Retain Employees By Making Work Matter

What's important to employees? Work that engages and fulfills them.
Co-Founder, Brazen Careerist
November 25, 2011

If you ask the majority of people what is important to them about their job, they will not have salary or title at the top of their list. Here’s what they will list instead.

  1. Co-workers they like
  2. Flexible hours
  3. Engaging work

I’m going to address that third point here: how to create jobs that offer engaging work. There are a few ways to approach the issue. The good news is that none of them cost money. The bad news is that you have to be a lot more thoughtful about who you hire if you are going to ensure that people working at your company feel fully engaged.

Attend to Myers-Briggs scores

People are most engaged with their work when they are doing what feels fulfilling. People who love details (S-types) feel good working at a detailed level. They feel that no work is getting done if there are no details to deal with. Conversely, big-picture thinkers (NT-types) need to be doing work that looks toward the future. Otherwise they feel like they are wasting their time on little things that don’t matter. These are just two examples of how people need to have work that matches their personality type. It seems straightforward, but often an employer needs to step in and help an employee find their place, because it takes practice for each of us to know what will be fulfilling.

Encourage teamwork

Not everyone is a team player. (In fact, in terms of demographics baby boomers are the worst team players and those considered to be generation Y are the best team players.) Many people like to work alone. But at our core, we are social beings, which means that we feel good when we help someone. An office where people can rely on each other enables each person to engage more deeply in their work because they trust the people around them not to screw them over. The side benefit to this atmosphere of helping and teamwork is that work starts to have a deeper meaning for everyone involved.

Encourage experimentation

It’s hard to know what you’re going to be good at. Wayne Osgood, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, says that only 5 percent of people pick the right work for themselves on the first try. Everyone else needs to try a lot of things before they know where they fit. If an employee is not engaged, it’s probably not because he or she is inherently unmotivated. It’s because they are not in the right spot. A great way to help someone find satisfying work is to introduce them to a wide range of tasks.

This way of running a business takes more energy, for sure, but I think you’ll find it’s worth it. Engaged employees perform at higher levels and have lower turnover. But the biggest benefit is that when you provide work that is engaging and satisfying, then your job becomes more meaningful, as well.

Co-Founder, Brazen Careerist