For most of us, signing a job offer comes down to more than just the numbers. Your #GoodWork criteria should be a job that gives you lots of reasons to go to your office every day. Your work should be personally fulfilling, keep you growing, and give you room for ownership and creativity.
Still, it becomes far too easy to lose sight of these motives in the daily hustle and grind. How do you stay driven when the work piles up? How do you remain inspired by the work you want to do when your boss prescribes the bottom line as the way forward?
At all companies, regardless of growth stage, a subtle tension exists between keeping people happy and getting work done. Your employers have their own visions for how to ensure company success, and any hope of reaching that work that was so fulfilling in the first place may be crowded out by lofty profit goals and long days. It's easy to lose motivation when you lose sight of your work's purpose, and easy to to lose sight when you get overwhelmed and mired in the minutiae of work. One thing's for certain: holding onto these drivers in the face of adversity is key to productivity.
Some companies (and industries) are better creating an environment of passionate work than others. Managers want to keep employees engaged, but the problem with using extrinsic rewards like bonuses or more pay is that they do not necessarily resolve the motivation problem. As Daniel Pink articulates in Drive, carrots-on-sticks can often have a negative effect on those deep, personal motivations that persuaded us to join a company in the first place.
Google's legendary "20% time" (which may or may not exist anymore) is a more avant-garde strategy, aimed at removing the aggressive goals and tasks, just for a moment, so that employees get back to the work that inspired them to begin with. By participating in activities or tasks that are outside the bottom line, such as a companywide hackathon or nonprofit work, professionals can become re-energized and refocused.
Your company may have a culture of autonomy like Google, but you still need to get the 80 percent of work that you don't dictate done. Before you sign the contract, use the interview process to your advantage, gauging company culture and assessing a supervisor's potential to support you in staying intrinsically motivated at work.
Evaluate job opportunities using these three questions:
- How does your company grow its employees? Reid Hoffman at LinkedIn says a company's commitment to an employee is to grow their market value in exchange for the employee helping to grow the company's market value. If a prescribed career path dictated by specific benchmarks or a pre-determined timeline is the only way the company offers growth, consider it a red flag. Your own motivations and desires to learn may not align with this conveyor-belt methodology.
- How will you push me beyond my comfort zone? Will the company allow you to take risks? Give you projects that you don't feel qualified for? Trust you with big decisions that scare you? The freedom to stretch yourself and seek creative solutions will infuse your day-to-day work with exciting and challenging opportunities for learning and ownership.
- How will you develop me as a leader? Opportunities to expand vertically (deepening your skills) and horizontally (adding to your skills) are key to staying stimulated in your work, but it's the less tangible, soft skills that separate out the leaders. Prod a company to see that you'll be given the mentorship that you need to develop skills in leading projects, managing team dynamics, and giving/ receiving feedback. Few things are more motivating than seeing true potential for personal and professional growth.
The conflict between the work we want to be doing and the work that must be done can quickly turn into a cripplingly unfulfilling cycle. Of course, self-motivation strategies are critical, but they can be useless if company culture, structure, and growth potential don't support them. If employers can't provide you with the tools you need to drive good work, it may be time to break this cycle by looking for good work someplace else.