What intervention would make a difference with employees who aren’t motivated? One novel approach is to teach them how to fall in love with their work.
The recent U.S. television series “Dirty Jobs” fascinated millions. Each week, it highlighted a group of employees who specialize in filthy or dangerous jobs. For example, an episode featured Mexican workers who scuba dive into the capital’s underground sewers, just to keep them flowing.
You should be forgiven for believing that they must despise their lives. Nothing could be further from the truth and it’s not because they are grandly paid. For the most part, they simply love what they are doing. Unlike the two-thirds of employees in the average company who are disengaged, they are highly motivated.
So are most Jamaican executives. They enjoy unusual levels of daily mastery, purpose, and autonomy, a key factor in their high motivation and frequent promotions.
However, there’s often a skill they fail to develop: they aren’t equipped to help others attain this mindset. In their single-minded pursuit of personal excellence, they don’t pay much attention to those who were outperformed and therefore left behind.
Unfortunately, newly minted executives must turn around and find a way to motivate these “losers”. Untrained for this particular task, they often flounder. Instead, they complain about the bad culture – the same one they helped create.
Perhaps that makes them hypocrites, but this realization doesn’t assist them to figure out what to do. Logically, they realize that folks have real bills to handle, kids to feed and school fees to pay. But they don’t know how to motivate someone who just wants to work as little as possible to maintain a minimum flow of cash to their bank accounts.
This dilemma keeps leaders up at night. They (and their companies) can lose everything if they are unable to find a way to engage staff. While many approaches exist, here’s one that’s unusual: teach employees how to enjoy their work, just like their executives. Try these three steps.
Tactic #1 – Don’t Try to Merely “Give People What They Want”
According to “Why Workers Won’t Work, The Case Study of Jamaica,” multiple studies reveal the crude assumption born in new managers upon their promotion: people are greedy mercenaries who only respond to money. As I have pointed out in prior columns, this conclusion is demonstrably incorrect.
Even in jobs like teaching which are long overdue a raise in pay, employees know that giving everyone
all the cash rewards they want won’t work. Therefore, the first tactic is to bypass simplistic polls, intuitions or old wives’ tales which only reinforce this old explanation. They only sustain an “us vs. them” dynamic.
Instead, look deeper, beyond demeaning questions and pat answers.
Tactic #2 – Don’t Leave People Stuck With Just the Work They Like
Some managers believe the answer is to bend over backward to provide employees with the work they prefer. In other words, ask (or psychometric test) them to find the stuff they like, then devise ways to give it to them.
Once again, research shows this to be a mistaken approach. It produces a blend of unhappy workers in the long term, and a company lacking the skills it needs to thrive.
Tactic #3 – Teach People How to Find Inherent Meaning in Any Job
When employees have a supportive boss, they can learn how to enrich all aspects of their work by doing the following:
1) linking to a higher purpose. Look around: there are people who risk their lives daily for a big enough, non-monetary reason. By contrast, are your team members playing it safe, refusing to exceed their comfort zones? Is doing the right thing seen as all-important versus going along with the status quo?
- ii) finding an opportunity to challenge themselves. While competition appears to spur innovation, it really is a trigger or excuse for someone to push themselves beyond their normal limits. Is your environment sufficiently gamified to do the same? Or is work merely a nasty, week-day tax they pay in order to find growth, fun, and joy on weekends?
iii) experiencing newfound levels of independence. People who act as if they are in charge of their destiny love the feeling of ownership. By contrast, do your managers systematically treat staff like idiots who must be told what to think and when?
If you guess that this also has something to do with a manager’s skill at coaching, you’re right. But instead of leaving this competence to chance, train managers to help employees craft their best, most fulfilling work. In small steps, you’ll create an environment which bridges the gap between executive and employee motivation.
Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org