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Take This Job and Love It

Take This Job and Love It

Bestselling author Chester Elton helps audiences align the work they do every day with their passions. In this article based on his forthcoming book (with co-author Adrian Gostick), What Motivates Me?, Elton explains that finding work you believe in doesn’t necessarily require radical changes to your life:

Turn the mirror upon yourself: most days at work are you doing what motivates you? Or back up: Have you taken the time to reflect on what you are doing, exactly, on those days when you are most excited and energized in your work, when you have a proverbial skip in your step?

For 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to consult with some of the world’s most hip and happening organizations. And over the last decade my team has conducted three research studies on workplace trends, comprising more than 850,000 interviews. What all that data reveals is a key difference in those people who are most energized on the job.

What is it?

The happiest have aligned more of their work with their core motivations. As for those people who are most unhappy at work, as you might expect, their jobs are out of whack with what they are passionate about.

That probably sounds like a no-brainer, right? Then here’s the million-dollar question: why don’t we all do something about it?

The problem is, most people feel either helpless or overwhelmed. Many wait for an outside force like a manager to fix things. But even well-intended managers who want to motivate their teams have to sift through vastly different notions about what motivates workers: one author has a list of three things that really drive employees, another says no—it’s this list of five other things, and so on. Unfortunately the fixes out there on motivation are much too simplistic and categorical to help many people. In our research, we have found that each individual is driven by a unique set, or blend, of internal and external drivers. Every person on this planet has a thumbprint-like makeup of what makes him or her most happy 9-to-5 (and in the rest of life); and those thumbprints vary considerably.

From the data mining, our behavioral scientists identified 23 workplace motivators, ideas from Creativity to Impact, from Developing Others to Money. (Yes, money can and does motivate some people.)

The bottom line is this: If we want to be happily engaged in our work and performing at our fullest potential, we’ve got to look inside and understand a few of these specific motivators that drive us. All of us host a unique blend of motivations that should guide us in sculpting the work life that’s right for us.

So, do we have to quit to chase our “dream job”? Not typically. In most cases, we found this process doesn’t require a major career or job transition. Most people can make small changes in their work lives. As we’ve been writing our new book, “What Motivates Me,” over the last few years, many of the happiest people we spoke with said they didn’t find their bliss down a new path; they made course corrections on the path they were already on.

When people put their finger on the specific things that are causing them dissatisfaction in their work, they can use that positive language to discuss with their bosses and fellow team members some relatively small changes in job responsibilities or work situations that could create boons in productivity and commitment—just the things they and their managers are looking for.

We call this type of modification “job sculpting.” For employees, the benefit of this process is obvious. But for leaders, the payback can be powerful as well, as sculpting can help diagnose how team member’s specific tasks are (or are not) aligned with his or her motivations, as well as uncover subtle changes that can lead to increases in team morale and engagement.

Here’s just one example. Harvard Business School’s James Waldroop tells an interesting story. He was visiting with a Canadian company where he met a talented senior executive, the chief information officer, who told him she was planning on leaving the organization soon. The woman’s strongest motivator was in doing creative work. She had just finished leading a project to update the company’s information system and had done a masterful job. However, now her role had evolved to maintaining the IT system, where a strong analytic penchant was needed. Little creativity was required in this work, and she had quickly grown uninspired.

Waldroop took her to have a talk with the company president. After some back and forth, he worked out a deal that would allow her to take on an additional role overseeing the company’s marketing efforts, despite the fact that she had no experience in that area. The president knew she was imaginative and smart, and guessed she had a good chance of learning the role and succeeding. She did.

“She didn’t quit,” says Waldroop. “They gave her a little more money, but certainly not enough to compensate for the fact that she now had two jobs. But she was delighted. After all, none of us are single-dimensional automatons, we all like opportunities to expand our skill sets. And the president was delighted because she was staying.”

I’ve now heard a thousand stories like this, and they give me hope. There are individuals and teams among us who are deeply fulfilled by their work, who are passionate about what they do, and are energized when Monday comes. So what’s their secret? In most cases, they have taken control of their careers. When our jobs give us the opportunity to do more of the kinds of things that satisfy our key motivations, we are naturally happier and more engaged.

Did I say this is a simple process? Unfortunately not. Does it does require a manager above you with a modicum of vision? Unfortunately yes. But is it worth it? Absolutely!

Chester Elton/August, 2014