I recently met a man who claimed he had quit his job, but he hadn't told his boss. He still showed up for work, did the bare minimum, and collected his pay check. He was totally disengaged. He could not have cared less if he did a good job or a bad one.
Sadly, this underachiever is not alone, a leadership guest speaker recently referred to a study that shows 70 percent of people are disengaged at work.
Also sadly, that disengagement takes its toll in workplace morale: The more disengaged people are, the more negativity and cynicism spread and the more productivity plunges.
If people hate their jobs, why do they stay? In short, engaged employees stay for what they can give. Disengaged employees stay for what they can get.
Read: Nice Guys Finish Last
The average employee today works harder and longer – and does it for less. People are exhausted, distracted and disenchanted. They expected more from their jobs, so they give less.
The flip side is that leaders are frustrated with unenthusiastic employees, and unsure how to respond. Pay them more? Give them less work? Both bring mediocre results, at least after the first week. To truly motivate people to work harder and smarter – in other words, to allow them to feel ownership of their jobs – they must feel that what they do matters. People in pursuit of work that counts are naturally engaged.
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Most of us actually go to work to inject some meaning into our lives. When work turns out to involve endless interruptions that don't equate to progress, disillusionment grows. Ongoing distractions throughout the day can capture someone's attention but lead nowhere, leaving employees drained and further behind.
The good news is that meaning can be derived IN and AT work.
Find Meaning IN the work
Elements of our work can be reframed to provide meaning.
The job itself can have meaning, which most work inherently does or we wouldn't be paid to do it. Often, however, the importance is hidden within layers of bureaucracy or redundancy until the importance is difficult to identify. Employees who are able to sort through mounting workloads and connect their work to the greater good, will see their value.
How can people feel like they count at work? This isn't a touchy feely thing, it's actual transparent metrics linked to progress. People are driven to improve when they can see their progress toward a goal. Much like the addictive nature of video games, success breeds success and spurs us on.
To move people from feeling insignificant to seeing the significance IN the work, eliminate distractions to allow them to focus on progress. Next, link this progress to the greater team, mission, customer, etc.
A second motivator is risk. Every job should have some degree of risk, surprise or creativity to it. When people are encouraged to think outside the box and contribute in innovative ways, they will be driven to excel. They are, in effect, signing their work and that brings meaning.
Find Meaning AT work
The work community, coworkers and immediate environment can create meaning.
Understanding who you are at work and how you uniquely contribute to the team will spark enthusiasm. Unsurprisingly, working with people who get along in a relaxed environment really boosts morale, too.
Leaders can help instil meaning AT work. Management can take away processes that create unhealthy competition, animosity or slow people down (like some staff recognition programs or over-anxious policies) and replace them with honest work regimes and spontaneous, regular celebration. Team accomplishments should be tracked, transparent, communicated, and appreciated.
Difficult employees and disrespectful behaviour should be snuffed out at the source. Work is meant for progress. Anyone or anything that interferes with a focused workplace should be addressed.
When we aren't driven to work at our most meaningful best, we are naturally driven to distraction.
Work can and should be fun. Studies confirm that the more fun people are having at work the more productive they are.
Because rules are a common and necessary part of most work environments, playing at your best means:
· Being open, playful, curious and aware of the moment
· Respecting rules as guidelines not protocols
· Valuing awareness over judgement
Often meaning finds us, but it can be created if necessary. .I have devoured every book available on meaningful work, and some of the best writings are from Scott Mautz, who wrote Meaning Matters.
Mautz suggests people ask themselves three questions before deciding how engaged they will be at work:
1) How safe is it for me to engage? Will I be ridiculed?
2) Am I available to engage? Do I have the energy to engage?
3) How meaningful is it for me to bring myself to this? Will I get a return on my investment?
That return is the feeling that you matter and your work matters. That return produces more productive employees, a more congruent team and a meaningful work environment.
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