I spent the first 15 years of my professional life knowing something was “off” in most of the jobs at which I toiled. In some cases, the reason for the poor fit was obvious: a company culture in turmoil, for example, or a manager hell-bent on making his employees pay for his own unhappiness in his role. In many of those roles, I stayed only as long as I thought I needed to for resume purposes. In reality, I job-hopped with the best of ‘em.
Companies are wiser to the cost of losing employees and are expending more time, effort and resources on the hot topic of engagement and retention than ever before. The big questions companies look to answer: How do we keep the best employees, knowing how much it costs to have to replace them? How do we motivate them to stay and continue to do great work for us and not the competition?
Energy is invested in building resignation-proof compensation formulas and robust benefits packages. Rewards, bonuses and incentives get a lot of attention—all productive and necessary activities for employers to remain attractive to top-performing workers.
But is throwing money at the engagement and retention challenge really working?
In his July 2009 Ted Talk on the puzzle of motivation, Dan Pink makes a sound case as to why these types extrinsic motivators alone, especially monetary rewards, are no longer enough and can sometimes do more to reduce performance levels than improve them.
Mr. Pink’s challenge to companies of the 21st Century: focus energy looking at intrinsic motivators to connect the work to employees’ desire to do things because they matter, because they enjoy them and find them interesting and because they are part of something important.
Along these lines, I offer three elements for employers to consider to align employees’ intrinsic motivators to the company does.
- Put employees in functional roles that allow them to do what they do best, naturally.
If, according to Dan Pink, companies will do well to pay more attention to intrinsic motivators, employers who take the time to learn how an individual employee is hardwired to solve problems, make decisions and take action, then put him or her in roles that allow them to do what the brain does best, the company will see motivation and engagement scores improve. When we force employees, even unconsciously, into roles that push them against their natural talents energy and motivation will diminish, quickly. For example, put an employee who is a natural “analyst” with a high level of need for information, facts, data into a role that requires off-the-cuff improvised-in-the-moment problem solving, and you’ll have an employee whose motivation wanes, quickly. Put that same employee in a role that allows her to gather the facts, analyze and consider, she’ll have more energy and higher motivation and be more engaged. [A favorite, powerful tool we use with teams and individuals to uncover natural strengths: the Kolbe A Index.]
- Help employees understand the “why.”
When employees can connect why they do their job to something that they feel good about—when they find personal meaning in their work—motivation and engagement will go up. Several years ago, I worked with a nonprofit behavioral health organization on their engagement efforts. I worked closely with managers to help them learn how to have more effective conversations with their direct reports to help those employees understand why their roles were important to achieving the mission of the organization. For example, the person who filed the Medicaid claims saw their role as simply a mundane routine of pushing paperwork and completing forms. When the manager could help that employee understand the critical importance of his role—he helped those patients get the services they desperately needed because he took the time to make sure those services were paid for—the employee understood why his job was essential to the organization’s mission.
- Create a place where they want to come every day.
The “where” is just as important as the “what” and “why” for employee motivation and engagement. Create an environment in which employees can do their best work and watch motivation and retention soar. It starts with something as isolated as an employee’s personal work space: does she have an environment specifically for her specific needs? Some will need quiet spaces for focus and concentration. Others will need open spaces for collaboration and conversation. And the where continues all the way to the culture of the organization – do employees share something in common with teammates? Do they share at least some of the same values held dear by the organization as a whole?
I’m happy to say that I’ve found the right match in terms of what, why and where at this point in my career. I get to spend most of my time doing what I do best in a role that needs me to do just that. The why is clear and I know the work we do as a team is something I believe in firmly. And where I go every day is ideal for me. I’m not going anywhere any time soon! I hope more employers will pay attention to these intrinsic motivators to help their employees [HEART] their jobs and watch productivity, worker engagement and satisfaction go up and turnover go down.
Meredith Masse is a Kolbe Certified Consultant with OI Global Partners – Innovative Career Consulting.