In Mark C. Crowley's exceptional book, Lead from the Heart, he gathered a mountain of research data to answer the types of questions that have plagued managers for decades: Why aren't my workers more engaged in their work? How do I get the best out of my employees? How do I motivate them to go above and beyond?

The answer to these questions have nothing to do with pay or perks, and it can fully transform an organization. I sum up the research in four words:

Design more interesting work.

Prior to the book's publication in 2011, Crowley interviewed one notable researcher, John Gibbons, then with the Conference Board, who told him: "There has been a dramatic drop in the interest employees have in the work they do every day."  

Gibbons added that the biggest reason why people are so unhappy and disengaged at work, the research shows, is "because we're designing their work very poorly."

Not much has changed in seven years since Crowley's seminal book. Truth is, employees are just bored. I mean, literally.

According to a Korn Ferry poll of nearly 5,000 professionals, the top reason people are looking for a new job in 2018? See the results for yourself. 

Korn Ferry survey results

  • I'm bored, need new challenge -- 33 percent
  • Culture doesn't fit with me/my values -- 24 percent
  • I have either lost my job or expect that I will -- 21 percent
  • Higher salary -- 19 percent
  • Company politics -- 3 percent

Reading Crowley's book further, his interview with Gibbons (which covered all of Chapter 2 -- "What American Workers Say Leaders Must Do to Re-Inspire Them"), was like peeling an onion, with each layer exposing the need for leaders to craft more meaningful work to increase motivation and engage employees.

In Gibbon's research, what showed up most in poor work design was lack of challenge and variety, repetitive and routine work assignments and little opportunity for growth, all resulting in unfulfilled work and unhappy workers.

Solution: Design work that matters.

The biggest problem we're generally seeing in most workplace research studies point back to managers' failure to bring meaningful experiences to individual contributors' jobs.  

In Annie McKee's popular HBR piece, "Being Happy at Work Matters," her research team concluded that to be fully engaged and happy, virtually everyone wants a meaningful vision of the future, they want to know how they fit in with the big picture, and they want a sense of purpose.

This requires strong leaders able to link the organizational vision to people's personal visions, then communicating that vision consistently.

McKee writes that "people want to feel as if their work matters, and that their contributions help to achieve something really important."

In Give and Take, Wharton professor and best-selling author Adam Grant highlighted another study that found that when people find purpose in their work, it will not only improve that person's happiness, it will boost productivity. 

Closing thoughts.

We spend at least one-third of our lives at work. This generation has reached a stage unlike that of our parents and grandparents, where a job has become more than just a paycheck. Managers looking for an edge must design interesting work that matters, and connect their employees' work to meaning--to allow every employee to touch the mission, no matter how small the task. As a manager at every level of the organization, it should be your job to help your people find that meaning.

Published on: Feb 22, 2018
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