This article originally appeared on Forbes.
More and more employees — and their leaders — are complaining about burnout these days. Wouldn’t it be great if there were alternative ways to look at work besides just digging the same ruts deeper and deeper? Laura Gassner Otting, executive search veteran and author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life, is confident that there are. She believes we’re all looking for “consonance” — that feeling that there’s an accurate match between who we are and what we do — and that organizations can do a better job of helping employees find it.
As Gassner Otting suggests, “We’re living in a time right now where everybody is asking themselves the question of when life ‘goes back to normal,’ and is the normal that I’m going back to really the life I want?” So now is the perfect time for organizations to reconsider their practices: If they want to ensure that employees feel deeply engaged and contribute fully, putting in the time and energy to understand each employee’s motivations and applying them in the following four areas will help bring out everyone’s best.
Leaders must recognize that team members are not required to be like them. Even if they’ve been highly successful — and satisfied with their work philosophy and career trajectory — Gassner Otting says it’s riskier than it used to be for leaders to “assume that what motivates us, [also] motivates the person on the other side of the desk from us.” It’s no longer practical for leaders to use our own histories as a template that team members must follow. She explains that if we don’t have the careful conversations to understand what motivates employees, then “all we’re doing is asking them to check boxes in our scorecard… and then you wonder, ‘Why aren’t they motivated?’ Well, you can’t be insatiably hungry for someone else’s goals.”
So it’s crucial to encourage employees to articulate their own goals, and for organizations to support them with the targeted career planning, career crafting, and skill development that will enable them to reach those goals. Otherwise, either they’re likely to feel disconnected enough from what they truly want that they go somewhere else to find those things, or worse — they’ll keep showing up and dragging through their days — without commitment or creativity.
To attract people to your team, frame your own goals in terms of the results they want. If you want to hire the most dedicated, innovative people, the ones that every employer wants, you have to make it clear that working on your team won’t just be the typical agreement of “you come and do the work we need and we’ll make it worth your while.” Gassner Otting emphasizes that in a competitive marketplace, you’ve got to demonstrate that your opportunity will scratch their itch; you have to frame the job’s roles and responsibilities as the solution that the other person is looking for.
This means you need to find out what individual problem they’re trying to solve for, whether that’s daily variety, or scheduling flexibility to accommodate their homelife needs, or a quick rise through the organization or certain kinds of status or compensation. And then you have to show how the organization’s purpose and goals will provide the right conditions for them to find satisfaction and meaning — whatever those things happen to be for them.
Encourage employees to be their true selves at work. People today are yearning to be how they see themselves and not merely perform a set of behaviors or manners that force them to “mask” or “pass” during the workday. A strange silver lining of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Gassner Otting, is that it has eliminated the traditional Monday morning or water cooler small talk, particularly because so many people are working from home. The impossibility of real work-life balance is now out in the open, and we’re almost forced to have work-life integration, because “you can see my life; you can see who I am” during all those video meetings, and people are naturally more focused on “big talk about meaning and purpose.”
She believes this shift means that “being able to have conversations about what really engages, motivates and inspires the people you work with is going to be easier than ever before, because we can’t help but have those conversations right now.” As colleagues become more conscious of each others’ lives and concerns, they may be more willing to cut through surface chatter and protocols to ensure that they can generate meaningful outcomes collaboratively. And that’s much harder to do if individuals have to pretend to be someone they’re not to be just to get through the workday.
Accept that compensation and incentives are merely table stakes if you want to retain great people. As the older Gen X and Millennials move through the workforce and as Gen Z comes in, we see a significant emphasis on purpose and meaning. Employees are more likely to be motivated by their own values, and not just the extrinsic rewards of pay and perks. Gassner Otting thinks employers get it wrong when they assume that a less-than-satisfied team member will be happy if they just get a little more money, when what they really care about is “manifesting their values through their work.” Organizations that are attentive and savvy enough to learn about what engages each individual may find that there’s more to be gained by supporting community engagement, special projects, and philanthropy rather than focusing solely on bonuses and incentive comp.
Today’s challenges can be deeply draining, and many people are working harder than ever to keep up with the many current uncertainties. But if leaders are willing to invest in getting to know all their team members for who they are, and help them find consonance by aligning their responsibilities with their personal values, there’s a much greater chance for both employees and organizations to experience growth and success together.
Onward and upward —