Help People to Do the Work They Enjoy

Written by Linda Cartwright on 13 February 2019

As the saying goes, people don’t quit a job, they quit a boss. Yet is it actually so? If you try to find information on why people want to leave for another workplace, you will probably find a plethora of data on managerial mistakes and what can be done about them. However, according to, the top 10 reasons people quit their jobs are these:

    Bad relationship with the boss
    Feeling bored and unchallenged with the work
    Tense relationships with co-workers
    Lack of opportunities to use skills
    Non-evident contribution of work to company’s goals
    Lack of autonomy (micromanagement)
    Lack of meaningfulness of work
    Company’s financial instability
    Overall culture of a company
    Poor management’s recognition of job performance

Although the boss befittingly tops the list, managerial recognition comes dead last. Moreover, as you can see, many issues have to do with the “work” rather than with the boss. Far too many people are feeling disengaged from their work: job satisfaction is at the low point, regardless of the growing income. Employee dissatisfaction leads to high turnaround, and that’s the last thing we want.


Perils of disengagement

The insufficient challenge, lack of growth perspective and meaningfulness of work – you cannot address these if you have a ready-made job and then slot a person into it. We might have been looking at it at the wrong angle.

According to Teresa Amabile, of all the events that can deeply engage people in their work, the single most important is simply making progress and meaningful work. Even one single step feels like a progress.

Everyday actions of managers and coworkers that can make a difference in catalyzing or inhibiting progress. If not finding the solution is seen as being incompetent, people begin to fear the punishment and become risk-aversive instead of creative.

It all starts back at the elementary school, where children get a load of copious tasks because they need to develop “good work habits”. It basically means, they are taught to work hard at anything that they are assigned to do by someone with more power. Good old “protestant ethics”, but does it work?

In fact, people of all ages are more likely to persevere when they have a say in what they are going to do. The lack of choice makes them more likely to defect. When it is all about achievements, performance, results, rigor and not about learning (or progress at the workplace), no wonder students and employees stall and feel frustrated instead of feeling motivated. If the goal is to get an A, then it’s logical to choose the easiest possible task or seek help with research papers. “I’m no good at this, so why bother?” is a reasonable response when the institution’s primary task is establishing how good you are.

How do you engage people then? Many people change jobs because their work isn’t enjoyable, their strengths aren’t being used, and they aren’t growing in their careers. In other words, they did exactly that – they quit the job.

Progress principle

Let’s start with the last one of the reasons named above. Employees name growth opportunity as one of their highest drivers of engagement. “Growth” does not necessarily mean career advancement and promotions (although it never hurts to keep those requirements in check as well). Growth opportunities also include training and skill development, learning new things. And people learn when they have to do something new, something challenging, but most importantly, something they care about.

People want their work to matter. Therefore, managers must help employees see how their work contributes to the execution that makes a difference in the world. With some products and services, it is obvious. Yet if it is not, try going an extra mile to make it visible and bring meaning back to your team’s work.

Most managers do not realize how important small wins can be for an employee. When Teresa Amabile and her team surveyed managers around the world and asked them to rank employee motivators in terms of importance, only 5% put progress as number one. For the employees, it has topped the list.

That is why positive feedback is very important. Focus on small promotions, payment increases, and advancements. Keep the conversation going. As the perceived growth and development opportunities increase, so will your employee engagement.

Tailoring jobs for people

With the growth and progress now settled, let’s move on to making the work enjoyable and using all the strength of your employees. How do you do that? The team of Facebook managers advises to pay more attention to how you design the work for people: “Most companies design jobs and then slot people into them. Our best managers sometimes do the opposite: When they find talented people, they’re open to creating jobs around them.”

An important factor here is unanswered calling. We all have some passions that we could not make our occupation. Yet they did not disappear.

Since adults spend the majority of their waking hours at work, we hardly can afford to pursue our passions as hobbies. So we try to bring them into our work. If you lucky to have landed a career which is also your passion, you probably know a former dancer who works as a copywriter, but always volunteers to organize a choreographic flash mob for any corporate event. Maybe your teacher used to bring a guitar into the class because he left a career in music to teach. Look around and you will find dozens of examples.

Yet sometimes employees need your help in crafting their jobs and finding their passions. They might find themselves in a situation, where their new appointment means that they spend less time doing the job that energizes them. So, despite being promoted thanks to their skills, they feel less satisfied.

Help people do work they enjoy — even if it means rotating them out of roles where they’re excelling. Of course, that means deciding whether keeping this professional in your company means more to you than keeping them in a particular role.

The most challenging part of this is to find out what your employees enjoy. Oftentimes it only comes up in an exit interview, while the person is already on their way to the door. Great way to prevent this is entry interviews, conducted during the first week on a job. Ask your new hire what they like the most about the project they are working on, what they were doing when they felt the best about their work and themselves, what brought them into the state of flow, what they like doing outside their jobs. This way you will be armed to tailor engaging roles for your employees from the very start.

Final thoughts

Meaningful tasks and growth opportunities make jobs too good to leave. When people feel proud of their work, feel energized by it, instead of restricted and wantonly squeezed into the role, they perform at their best and stay longer.

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