Recently, we discussed the dangers of workaholism and how creating a culture of overwork can be bad for your bottom line.
Well, there’s another risk factor that many companies are falling prey to — and it’s one that can have a severe impact on productivity and profits. It also relates to something you’ve probably worked hard to create:
The company mission.
If your business is like most, you’ve probably worked hard to create a strong business vision. You’ve likely documented a mission statement, and may have held staff meetings and events dedicated to defining how you’re going to achieve big goals.
But do your employees really buy into it?
According to our research here at 15five, the answer depends largely on your industry and the type of work your employees do.
When it comes to connecting with your company mission, knowledge workers have it hardest
For your employees, being able to connect the work they do to a bigger mission is critical for one simple reason: It gives them meaning.
Finding meaning at work can be a powerful motivator. It fuels a sense of purpose and can triple the likelihood someone will stay with a job long-term.
But for knowledge workers, it can be difficult to find that meaning. Employees whose skill sets are best employed through desk work, such as consultants and technical engineers, tend to spend a lot of time with laptops — something that numerous studies have shown to be a drawback. In one 2,000-employee survey, for example, more than half of respondents reported “staring at a computer screen” as a downside.
That downside can have some unfortunate consequences.
In 15five’s engagement analysis of nearly 13,000 employees, companies that employ mostly desk-bound knowledge workers scored 5% lower in meaning than other types of organizations. Businesses consisting mostly of employees who work in the field, rather than solely at a desk, scored highest.
When it comes to connecting employees’ roles to the larger company mission, “non-desk industries” have a clear advantage. Thankfully, there’s a lot the rest of us can learn from them.
What we can learn from non-desk workers
Whether it’s helping patients get better or watching architecture blueprints come to life, in-the-field workers can see, touch, taste, and smell the results of their hard work. As far as incentives go, this is one of the most powerful drivers of engagement and productivity. Here’s why:
As we’ve explained before, there’s one thing all employees need to have happen each and every workday. They need to see that progress is being made on meaningful work.
In a very telling analysis of 12,000 days’ worth of employee data, psychologists discovered that the more frequently people experience a sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creative and productive in the long run. Even small wins, such as helping a client solve a technical problem or getting good feedback from a customer, can give a huge boost to how positively someone views their organization and its mission.
The question is: How do you emulate those wins for desk-bound knowledge workers?
How to reinforce your company’s mission
There may be a disconnect between your employees’ intrinsic motivations and your company’s larger mission. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are two very actionable, scientifically-proven steps you can take to change that:
1. Share success stories
If your employees don’t regularly interact with customers or clients, take pains to show the difference their work is making. For example, you might distribute positive customer feedback and call out specific teams that helped make it happen. Or you could let staff know when a new case study has been published, and highlight the individual actions that specifically supported your company’s stated mission and vision.
Can those stories really make a difference? Absolutely. In his book Give and Take, Wharton researcher Adam Grant tells the story of a university fundraising call center where revenues increased 400% after workers started hearing stories of students whose lives were being changed by school scholarships.
2. Encourage autonomy
It’s not uncommon for knowledge-based office settings to have a very hands-on model that involves daily standups, weekly team meetings, regular one-on-ones and continual communication via online chat and apps. While many of these can positively affect workflows, they often result in a more hands-on management model that makes it difficult for desk-bound knowledge workers to feel a sense of autonomy and job ownership.
In these instances, allowing greater autonomy can free employees to bring personal meaning into their work and make their own connections to your company’s mission. This will look different for each company and employee, but flexible work schedules, remote work options, and fewer meetings are all possibilities to consider.
Bottom line: Your company vision and mission can have a huge impact on success — as long as your employees buy into them. This may require a little more time and effort if your workforce consists of knowledge workers, but those efforts can pay off in spades.