[Excerpt from The Culture Question]
Motivation and employee engagement are on the minds of many leaders we meet. However, we rarely hear leaders make the connection between motivation and meaningful work. As one of the key ingredients of employee engagement, fulfilling work greatly increases workplace motivation. When an employee’s work is meaningful, they will be motivated to challenge themselves and excel at it. Here are five practical and simple strategies for making work more meaningful.
Most people want to do work that stimulates and challenges them. In our organization, we have learned that employees are more likely to be engaged and thrive when their boundaries are pushed slightly beyond what they think they can do. We have seen firsthand how employees will rise to the challenge of working on projects that are new to them or tasks that require them to use hidden talents or develop new skills.
Our employees have sometimes been surprised by the level of responsibility and trust we give them. The more important and challenging the work entrusted to them, the more encouraged and validated they feel by us as management. They also have the pleasure of working on a variety of new tasks.
Focus on Job Enrichment, Not More Work
In an attempt to make work more challenging, managers may sometimes ask for higher outputs of an employee’s tasks. For example, if an employee easily meets their requirement of producing 10 “widgets” per hour and approaches their manager asking for more challenge, the manager might increase the goal to 15. While increasing productivity requirements does increase the challenge of work, it usually isn’t the right kind of challenge and will normally lead to less satisfaction, not more.
Rather than simply adding more duties in an effort to stimulate employees, leaders should rather strive to provide opportunities for people to move more deeply into what brings them satisfaction. For instance, if an employee finds satisfaction in interacting with customers – and this is a valuable role in the organization – leaders should find ways to increase their contact with customers.
Remove Useless Tasks
Removing useless tasks may seem like an obvious priority, but if you examine the various responsibilities of people on your team, you may find that some of their tasks are of little or no organizational value. We find it important to ask questions like these to ensure people aren’t doing useless tasks:
- How many emails are copied to and read by people who don’t need the information?
- How many employees write reports that no one reads?
- How much data is tracked but never used?
- How many documents do people print that are already stored electronically?
- How often are you asked questions regarding information that could easily be found by the person asking the question?
- How often are you asked for direction by employees who are capable of setting their own direction?
From time to time, it’s important to take stock of tasks and eliminate some of them. The worst use of time is doing something that doesn’t need to be done in the first place.
Give Complete Units of Work
Most people find it satisfying to finish things, to check items off their lists, and to be able to look back and say, “I did that!” Knowing this, leaders should find ways to assign complete units of work whenever possible, allowing employees to see tasks through from beginning to end and experience a sense of completion. For example, it is beneficial to have the employee who helped write a report participate in presenting it to management. This not only increases their sense of responsibility, it also provides a sense of satisfaction in completing a task.
The reality is that many of the tasks within an organization are small contributions to a much larger final product. In these situations, it’s important that employees are able to experience the end product in some way. For example, share stories of customer satisfaction with your team, share project results with everyone who participated, and acknowledge people’s contributions.
The worst use of time is doing something that doesn’t need to be done in the first place.
Provide Support and Resources
As leaders, we need to ensure that our employees have the training and resources they need to do what we expect of them. Desire and aptitude are not enough for our employees to be happy at work. They need both meaning and challenge in their work, but they also need support to meet these challenges. As employees evolve in their roles, we need to continually respond to their growth.
In order to work with this process, routinely ask your employees questions like these:
- “What do you need in order to do your job well?”
- “Who can you ask if you need help?”
- “How are your processes and procedures working for you?”
- “What are some ways in which your job could be made easier?”
In our organization, these types of questions always result in valuable insights. Some employees tell us they are feeling great about their work. Some are looking for additional challenges and have useful ideas for change, while others are already feeling overwhelmed. With this new information, we can work to bring better balance for everyone.
The key is to actually have these conversations. One survey participant noted, “While I greatly appreciate my autonomy, I often feel isolated and wish my leader would check in with me more often.” Let’s not assume that employees have found the right balance, or that they don’t need our support.
Foster Professional Development
Most people like to learn new things. At ACHIEVE, we encourage our employees to tell us about professional development opportunities they are interested in. We also intentionally plan for each employee’s professional development throughout the year. We have always encouraged employees to attend training sessions either in person or online. But we have found that, unless they have a clear plan, most people don’t take time for professional development.
Now that we are more intentional about scheduling training, professional development actually happens. As a result, our employees are exposed to new and different ways of thinking. This helps us meet new challenges as well as capitalize on opportunities related to our work.
Make regular professional development a deliberate conversation and expectation within your organization. These discussions around professional development, job satisfaction, and meaningful and challenging work all complement each other.
Making work meaningful should be a priority for everyone who has the power to influence their workplace. While productivity is crucial to the success of every organization, emphasizing productivity alone takes a significant toll on workplace culture and employee motivation. We as leaders need to have our priorities in order. If we focus first and foremost on making work meaningful for our employees, they will most certainly be more satisfied and productive.
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