With levels of employee engagement still far below what executives and other leaders expect, organisations need to re-evaluate their internal cultures in order to spark improvement. Work won’t always be motivating, but the environment in which employees do their work can certainly be so.
Can you recall what it was like to start your most recent job? What I remember most clearly is an enduring sense of excitement. The thought of entering the office for the first time with little to no idea of what the future would hold was, admittedly, daunting; but it was that ounce of trepidation that motivated me to go the extra mile.
I was in early. Out late. I sacrificed time and effort for others in the office. I was committed, enthusiastic and always ready to learn. I made friends and forged a reputation for myself that I could be proud of.
Compare those feelings and experiences to where you are at now. How long ago was it? 5 years? 10?
The chances are that you no longer feel the same about going into work – and that’s far from a bad thing. You are now better equipped to do your job at a higher level. Maybe you’re in a new role with added responsibility.
What we cannot ignore, however, is the absence of natural excitement. Something that is new is inherently invigorating. Once we become used to an experience, it loses that edge. We might still love every ounce of our job, but the bare essence of it doesn’t put a spring in our step as we jump out of bed.
This gives rise to a massive problem for executives and organisations alike: How can we make up for this shortfall in inherent motivation?
The answer: Workplace culture.
As confirmed in the research of Richard Brenyah and his colleagues, organisational culture impacts upon employee engagement, motivation and productivity. Upon considering that employee engagement levels worldwide are suffering severely (only 34% of US workers are actively engaged at work according to Gallup), it is paramount that executives use their organisations’ culture to help correct these numbers.
While the answer may seem simple, its implications are not. You cannot transform culture with a snap of your fingers – despite the best attempts of many organisations. Some leaders merely communicate a desire to increase engagement without making the systemic changes necessary to achieve such an outcome. Others delegate responsibility for instigating these changes without leading from the front. These attempts at cultural transformation are bound to fail.
According to Gallup, “successful initiatives depend on day-in, day-out executive behaviour.” This behaviour needs to be targeted at creating an alignment between three separate considerations: What employees are asked to do as part of their jobs, what the organisation itself stands for and what the executive wants to achieve.
You can see how the convergence of these separate considerations can facilitate engagement. If employees realise how their day-to-day actions contribute to what their leader is trying to achieve along with a higher purpose, they are much more likely to feel motivated to work hard. If you are told to proof some documents, you might feel as if your day will be tedious and insignificant. However, if it is communicated to you that those documents will help the organisation make big strides in acquiring a new client in an important field, your entire mindset will change. This is the difference between being engaged and disengaged.
There are two key points to take away from this. Firstly, executives need to establish a higher-level mission for their organisation that is universally accepted and promoted by other leaders. Secondly, executives must communicate this mission to their employees at every opportunity so it becomes clear how each team members’ work contributes to something more.
The adage remains true: An organisation’s value is greater than the sum of its parts. Workplace culture is an executive’s way of ensuring that employees understand what this expression means. It conveys how the contribution of each team member increases in significance as part of a bigger picture.
And that is motivating regardless of how long you’ve been at work.