All too often ‘soft’ topics such as motivation and satisfaction are seen as inconsequential in relation to ‘tough’ workplace realities. They can become trivialized or marginalized because they are difficult to measure and are often left in the ‘too hard basket’. And yet it is the management of these ‘soft’ areas that may well determine the success of organizations in the future.
Steven Levitt’s book, Freakonomics – a book which includes discussions about measuring social values in economic terms – became an immediate New York Times best seller on its release because it was able to provide factual evidence for the impact of these ongoing social challenges. The book provided a new understanding of how social values such as happiness can be measured in quantitative as well as qualitative terms in order to understand contemporary issues, including workplace motivation and productivity throught the science of happiness.
The latest research on happiness from a scientific perspective, as outlined in a Time magazine special, shows that happy people are those with a good social network of people they can really call friends – a group or team they can relate to and identify with. But in cities of millions and organizations of hundreds or thousands this can often be hard to achieve. Because it is clear that most of us find identity and meaning in relationships, those who do not have these solid support networks may tend to end up feeling dissatisfied and overwhelmed.
Workplace satisfaction …
The fundamental qualities that keep us going every day – happiness, meaning, fulfillment and satisfaction – cannot simply be stored away to be dealt with later while we stoically endure our work in true Dilbert fashion. We have to be able to find these qualities in our work. But doing this takes time.
A survey on workplace satisfaction conducted with 93 business leaders, 496 senior staff and 1660 employees has found that employees rate good working relationships at the top of their list of most important requirements – ahead of interesting work, reasonable pay, competent leaders, promotion and flexible hours. BUT the business leaders themselves only rank good working relationships as an important workplace requirement between 8 and 11 on their list. (Quantum Market Research 2003).
The right place, the right people …
In another survey of 10000 people, employees were asked to rate the best thing about their work. Top of the list was ‘fellow employees’, bottom of the list was ‘poor communication’ followed by ‘low morale’. When asked what would change their organization for the better, the main response was ‘employing the right people’. (Peter Berry Consultancy)
Although most employees think that good working relationships are the most important factor in workplace satisfaction, leaders fail to recognize this – often because they are so focused on the tasks that need to be achieved. But many employees these days are thinking, “If I’m going to be working here long hours, I want it to be a more positive environment – and this mainly happens with good relationships.”
Making the difference …
In order to create a positive working environment with good relationships, we need to recreate a community focus. This can, however, leave us with a fundamental problem: How do we help people that by nature of evolution and history need small group support work in a corporate environment where there can be hundreds or thousands of people… and in urban environments and cities where there are millions?
This will be the challenge that the organization of the future must acknowledge and address.
©2006 Gaia Grant
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