Search online today for information about “employee engagement” and you’ll get hundreds of hits. Everyone, it seems, has an idea about what to do to keep employees engaged. It’s especially important right now in the age of the Great Resignation. Still, there’s one area that doesn’t get enough attention. When it comes to employee engagement, a critical factor is interesting and challenging work.
Don’t believe us? Consider these five top factors for employees leaving work:
- Insufficient pay (44%)
- Limited career paths (43%)
- Lack of challenging work (30%)
- Work-life balance (28%
- Lack of recognition (27%)
Lack of challenging work is number 3. That means all those efforts to recognize your people, while appreciated, may be undermined by sheer boredom. And when put that way, it can’t be too surprising. If your workers are bored, how motivated can you expect them to be to wake up and show up to work?
As Vantage Circle puts it, “Exciting and Challenging work is one of the prime and long-lasting motivators for employees. Your employees might continue to work in the absence of interesting work, but they will not put their heart and soul into it.” Yet you do want your team to give its all. That’s when you start to see the best of productivity, sales generation, customer satisfaction, and innovation.
Importance of interesting and challenging work
Gone are the days when an individual would get their one job after graduation and punch in day in and day out until retirement. People plan on moving around, maybe even changing careers along the way. Because they want interesting and challenging work.
This is particularly true of the next generation of employees. Generation Z, people ages 16 to 25, see themselves as hard working. But they will only work hard if they want to do so, according to a study by The Workforce Institute at Kronos Inc. The authors wrote, “They’re looking for leaders who will help them be inspired in their day-to-day work, while encouraging them to try new things and develop professionally over time.” It isn’t that much of a stretch to interpret trying “new things” as synonymous with “interesting and challenging work.”
In fact, according to Deloitte, “while salary is the most important factor in deciding on a job, Generation Z values salary less than every other generation.” If they had to choose between “a better-paying but boring job” or “work that was more interesting but didn’t pay as well,” they were fairly evenly split.
Yet the youngest generation of employees doesn’t have a lock on the need for interesting and challenging work. As Randy Grieser, author of The Ordinary Leader, writes about the motivating power of meaningful work, “For all of us, work in many ways is a classroom in which we should always be learning.” For Grieser, it ties back to “an innate desire to improve and better [ourselves].”
Remote work and the need for challenge
After “wild fluctuations” in 2020, in the first half of 2021, Gallup reported “36% of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplace.” Globally, “20% of employees are engaged at work.” That leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Especially now that people are working from home, interesting and challenging work is all the more important. Why? Because your people now have to do more self-motivation to “show up” at work. The external accountability of people seeing them slack off is mostly gone.
Plus, they are more disconnected from their peers and can be suffering loneliness and lack of input. So, there’s nothing to distract them from the boredom. For example, in late 2021 a process engineer posted to Reddit about being stuck doing copy and paste jobs, “where no brains are required.” The individual noted that “WFH has made learning very slow…I just do what’s told to me by one person. They are mostly mundane date entry jobs.” That is not an engaged employee!
Paying more would only be a short-term solution, argues Terry Bragg in an editorial for The Business Journals. “Although managers like to think money is the key motivator, it’s not… The work itself is a stronger motivator than the compensation for the work.”
Offering work that challenges and interests employees
Employers can set up a work environment that motivates their team members with more than mundane, routine tasks. This article has explored why it is worth the effort. Our next article will discuss how business can manage the work environment to engage employees with interesting and challenging work. We’ll also cover, in another blog, how employees can request more motivating work.