You might think that what makes your employees happiest at work is when they’re getting paid boatloads of money and are happy with their jobs. That’s part of the equation, for sure, but it turns out, it’s not entirely that simple.
Yes, money and happiness help us feel good about the work we do. But the feeling of making progress and having a sense of purpose also play critical roles in motivating employees to reach their full potential.
That’s according to Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology at Duke University. In a 2013 TED Talk, Ariely explored what makes the average worker take pride in their job. After conducting numerous experiments, Ariely found that to be motivated, we all need to have a sense of purpose and feel as though others around us appreciate the work we do. (If you don’t have time to watch the 20-minute talk, here’s the transcript.)
So what can managers do to make sure employees feel appreciated and have a sense of purpose?
01. Take notice of their work and recognize their victories
You might think that recognizing your employees’ hard work has to be a grand gesture. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
In his TED Talk, Ariely explained an experiment that revealed simply looking at an employee’s work and muttering “uh-huh” in agreement can dramatically improve motivation. It turns out it’s a big boost when a manager or person of authority simply acknowledges that a team member has exerted effort on something.
Employee recognition should be much more than that, of course. When employees go above and beyond and do spectacular work, go out of your way to thank them for their contributions. Here are 18 creative ways you can do that. The last thing you want is for hard work to go unappreciated.
02. Ask employees for feedback — the good and the bad
Workers are motivated when their employers care about what they think about the business. When employees are asked about their thoughts on new initiatives or the direction the company is headed, they’re inclined to feel as though they’re valued by their organizations. This is important because not even one out of every three employees feels valued by their companies, a figure we uncovered in our 2017 Employee Engagement Report. When you don’t feel valued, it’s hard to be engaged.
Solicit feedback from your staff on a regular basis. Because some workers — particularly the introverted ones — might be uncomfortable sharing negative feedback with their superiors, use pulse surveys that enable employees to relay their thoughts anonymously.
03. Allow workers to tackle projects outside of their traditional responsibilities
Even the best engineer in the world will eventually tire of writing code all day. When you’re forced to tackle the same kinds of responsibilities over and over and over again, it can be hard to find a sense of purpose in your work. Over time, you feel like a machine, cranking out the same stuff on a daily basis.
There’s an easy fix to this problem: let your workers take on projects they normally wouldn’t. Maybe that engineer is sick of writing code and wants to write a blog post instead. Or maybe they want to ride along on a sales call.
When you give employees your blessing to work on pet projects or develop new skills by working in other departments, they’re more likely to be motivated. In addition to breaking a monotonous routine, employees grow as professionals — a win-win scenario.