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If You Want to Engage Your People, Make Them Feel Used......Up

Erma Bombeck once said, "When I stand at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say I've used up everything you gave me." Contrary to popular media headlines claiming that "nobody wants to work today," the real issue is that most jobs fail to fully engage people's abilities, energies, and passions. This phenomenon, known as “rustout”, is a significant contributor to burnout. Why are side hustles, job hopping, and quiet quitting a thing? Because one of our most fundamental human needs is to leverage our strengths, grow, achieve our full potential, and contribute to others. Yet, only  5% of employees feel they are meeting their potential at work. 

Several factors contribute to this:

  • Friction: One of the most costly and exhausting aspects of our work experience is clunky technology, needless meetings, excessive communications, bureaucratic processes, lack of transparency, and emotionally exhausting interactions. Friction acts as a second, unpaid shift, draining employees' time and energy and costing organizations over $3 trillion annually.

  • Routine and Repetition: Many modern workplaces continue to function based on outdated industrial-era principles, where employees are treated as mere cogs in the machine, performing monotonous, repetitive tasks. This approach stifles creativity and dampens motivation.

  • Lack of Autonomy: Strict protocols, bureaucratic processes, and hierarchical structures in many organizations limit innovation and initiative, diminishing a sense of ownership, purpose, and speed.

  • Disconnect from Impact: When workers are removed from the direct impact of their efforts, it becomes difficult to feel a sense of accomplishment, contribution, and meaning.

  • Unsustainable Expectations: The fast pace, constant change, and demand to be always-on today can lead to significant stress and burnout, hindering personal growth and job satisfaction.

  • Limited Opportunities for Advancement: Today’s workforce is not content with traditional, linear career trajectories. Instead, they crave growth in their earning power and achievements.

  • Underutilization of Skills: Many jobs focus on the limited constraints of a job description and don’t fully understand or leverage the diverse skill sets of employees.

You can easily address these challenges by shifting how you structure and position the work, as well as the experience you create for your people.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Continuous Learning and Development: Provide opportunities and the time for employees to continually develop new skills and knowledge through apprenticeship programs, mentorship, career marketplaces, and access to educational resources.

  • Foster Autonomy and Innovation: Empower people to take ownership of their work, experiment, and explore new ways of doing things to solve big problems.

  • Connect the Dots: Tie the work to a larger purpose by helping employees understand how their work contributes to the organization's goals, other teams, customers, and the broader community.

  • Operationalize Work-Life Harmony: Promote and role model the harmonization of work and life expectations through boundaries, flexible work arrangements, and creating a culture of well-being.

  • Clear Pathways for Advancement: Develop and communicate clear, attainable career progression pathways, both lateral and vertical. Recognize and reward effort, progress, and impact.

  • Leverage Diverse Skill Sets: Identify and utilize the diverse talents of your people through job rotation, cross-functional projects, reverse mentoring and job crafting.

  • Be a Dream Manager: Leverage Matthew Kelly’s concept of the Dream Manager, by helping employees identify and achieve their personal and professional dreams through one-on-one coaching and actionable plans to achieve them.

How are you making your employees feel used up?

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