Exciting work is key to engagement

Sep 14 2010 by Jack Wiley Print This Article

Is your work exciting? If so, you're much more likely to be motivated. But can a business case be made for 'exciting work' and what can managers do to improve productivity and make the work of their teams more engaging?

As a manager, you're responsible for the work that's undertaken by the members of your team. If you can find ways to help your team make their work more exciting, you can play a significant role in enhancing their engagement.

This is because 'exciting work' is one of the four principal drivers of engagement. The others are: leaders who inspire confidence in the future; managers who recognise employees and emphasise quality and improvement; and the extent to which the organisation demonstrates a genuine responsibility to its employees and the communities in which it operates. This last point covers issues such as work-life balance, safety and corporate social responsibility.

Let's face it, as a manager, there's not much you can do about how senior leaders behave or how the organisation as a whole treats its employees and its communities. You can of course set an example through your impact and behaviour and by championing the causes of quality and improvement. However, 'exciting work' is an often-overlooked way in which you can improve the level of engagement in your team.

At Kenexa, we've undertaken a statistical analysis to identify the specific job attributes that create a sense of excitement. Our results show that there are 'six drivers' of exciting work. These are:

1. The work itself and the sense of personal accomplishment it provides. Does the job match an employee's skills and interests? Is it challenging? Will accomplishing the work give them a sense of satisfaction?

2. Confidence in the organisation's future, coupled with the sense of a personal promising future. Do employees feel they have promising career prospects?

3. Recognition. Do employees feel a sense of psychological appreciation? Do they get a 'pat on the back' for good work?

4. The opportunity for growth and development. Can employees meet their career goals at the organisation, without jeopardising their work-life balance?

5. Participation in decision making. Do the ideas and suggestions of employees count?

6. Feeling part of a team. Do employees work in 'teams' or 'groups'? Do they feel isolated? Is there a sense of purpose and belonging in the team?

These 'six drivers' encapsulate what employees want from their jobs. The more they experience these factors, the more they'll find their work 'exciting' and, correspondingly, the higher will be their level of engagement.

So who is responsible for ensuring employees experience these drivers? As the Accountability matrix below shows, employees themselves, the senior leaders in the organisation and the HR team all have some degree of influence. However, the greatest responsibility for creating the circumstances for exciting work rests with the immediate line manager.

Even if you can't change the exact nature of their work, you can certainly influence their job satisfaction and whether they feel involved, valued, appreciated and part of the team.

Creating a business case for exciting work

Kenexa's research shows that the characteristics of any job are the number one factor that will attract an employee to join an organisation. Not only that, employees are three-to-four times more likely to stay with an organisation if they feel their work is exciting.

Clearly, people want exciting work and they'll join your organisation if you can provide it. The flipside, of course, is that employees will leave if they don't find their work exciting.

By providing exciting work, therefore, you can increase employee retention and reduce absenteeism. This translates into lower recruitment costs and less disruption to the team caused by staff leaving. In addition, there are enhanced employee engagement benefits that stem from exciting work, such as greater commitment, improved performance and a better service being delivered for customers.

Implementing interventions that will create, support and maintain exciting work can therefore impact on productivity, revenues and shareholder value.

What can managers do?

Having justified the case for exciting work, here are six practical actions that managers can take to make work more exciting for their teams:

1. Put square pegs in square holes. Job design should be undertaken for new or vacant positions. Job profiles and assessments should be used to ensure an appropriate person-to-job fit, so the right person - who has skills that complement those of the team - is recruited to the position. Line managers should work closely with HR on these tasks.

2. Get off on the right foot. The induction (or onboarding) period is a crucial stage in the employee life cycle. When they join, new employees need to understand their role and what's expected of them; who they'll be working with; the vision of the organisation; how their work fits into the whole; the information and resources they can access and the training/development options that are available. Line managers have a golden opportunity to create a lasting first impression by helping new starters to settle in, socialise, feel accepted and begin to be effective.

3. Empower employees and give them 'stretch assignments'. Many people are motivated by having a chance to 'make a mark'. Line managers need to give their team members the autonomy, authority and encouragement to use their skills and to do their jobs in their own way. They should understand the strengths of each person and, where possible, allocate work so it matches each individual's skills and interests. Boredom at work is demoralising and must be avoided. Line managers can help by ensuring their team have stimulating challenges, an opportunity to add value and scope to grow.

4. Help people create a personalised learning experience. Line managers should ensure that members of their teams have the appropriate training. This means working with HR to conduct training needs assessments, creating personal development plans and holding regular career discussions. Individual employees should be encouraged to create a personalised learning experience for themselves that they'll find stimulating and rewarding.

5. Properly manage and appreciate the performance of your team. Lack of recognition is one of the biggest gripes in the workplace. Line managers should recognise and celebrate the achievements of individuals and look for opportunities to provide feedback and acknowledge the contribution of employees. Performance management is an important way of finding out what motivates each individual, what matters to them and how they feel about their role, the organisation and their work-life balance.

6. Oil the wheels of the team and maintain a positive environment. Part of a manager's role is to challenge unhelpful attitudes within the team and to facilitate internal processes so that the team can function effectively. This aspect of overcoming difficulties and obstacles is important for employees. So too is having a manager who is aware of the chemistry within the team and who is encouraging, supportive, appreciative and attentive; someone who can inspire others, communicate openly, delegate effectively and champion the team within the organisation.

The role of a manager has always been to get the best out of employees. In recent years, organisations have endeavoured to achieve this by putting the spotlight on issues such as leadership and talent management. But while doing so, the whole concept of 'exciting work' seems to have slipped through the cracks. I expect this will change as more organisations come to realise the benefits that can stem from implementing interventions that will create, support and maintain 'exciting work'.


About The Author

Jack Wiley
Jack Wiley

Jack Wiley, PhD, is executive director of the Kenexa High Performance Institute and co-author of 'RESPECT: Delivering results by giving employees what they really want'.