Gradual Epiphany

Duty and Engagement

I was chatting with a good friend the other day, who is struggling with low morale after a typical turn of startup events and they kept saying things like:

“It’s just work. I just need to get it done.”


“I shouldn’t get so attached to this project.”

This line of detached thinking seems to be common when morale is low. I believe it to be a coping mechanism that allows normally passionate and creative people to rationalize a sudden loss of motivation by discounting the importance of their engagement in the problem-solving process.

The problem, of course, is that this is not just a rationalization — it’s a big fat lie. Effective problem solving requires both duty and engagement; both components are equally important. Work that is done strictly out of a sense of duty will inevitably be incomplete and error-prone. Work done simply because it looks like “fun”, but without a sense of duty, will be unbalanced and impractical.

We are well beyond the days where workers are fully replaceable cogs in a machine — knowledge workers draw upon both their intellect and emotion to generate effective solutions. As managers of these “human resources”, we must strive to ensure these dueling forces of duty and engagement remain balanced if we hope to maintain morale in uncertain times.