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Blog Post

The Connection Between Work Performance and Employee Satisfaction

By Andrew Barenz, Client Engagement Associate

It’s no mystery that we are more fulfilled and, in turn, perform better when we engage in activities we naturally enjoy. Whether it’s a hobby or a cause we’re passionate about, the more we care about the task itself or the outcome, the more we become committed, responsible, and accountable.

However, when the conversation turns to employee engagement, performance, and productivity, we often look at it as an economic equation to be maximized. On the surface, this makes sense. When only 1 out of 3 employees in the United States is engaged in their work, it’s no wonder we turn to compensation packages and flashy benefits to motivate employees. Now, these certainly aren’t bad. I, for one, don’t know many people who want to or can afford to show up for work if it didn’t provide a paycheck.

However, as Charlotte Blank, Chief Behavioral Officer of Maritz Motivation Inc. explains in her TEDxClayton talk, humans are not “economic utility maximizing machines…when it comes to going above and beyond the bare minimum, it turns out that cash is surprisingly ineffective.” Research is showing that employees are increasingly looking for meaningful work over a paycheck.

Instead of using compensation as the primary motivator, perhaps one solution to the shocking 66% of employees who are disengaged at work lies at the core of what motivates us as humans: interesting and personally meaningful work. But where to start?

1. Articulate the purpose.

Whether this is your organizational mission statement or the underlying reasons for a singular project or task, articulating the purpose and continually reinforcing it increases employee satisfaction and organization performance.

One illustrative example is water, sewer, storm drain, and fire protection company, Core & Main, based out of St. Louis. Their vision is “to foster a world where communities thrive because our people and products provide safe, sustainable infrastructure for generations to come.” Rather than simply building pipes and infrastructure systems, this vision instills a much deeper sense of meaning and purpose for employees to impact their families and communities.

Articulating purpose is also important, and often overlooked, on the microscale. Every job has aspects that are downright boring, but tying individual projects and mundane, everyday tasks to a larger, inspirational purpose helps to provide a sense of meaning to the this type of work. But it’s not enough to articulate a purpose beyond a product or service. It takes more.

2. Give employees a choice.

I’ve never met a person who likes being micromanaged or bossed around, so it would be easy to say, “don’t micromanage employees,” but in the world of work, this becomes more complex. Not every employee can determine every aspect of their jobs. Organizational direction and strategy are reserved for leadership teams, and this makes sense. If everyone chose their own direction, the organization would fall into disarray and no work would get done. Further, some employees struggle to meet performance goals.

That said, one way to give employees a choice after articulating the purpose, is to provide individuals and teams with the freedom to determine how to accomplish the work within appropriate boundaries. Every business is certainly unique and has its own limitations, but whether it is operational systems, team norms, or work hours, giving employees a choice helps to increase the sense of autonomy, and research shows this is correlated with increased job satisfaction and work performance. If employees don’t need to be at work from 8-5, does it hurt to allow them to work 7-4 or 9-6 to avoid traffic and spend more time as they wish in their personal lives?

3. Monitor progress.

Perhaps nothing undermines motivation and the fire of the human spirit more that performing the same task over and over to no avail. We’ve covered articulating purpose, but it’s equally as important to track how each employee’s work contributes to that purpose.

Can you imagine watching a sports game where the score wasn’t kept, and no stats were tracked? It would be more difficult for everyone. The players would likely be less motivated to compete, the audience would lose the thrill of a last-second buzzer beater, and it would be more difficult to track each players performance or know what to focus on in practice. Yet, this is a reality in many organizations.

Creating systems and metrics to monitor performance helps employees know exactly how their efforts impact the business and can provide a sense of camaraderie for teams. Further, it provides objective data to provide performance feedback.

 

Organizations have long used compensation and various benefits to motivate employees; however, modern research in psychology gives insight into alternative and more powerful ways to motivate employees beyond these extrinsic factors. In every aspect of our lives, we desire meaning and purpose, and it is no different at work where we spend nearly a third of our lives.

This approach calls leaders to focus on articulating purpose, giving employees some degree of autonomy in their work, and tracking progress in that work. Doing so is certainly more work than defaulting to the  motivators of compensation and benefits, but it is precisely the work of leaders. If we were “economic utility maximizing machines,” the answer would be simple. All we would need is a project manager and an accounting department. But given that human motivation is a complex and nebulous concept, it calls leaders to the difficult work of conversing with employees to articulate purpose, give employees a choice, and monitor progress. The result is more satisfied employees and improved organizational outcomes.

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