The traditional economic doctrine assumes that human beings are like cogs in a machine. We are fueled by compensation and reward. The more you pay us the harder we work.
Science and experience tell us this is false. Many of us would take a lower paying job if it meant making a difference and working with interesting people on projects that inspire us.
What is it that really drives employees? I frequently discuss motivation and success with guests on the Influencers podcast, so I asked one of the top thought leaders for advice.
In an interview, legendary psychologist Barry Schwartz shared the secrets from his TED Talk and book Why We Work. These are five questions every company needs to ask if they want to engage and retain high-quality talent. Asking them as an employee may help you realize your priorities. As an employer, they may help you find more effective ways to engage your team:
1. Is this work meaningful?
You don't have to be fighting cancer or feeding the hungry for your work to be meaningful. A tire company can have a mission that is bigger than producing and selling X number of tires each month.
Employees aren't inspired by quotas. What if the mission was focused on getting people home safely? Focus on the common good instead of your bottom line. You may need to adjust your KPIs or even operations, but more often than not, it pays off.
In his book, Schwartz's shares the example of Ray Anderson. His carpet tile company Interface had made him extremely wealthy, but it had also polluted the planet dramatically. Realizing this, he decided to create a sustainable zero footprint product.
He expected severe losses. However, his mission inspired the staff so much that productivity rose significantly, sick days reduced and total committed hours worked by employees increased without additional pay. In fact, profits rose.
2. Do my employees have some autonomy?
Giving workers the freedom to manage their own tasks and schedule demonstrates understanding and builds trust. Are there some people that will take advantage? Yes, but if you hire the right people, you shouldn't worry.
When employees are able to dictate their own actions, they are more likely to feel ownership and produce high-quality work.
3. Is there room for individual growth and development?
Are employees honing their abilities and learning valuable skills? When work is too familiar, we get bored. A bored employee is not productive.
Set tasks and goals that are novel and challenging. Provide employees with opportunities to develop new skills and gain experience, but also give them the support they need to do it.
4. Does the work absorb you?
Honestly, it is not possible for every aspect of our work to engage us all the time. Schwartz asks: Are there tasks that nobody on the team enjoys? Rather than making one person suffer with it every day, why not share the responsibility?
For example, if operating a crane to load cargo may not be enjoyable, perhaps you can rotate shifts. This will increase overall satisfaction and demonstrate that you care about employees.
5. Is the social environment hospitable?
We are fundamentally social beings and yet, we ignore the need for interaction and mutual respect at work. Do people work in teams? Are employees recognized for their achievements? Does everybody at your company, from executives down to janitorial staff, feel like they're part of a community?
Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski examined hospital cleaning staff and their job satisfaction. After interviewing the cleaners, she found that there were two groups.
One group viewed their work as low level, had little interaction with visitors and staff, and had low job satisfaction levels. The second viewed their jobs as essential to the hospital operations, did more than the required tasks, interacted more and as a result, found satisfaction in their work.
Both groups had the same job, so why was one more satisfied? They saw themselves as partners. Without them, the hospital could not operate.
Employees are not just cogs in a machine. They are essential members of your team. It is no longer acceptable for us to treat people as replaceable. We need to give them a greater context for working and show that we value and trust them.
If your employees aren't inspired by what your company is doing, they aren't going to care about the results. When there is meaning behind your work and impact, people are more engaged and willing to work longer hours leading to greater success overall.