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The Intangible: Job Benefits That Make Work Rewarding

The Intangible: Job Benefits That Make Work Rewarding

Ever since Daniel Pink wrote his legendary book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, the structured world of organizations has never been HR, HR Management, HR Strategy, Employee Engagementthe same.

Pink debunked the most popular myth embraced by a majority of organizations and working individuals: Money equals more motivation. To the surprise of many, money isn’t the best motivator. There’s more to work than money, Pink argues, and he backs up his thesis with 40 years of scientific research on human motivation.

Pink summed up what motivates people in three simple concepts: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. These are the intangibles that turn work into play; these are job benefits that make work rewarding. If you’re contemplating offering better opportunities to your employees, focusing on these three concepts will boost company performance.

1. Autonomy

Giving people autonomy to pursue their own projects empowers them. It fosters passion, creativity, and productivity in the workplace.

Creating an autonomous workplace is largely based on trust rather than blind faith. You trust that employees are efficient in managing their time to start and finish things that matter to them and to the company. Self-organizing teams, for example, are effective because each member trusts that the others have the right skill set to contribute positively to the group.

Autonomy is the new normal in companies like Google. Google employees allocate 20% of their time to doing their own projects or fixing existing ones. Many of your favorite Google products--Gmail, Google News, and Google Chat--all came from this 20% rule.

Want to inject autonomy into your workplace? Here are some specific actions you can take:

  • Let employees choose their own schedule.
  • Allow employees to work from home or other places such as coffee shops and cafes.
  • Promote autonomous thinking by allowing employees to organize around activities about which they’re passionate.

Social research has shown that Generation Y (people born in the 1980s and 1990s) prefers autonomy and positive affirmation to monetary rewards.[1] Looking to hire younger employees? Now is the time to rethink and redesign workplace incentives.

2. Mastery

People like to get better at something. Most organizations don’t really understand what mastery is when they equate it with perfection. It isn’t. Mastery requires effort and is never fully attainable. Mastery, most importantly, is also a mindset.

Understand early on that while you can’t push people to master tasks, you can effectively promote the pursuit of mastery in the workplace. Here’s how.

  • Promote long-term thinking. Better yet, hire people with passion for achieving long-term goals.
  • Promote a “growth mindset,” understanding that there is no such thing as a fixed level of skills. Cultivating a culture that values healthy feedback and constructive criticism fosters such a mindset so that employees recognize that they can do better.
  • Invest in learning materials and encourage employees to value the pursuit of learning. Set up lunchtime learning sessions, bring in interesting or motivational speakers, offer tuition credits to the local college, etc.

Mastery is your antidote to mediocre and unhappy employees. If you want your company to excel at something, start with encouraging staff to become better at what they do.

3. Purpose

In a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, scholars recognized the causal link between job performance and task significance.[2] Their extensive research and field experiments helped them arrive at this powerful conclusion: Employees who perceive the social impact of their jobs and see themselves as playing an important role in others’ welfare perform better.

This explains why careers that are focused on helping people are more rewarding than those that don’t.

Your employees are human beings. And as such, they’re purpose-seeking individuals who want to contribute something to a larger society. They want to positively affect the world through their work.

Many organizations and individuals are still stuck with the old carrot-and-stick approach. Knowing what really gets you out of bed each morning or what keeps you up at night is the first step to making work more enjoyable and rewarding. You’ll realize that it isn’t just about money.


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Erica L. Fener, Ph.D., is Vice President, Business Development Strategy and Analysis at Progressus Therapy, a leader in connecting their candidates with school-based therapy jobs and early intervention service jobs.

Latest posts by Erica L. Fener, Ph.D. (see all)

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