Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Happy Employees - Part One

Let me just start by stating that you can't make other people happy. Trust me on this. I've spent far too much of my life learning that lesson.

Having said that, there's a lot you can do as an owner or manager to create a workplace that supports your employees and lays the groundwork for what we know improves personal enjoyment and fulfillment. When your employees like their jobs, find them fulfilling, and enjoy coming to work every day, your business runs better.

There's a strange human dichotomy around work. People describe work as necessary, unpleasant, and yet somehow important. For some people, it's stressful, difficult, or even boring. And yet, work is far better suited to helping people feel personally fulfilled than their non-work lives.

People love to complain about work. Just look at Facebook posts on Friday. You would think these people are chained to a blast furnace. In fact, most of them are sitting in boring cubicles doing boring work that adds nothing to their personal fulfillment.

What Makes Work Enjoyable?

If you haven't read Drive by Daniel Pink, add that to your list right now. Then read it or listen to it. Or, if you are in a hurry, watch this great video on what motivates people:

Money motivates people . . . to a point. When people have "enough" money, then more money doesn't make them happier or their job more enjoyable. In fact, if a job requires significant thinking, higher rewards actually reduce productivity. Huh? Sorry. Just interesting science. It has been replicated many times across several disciplines.

So what makes work enjoyable? According to Pink, people are looking for autonomy (self direction), mastery, and purpose.

But it goes beyond that. Think about what gives you satisfaction in your work and life? Chances are pretty good that you enjoy a challenge. It should have clear goals. It should give you feedback, or involve other people who give you feedback.

When you look at your life (again, work and personal), you see that sitting on the couch, watching TV is really not very fulfilling. It might be a little numbing, but it doesn't really make your life better.

Now consider other activities you might have: learning to play an instrument; wood carving; painting; running a marathon or triathlon; gardening; fixing up cars; playing poker; sailing; etc. Even playing video games. All these activities are challenging. They have goals built in. They have feedback - either from the activity itself or from other people in the activity.

Many, many people participate in amazing activities for free in their spare time. They volunteer at home or in other countries. They climb mountains. They build houses for people. They bike a hundred - or a thousand - miles. They join competitions for chess, skiing, racing, knitting, welding, and tattooing. And they do this not to make money (in fact, most of these things cost money), but to be involved in a challenging activity with clear goals.

So the first step at creating a great work environment, where employees can be happy, is to create jobs that allow people to set goals, challenge themselves, and get feedback. This is more important for "information workers" than ever before. And we have the resources to make it happen.

Consider how you manage employees. Do you set goals for them, or just tell them what the job is? Goal setting is a critical part of creating motivated employees who enjoy their work. And while some metrics are pretty standardized (increase billable time, decrease costs, produce more), the best goals are personalized. Like, pass another certification. Or master a new technology.

Those goals are challenging and bring purpose to employees' work and life. But you also need to complete the loop and do the evaluation.

DON'T just say, "I need technicians who can troubleshoot technology" and leave it at that. Create jobs designed around the kinds of things that motivate people to do well and to love the work they do. Help them fine-tune the challenges. And give them regular feedback.

- - - - -

Everyone is fulfilled by something different. In part two of this series, I'll look at how to get the right people in the right seats.

Feedback welcome.


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