It is difficult to sympathize with people who have disconnected from work and, as a result, are not productive. Sometimes, we see their unhappiness as an error in their mental composition and we think that they should be able to absorb it and get out of it.
This thinking is counterproductive and ignores the underlying reasons why people lose passion for what they do. To get to the key of the problem, it is crucial to understand that as humans we want to feel motivated and find meaning in what we do. It is part of our biology. In our brain there is a search system that creates impulses to learn new skills and take on challenging but significant tasks. When we follow these impulses, we receive a high of dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to motivation and pleasure that makes us want to participate in these activities even more. We feel more alive and excited.
Exploring, experimenting, learning, this is the way we should live and work. Many workers can not perform these tasks because of the way companies operate.
Many young people just out of college begin to work excited because they are told that there are opportunities to learn and grow. But the honeymoon does not last long. They soon discover that their supervisors do not have time or patience to experiment. They are more concerned with protocol than personal development. It is as if they were afraid to try new things to keep from going out of plan. They do not leave space to learn and as a result they go out. This is our biology: it is part of our adaptive unconscious to know that our human potential is being wasted.
The key for leaders is finding ways to activate employees. There are likely to be obstacles in the organization, many of which are probably out of your control. Often, it is not possible to ignore performance metrics or overcome policies and bureaucracy.
According to Dan Cable, business objectives can be achieved while improving the lives of employees.
There are three pushes that drive the search systems of employees. Encourage them to play with their strengths by creating opportunities to experiment and helping them to personalize the purpose of the work:
- Self-expression: people have an innate drive to show who they really are, but corporate life is opposed to the human desire to express themselves. None of us wants to have preprogrammed behaviors over and over again. When people are asked to think about their best characteristics, their search systems are activated. When people identify and use their unique strengths, they feel more alive. Leaders can help collaborators to be as good as possible without changing the frames of their work. Employees want to be valued for the skills and perspectives they bring, and the more you can reinforce their compliance and remind them of their role in the company, the better.
- Experimentation: a second way to activate people’s search systems is to create an experimental “safe zone” that includes play and social support. The game also pushes anxiety and fear to their places. Positive emotions are important, of course. But in addition, experimental safety zones create intrinsic motivations that are much more powerful than extrinsic ones because they unleash creativity. Companies are more agile when they encourage employees to think new approaches and try them.
- Purpose: this feeling does not just come from curing diseases and improving the world. It also turns on when we can see the cause and effect between our contributions and the progress of our team. For example, the sense of purpose is raised when we can offer information to our team about what might work best. In the same way, we have a sense of purpose when we can experience first-hand how our unique contributions help other people and allow the team to progress. Instilling a sense of purpose does not work when it comes to “one time”. It’s not just a leader’s speech that talks about why our products and services help customers. The purpose works best when employees interact directly with the people they affect with their work.