What do Karl Marx and Monday mornings have in common? Considering how most people feel on Monday mornings, Marx and Mondays are more connected than you’d think.
Marx predicted that as skills became more specialized, the personal contributions of workers would become less distinct, leading them to lose sight of the results of their efforts. Without a sense of accomplishment at the end of a task, workers would eventually become apathetic to their roles.
This is a sentiment that’s grown increasingly strong in today’s digital world.
In contrast to the industrial age, the digital age provides a far less structured work environment that often lacks fixed schedules, the need for offices, and tangible products. On top of that, it deals in the currency of bits and bytes, making an “I did that” sense of accomplishment even more difficult to achieve. The gap between one’s work and the fruits thereof has grown vast and wide, leading to a bored, lethargic workforce.
It’s no surprise that a recent Gallup report found that only 30 percent of employees in the U.S. feel engaged at work.
The apathy epidemic is real, but it’s also misconstrued. This elusive sense of accomplishment doesn’t necessarily require one to build a tangible product with his or her bare hands. Instead, workers must feel like they’ve made a valuable contribution to something meaningful and their efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Here are three ways to sustain a sense of accomplishment among your employees:
Surprisingly, this is commonly overlooked by overworked managers, but it’s an essential element of helping people feel valued. A couple minutes of chitchat and a question or two about professional and personal lives goes a long way toward eliminating workforce apathy and raising self-worth.
As you practice making these caring connections, you should also encourage your employees to make social bonds with one another. Social interaction plays a huge role in happiness, and great work environments feature meaningful two-way communication and genuine, caring friendships.
One great way to show that you care is to surprise your employees. Catching them off guard with a fun activity will break up boring routines, create a sense of camaraderie, and show appreciation for their hard work. Small gestures of gratitude like bringing in coffee and bagels or celebrating weird holidays are inexpensive ways to brighten everyone’s day.
Former Scandinavian Airlines System CEO Jan Carlzon turned conventional pyramids of authority upside down by placing the customer first. In doing so, workers who were traditionally at the bottom of the hierarchy became the most important and valued employees because they’re closest to customers and best positioned to identify and solve problems. The primary role of managers, Carlzon says in his book, is to serve and support these ground-level employees.
The majority of companies still cling to traditional hierarchical models of control, but this is only proving to be unproductive toward the satisfaction of both employees and customers.
It’s easy for managers to forget they may be ignorant of important details. Seeking the advice of those with direct hands-on experience is invaluable.
The common thread here is that feelings of accomplishment don’t solely come from material satisfaction; rather, building a strong culture that centers around the emotional fulfillment of employees is the true key ingredient.
There’s a direct correlation between positive emotions and productivity. A study of 64 organizations revealed that companies with enthusiastic, engaged employees achieved twice the annual net income than their apathetic counterparts.
A strong, positive culture also promotes customer longevity and attracts new business. Happy employees spread their positivity to customers and create positive experiences and interactions that apathetic individuals are incapable of providing.
On one hand, Marx was correct about the importance of feeling a sense of professional accomplishment. But he missed the boat by saying that it can only be achieved through material, tangible results.
Instead, a sense of accomplishment comes from a caring culture of acknowledgment and recognition. Celebrating ideas, contributed services, and shared expertise reminds employees that there’s a greater purpose to their work. This, in the end, is how companies grow.
About the Author
Per Bylund is a research professor at John F. Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship and Free Enterprise of Baylor University. His areas of research are entrepreneurship, management, and economic organization. Connect with him on Twitter.