The challenge for all of us in business is to improve competitiveness by improving employee productivity and reducing costs.
According to research firm Gartner, one of the biggest drags on productivity is employee engagement, still hovering around 30 percent, and costing our businesses over $450 billion per year. I believe the only way to improve engagement is to make work more satisfying.
Unfortunately, work and satisfaction have become an oxymoron in many businesses. Yet based on my own years of experience in both large and small businesses, I'm convinced that it's not that hard to create a workplace culture where people actually like to work, and I'm not talking about perks and privileges, such as foosball tables and gourmet meals, which alone only reduce pain.
I found many more helpful suggestions in a new book, The Culture Question by Randy Grieser, Eric Stutzman, Wendy Loewen, and Michael Labun, who have spent years providing leadership and professional development training to companies around the world.
Among many other recommendations, they offer some practical tips on how any organization can make their work culture more meaningful and satisfying:
1. Match people to work that stimulates and challenges them.
In fact, I have found that people are more likely to be engaged and thrive when their boundaries are pushed slightly beyond what they think they can do.
Sometimes this means working on less defined tasks, raising their level of autonomy, or requiring the development of new skills.
For example, I'm a problem solver by nature, and have worked in several support organizations, but I get bored when all the answers are already known. I loved it when my boss gave me the additional responsibility of mentoring others in solving tough problems.
2. Focus on role enrichment, not more work.
Attempting to make a job more challenging, as well as to improve productivity, managers may sometimes ask for higher outputs, such as 15 customer support calls per hour rather than 10.
For an employee who enjoys direct people interaction, adding floor time with customers would better serve everyone.
3. Ask for help in eliminating useless tasks.
Each of us can remember a time when we prepared a report that no one read, or filed physical documents never used, and no one seemed to care.
Regularly asking for insight, and then following up to fix these wasted efforts will improve job satisfaction as well as productivity. No one likes useless work.
4. Assign complete units of work, rather than tasks.
People find it satisfying to finish things and experience the end product.
If you ask someone to prepare a pitch or report to management, you will get big dividends by assuring that they will at least be in the room to hear feedback or take credit for the effort, even if they can't pitch personally.
Where tasks are necessarily part of a much larger final product, it's still important that employees are able to experience the product in some way. For example, you can share stories of customer satisfaction and acknowledge people's contributions to their peers.
5. Proactively provide support and training.
Desire and aptitude are not enough for employees to be engaged and productive at work.
They need you looking ahead to anticipate what they will need, and providing it before the next crisis, before they must beg for help. Support means tools, training, budget, and the moral support to do the job.
Of course, keeping up with the technology on tools is a never-ending task, and it costs money. But I think you will find the cost of innovative tools is more than offset by increases in employee engagement and satisfaction, as well as productivity.
6. Promote professional growth and new roles.
Most people like to learn new things, but they may need your help and encouragement in finding the right roles, and in taking the time to prepare for the next step.
Make professional development a deliberate conversation and expectation within your business, and not a reaction to someone frustrated and leaving.
These days, with easy access to online seminars and many industry conferences, there is no excuse for not attending one or two sessions a year on "futures," both career and technology. Many companies also promote local mentoring and coaching opportunities.
All too often, building an energized and motivated workforce simply requires changing your traditional command and control structures to a culture that encourages employees to use their own judgment and exercise autonomy.
Before you know it, you will have a workplace where people like to work, and a business that customers love to frequent.