, not knowing how to get engaged,” said Ehara (Photo by: Alyssa Lai)

A graduate of the East Asian Studies program at the University of Toronto, Ehara once dreamed of working as a diplomat for the Canadian Foreign Affairs. After realizing that they hadn’t hired in four years, she abandoned the dream.

Now, working with her husband at Sakana Media, Ehara captures stills and video to help a company convey its values and story.

The community-focused workshop was an extension of the afternoon business builder session, connecting participants with members of the start-up and entrepreneur communities.

Alyssa Lai

A Southeast Asian born tan but without the Ray-Bans, Alyssa is a public relations professional working to advance nonprofits. She’s a communications and theatre graduate with a keen eye for design and a knack for digital storytelling. An aspiring media professor, she sees the trees for the forest in the path to academia. Her curiosity has led her down the rabbit hole, where she explores news-reporting, graphic design, photography, web development and more. Learn more at www.alyssaglai.com

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