My last couple of posts on CurrentMom have been about mistakes to avoid as a manager and the little things that can make or break employee morale. Useful tactics, perhaps, but these also feel like stopgap measures to me—triage for the manager who is losing control or the business owner who is already losing employees to low morale. Most of the time, I think we find ourselves in stopgap mode, especially when the economy is bad. Foundering in a sea of deadlines and short on staff, we cast about for anything that will keep us afloat a little longer, until we get a chance to make real change.
But once we do get ahead of the work or land that next big contract, what is the grand idea that we are going to set in motion? What are the fundamental problems, and how can we solve them creatively? How do we build a workplace that makes people want to stick around and do their best work?
Looking at the happiness problem from another angle, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer ("How to Completely, Utterly Destroy an Employee's Work Life") argue that "the key factor you can use to make employees miserable on the job is to simply keep them from making progress in meaningful work." Their book, The Progress Principle, builds on this fundamental idea that not only should an employee feel that her work resonates with her own values and interests, but that every step, every task, represents progress.
I think of "progress" as something larger and more open-ended than achieving specific goals. It's important to have specific goals—in fact, you will probably be required to have some when you undergo your annual performance evaluation. But for me, the sense of personal progress that underlies morale is more like this:
Am I able to move our work forward every day, even if just by an inch, without being unreasonably blocked or stymied? Am I more knowledgeable and skilled today than I was yesterday? Am I becoming more valuable to the company, and is the company becoming more valuable to me?
So, while my theories about ample office supplies and the sanctity of lunchtime certainly can't hurt, the real underlying issue of happiness at work is harder to solve. Match people up with the right kind of work, and create a work ecosystem that fosters their sense of progress and accomplishment. But how do we get there?
Photo by jphilipg on Flicker via a Creative Commons License.