Monday, 8 February 2010

Happy Workers are Better Workers

Lately, I've been thinking about the ways our jobs satisfy us, or on the flip-side, can get us down. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy with my work, but I've been reflecting on the times this hasn't been the case and - for me at least - can see four contributing factors to job satisfaction. Note that I'm talking about job satisfaction, not our employment situation, which is naturally influenced by much baser instincts: pay, prestige, even physical comfort and the quality of the food in the canteen.

Let's go through the elements of this diagram.

This might seem like a low level, even fundamental aspect of someone's relationship with their work and my experience is that it comes a little later in life. Like taking full responsibility for our actions, this is at its best when we've matured. Professional commitment is what gets us into the office on time despite feeling ill and what keeps us checking our email in the evenings and at weekends. Without commitment to our jobs, we simply won't make the time and, worse, may start slacking off. Commitment is largely reciprocal: we commit to our employer when they commit to us, and decent management keeps this part of a work relationship alive.

This may also seem odd, but believing in what we do makes us more productive as we do it. Few of us likes being told what to do if we believe it's the wrong thing to do, but if we believe in our goals, then we'll try extra hard to achieve them. Although some beliefs are held very personally and are hence difficult to change, believing in what we do can be influenced by good leadership.

Caring about something is intensely personal and difficult to influence: it's much more difficult to change what someone cares about than what they believe to be right. In the employer-employee relationship, this is one aspect we aim to get right at the very start: we gravitate to vocations and employers about who's business we care. Similarly, when recruiting, we seek individuals who resonate with our overall plans.

I've put this at the centre of the diagram, as I feel that this is the core, around which all of the other work satisfaction factors are built. Personality dictates how much of each of the other factors an individual requires to top them up to "satisfied". There are individuals who will give their all to any task, no matter their feelings on it, but they are a rare find indeed. More commonly, we all demand a certain amount of each in order to enjoy our work. Failure to meet some or all of the satisfaction demands will result in degradation of the relationship and the quantity and quality of our output will fall.

Looking at these values, I feel that the relationships between them are also interesting and worthy of note. It's possible, I believe, to enjoy any of them in isolation, for instance to be committed to a job we believe to be a waste of time: this is raw professionalism. Likewise, it would be possible to care deeply about the work you do, but believe that you're still being asked to go about it the wrong way. However, add these things together and we get more and more out of our jobs (and our employees!)

Being committed to something you believe in is to be dutiful. This gives people a greater drive toward excellence in what they do: a valuable thing.

Committing to something we care about is dedication, which keeps us in it for the long haul. Once dedicated to something, we start making longer term plans about our jobs and our future potential grows.

Passion results from believing and caring (and I don't mean the kind of "passion" cited by those prone to losing their temper over things they care about: that's old fashioned short temper!). From this position, an individual can influence those around them: evangelise their work, teach and begin to lead others toward their goals.

At the centre of the Venn diagram is devotion. Once we're here, wonderful things can happen. Within devotion lies real leadership: dutifully holding true to what's best, the commitment to lead from the front and do yourself what you expect others to do for you, and the passion to inspire and teach. If you look around your company, you may well find people in senior positions who aren't completely devoted, but I'll bet that the MD is. To make it all the way to the top, we must show clear duty, dedication and passion for our work.

Of course, you may ask why should we pay heed to this emotional nonsense and liberal talk of personality traits, because after all, we're professionals and we have to do what's expected of us to the best of our abilities despite our personal feelings. That's the nature of work, right?

The difference is what the "best of our abilities" amounts to.

Not committing to people will undermine their ability to commit back and you'll get fundamentally less out of them, no matter how you deal with it. Decent, good quality management is important, but so is company ethos: an exploitative culture with no respect will prevent even the best manager making good on this part of the job satisfaction contract.

As mentioned earlier, belief can be influenced by good leadership. Persuasion is much better than dictation, but requires skill: only the strongest leaders can hope to get anywhere near to 100% from people if they ask them to blindly follow.

Finally, we can't change a persons ethics, so we must tailor tasks to what each individual cares about. This is no simple task, and there are always jobs no-one wants to do in a company. Savvy leaders know their staff and, where possible, play to strengths, and can otherwise gently persuade people that they care more for something than they originally thought. I'd rather not use the word manipulation, but you get the picture, and it's going on all the time without us noticing.

A final word before I sign off probably my longest blog to date and that's to remember this simple, old maxim about most people:
We work to live, not live to work
No matter how dedicated we are to our jobs, our family and friends will always be top of the list. They can be displaced for a short time, but if this persists, then we are asked to give up that which makes us truly happy, and we won't be thankful.

1 comment:

  1. Just read a great article tweeted by Kevlin Henney about job satisfaction and realise that what I've been waffling about here isn't the same: it's "work motivation".