Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Three Requirements for Job Satisfaction

Companies sometimes lose excellent workers and don't know why.

If you ask people what makes a job continually satisfying, you may hear answers like salary, benefits, or job titles. These are, of course, important to an employee, but what about less concrete considerations?

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success is about the rarely discussed factors that play into professional success. In one chapter, he discusses the three requirements for job satisfaction. And guess what—they have nothing to do with money or status.

According to Gladwell, the three magical ingredients are:

  1. Complexity. Workers want to feel that they are continually mastering new skills. Once they figure out how to “game the system,” work naturally feels less worthwhile. If you notice an employee gaining ease with a role, don’t react just with praise—make sure you can expand on their responsibilities to keep them engaged.
  2. Autonomy. In this case, autonomy is a worker’s sense that he or she can make decisions and have an influence on the workplace. This factor may be the hardest to accommodate, especially in a hierarchical environment with prescribed roles. You may not be able to give an employee the authority to choose his or her own projects. One compromise is to give employees autonomy over certain aspects of their jobs, such as allowing them to determine how certain tasks get done. 
  3. A meaningful connection between effort and reward. Gladwell says, “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.” For example, let’s say work gets poured into a project that never quite launches. This is understandable if it happens once in a while due to unforeseen circumstances. However, if this becomes a pattern, workers could start asking themselves, “What’s the point?” And they may search for more meaningful work with another employer.
If you have doubts that these components make any difference, know that the following excerpt struck a real chord with people who read Outliers:
“Those three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.”
According to Amazon, this was the 39th most highlighted passage on Kindle devices.

One of the goals of a yearly job evaluation is to find out how an employee feels about his or her job. Next time, ask yourself: are employees bored? Do they feel that they are being entrusted with more autonomy? Is there merit to the work? You can retain top-level talent by paying attention to these frequently overlooked factors.

--Joanna Kim

Joanna Kim is a Writer/Content Strategist for HRI.

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