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Employee Retention Through Fulfilling Work

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“Fun” was a hot topic on the web that we here at AccelaWork looked into. But how can we enjoy work when our assigned tasks are boring?

Our post on business improvement solutions introduced “the fun theory” as a way to change behavior by making everyday activities more pleasant through unexpected changes. A post on Trizle discussed How to Make Work Fun:

Imagine 5-year-old Cinderella. Cinderella hates basketball, but you have to make her better or you die. What in the whole wide world do you do?

OH NO!

You start thinking about some management concepts you read in some business book you read.

  1. So, you try motivating her: “Hey Cinderella! You can do it!”
  2. You try bribing her with gifts: “I’ll give you cookies if you practice!”
  3. You try putting fear into her: “I’m going to tell on YOU!”

But, Cinderella doesn’t budge; she still finds basketball boring.

You’re about to die. What do you do?

The suggestion from Trizle is to add measurement: make it a game using points and suddenly there’s a reason to work. They claim that competition will inspire Cinderella to shoot hoops:

Make it a game, then keep score.

  • “Cinderella, I’m going to time you for 1-minute to see how many shots you can make.”
  • When that’s done, “Cinderella, I’m going to time you for another minute to see how many shots you can make.”
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

A more motivated Cinderella starts trying to beat her high scores every time. Quickly:

  • You get her more engaged.
  • You increase her confidence.
  • You make her internally motivated to amplify her skills.

Games addict peeps because peeps try to beat their high scores every time they play.

But yesterday’s article from the Work Happy Now! blog, How to Find Meaning in Tedious Work, offers a strikingly different perspective:

Great work makes me feel like I have a purpose.

This emotional connection to fulfilling work makes me happy, and these feelings then go beyond me.

On the opposite spectrum, if I’m doing work that I can’t connect with then I’m extending my frustrated feelings beyond myself.

Several years ago, I was the caretaker of large property. I essentially mowed grass for a living. It paid the rent, but I viewed the work as pointless because the grass was only going to grow back. I remember thinking to myself, I’ll just have to do it all over again in two weeks. By thinking these thoughts, I attached my feelings of meaninglessness to my effort. I only upset myself more by extending my negative feelings, and I was unable to see the greater good of my actions.

If I could have found a connection to how cutting someone’s grass mattered beyond my own feelings, I could have felt happy about my work. I could have viewed my grass cutting work as a way to help people feel proud of their home. I know I would have enjoyed the thought of helping people appreciate their home, and this would have helped me appreciate my own actions. Instead of focusing on the fact that the grass would just grow back in two weeks, I could have focused on the positive reactions of the property owners when they pulled into their driveway and saw the perfectly cut grass.

Each of these sources propose a different fundamental approach to making work fun:

  1. The fun theory – Change the mechanics of the routine around boring work to inspire joy.
  2. The score theory – Make boring tasks exciting and competitive by adding a scoreboard.
  3. The attitude theory – If a task seems unimportant or meaningless, focus on positive outcomes of work.
employee productivity

© Flickr user Stephen Korecky

All three ideas have merit, but each tells you more about the stakeholder than anything else. People who subscribe to the fun theory thrive on the idea of unexpected happiness. Individuals who find the score theory appealing enjoy games, contests and the thrill of winning. Those who prefer the attitude theory are most interested in the power of positive thinking. All these techniques should be considered for ways to improve the process of work, as all have the same basic premise: stakeholders should have permission to enjoy what they do.

Redesigning workflow to increase satisfaction is not always an easy task. Leverage the fun theory, but be careful your worker productivity isn’t called into question. Try adding a scoreboard to a boring task to improve the business improvement process. Think happy thoughts, but understand the capabilities and limitations of positive thinking for employee satisfaction. If you’re ready to learn more about the connection between joy and productivity at work, speak to the experts. Contact our business consultants at AccelaWork today!

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