Management & Job Design: How to Ensure Your Employees Actually Like Coming to Work

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When I took on my new role as On-Site Manager, I inherited my very first employee-with-a-dotted-line responsibility. I’m not technically her supervisor; but she will look to me for training, guidance and new tasks.  They often say that people don’t leave jobs: they leave bosses; so I was intent on making sure that she would like her job, and that she would like me. When you’ve never managed someone before, this can be a daunting task.

I went to college for management; but as is often the case, I had learned a lot about accounting and finance and little about managing people. I started looking into management theories, employee engagement and job enrichment, and realized that most of management is common sense: the things that I could do to make her job enjoyable would be the same things I would want my boss to do.

In 1960, Douglas McGregor posed two management theories that still hold true today: Theory X and Theory Y. I immediately gravitated to Theory Y (that people will be self motivated to work if their needs are met and they are rewarded) and wanted nothing to do with the micro-managing style of Theory X management (the idea that employees inherently dislike work and must be closely monitored) I had been subjected to at previous employers.

Along with management style, job design is an important factor of job enrichment. There are 5 factors to job design:

1. Task Identity: Letting someone perform the work from start to finish. This one is hard for those of us who like to be involved and know the operational side of our work. Yet, when you let someone really take ownership of a process, it instills a sense of pride.

2. Task Significance: Show the meaning or reason behind a task, and how it contributes meaning to the company. I don’t believe that anyone enjoys doing things “just because”, and wanted to avoid the feeling the character Peter in “Office Space” has about his TPS reports. I try to make sure I explain the meaning behind numbers in reports and the overall goal of corporate processes that can sometimes seem mindless.

3. Autonomy: Empowering employees to make decisions and choose the method best suited to accomplishing their work. I do my best to allow for creativity, a flexible work schedule and to realize that although I may have done something differently, there is often more than one best approach. I try to avoid looking over her shoulder and monitoring things every step of the way. I am often impressed that the final product is more comprehensive, detailed and overall better than what I had expected in the first place.

4. Feedback: It’s important that people know how they are doing. If they are doing well, appreciation should be expressed; if a mistake is made, it should be corrected immediately so that it doesn’t happen again. No feedback can be worse than negative feedback. I try to make sure that she knows how much I value the work she is doing and to share my praise with other members of management (i.e., her real boss) when a job is well done. Many studies have shown that informal rewards are more valuable to employees than monetary rewards; myself, I will remember a thoughtful compliment from my boss for a lot longer than a Starbucks card, although those never hurt either.

5. Skill Variety: Although jobs have become more specialized, doing the same task every day is boring for most people. I can’t change the nature of a job, but I can try to enlist help with special projects or offer opportunities for input on how to improve an existing process.

We spend so much of our life at work; 2,080 hours per year if averaging a 40 hour workweek (at least 23.74% of our life each year). Based on that, I believe it’s important to like what you do, as well as the people you work with. What I’ve realized as I start out is that no one knows it all – when it comes to dealing with people, there is always more to learn.

What are your strategies for managing employees? What have your former managers done in the past that either impressed you or disappointed you?

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