Can you recall a time in your career when you felt fully invested in producing your best work?
Trish Koelsch, a Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education student, shares her story: “I interned in the bakery of Disney’s Hollywood Studios where Star Wars Weekends were held over the course of five to six weekends during the spring. Our job was to make all of the desserts for the entire park. During one of these weekends, George Lucas came to visit and was dining at one of the restaurants. Everyone went a little frantic to make sure everything was perfect! In addition to preparing for his visit, we still had to work hard to get the rest of our tasks done, because Disney is like the city that never sleeps! Although I didn't get to meet George Lucas, I was told that he loved everything. It's really cool to me to know I was part of a team that helped create some magic for Mr. Lucas.”
Chances are George Lucas is not going to show up at your place of work. So how do organizations, managers, and even team members awaken the (work)force? Here are some lessons from Google, a company whose employee satisfaction rates has earned it a number-one spot on Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list seven times over the past decade.
1. Recognize good behavior (and not just at the annual review). Googlers have found many ways to weave positive reinforcement into the corporate culture. The company has a “gThanks” program that encourages colleague-to-colleague cheerleading, even putting the power of bonuses into the hands of the employees. Speaking of bonuses, Google allows for rewards to be given on the spot, not just once a year, and they can be doled out not just in a paycheck bump, but also in the form of event tickets, gift cards, or other experiences.
Why it works: Research published in the Harvard Business Review on the subject of employee motivation discusses that rewards speak to one of the most basic human needs: The need to acquire. Recognition for a job well done fulfills this insatiable urge — and propels employees on to greater satisfaction and engagement with their work.
Real-world application: Your company’s budget may not allow for the quantity and frequency of rewards as Google. That’s OK. It can be as simple as making an effort to recognize individual contributions in a team meeting. Instituting a culture of gratitude will go a long way.
2. Foster an inspiring atmosphere. Great ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, and when you look at the lineup of company-sponsored talks — a Nobel Laureate, composer, NBA player, entrepreneur — it becomes clear that the company that brought the world Google Glass doesn’t believe in blinders.
Why it works: Talking employees out of their normal routine and providing them with an uplifting experience actually increases productivity by as much as 12 percent, according to a 2014 study by the University of Warwick.
Real-world application: Encourage employees to participate in extracurricular company activities, instead of making them feel chained to their desks. While most companies don’t host the caliber of speakers as Google does, it’s not unusual for corporations to hire a motivational speaker or sponsor quarterly training events. True, deadlines must be met, but taking a mental break might be exactly what your team needs to get their best work done.
3. Raise the bar. What’s one of the top reasons employees rank Google as a great company to work for? Great challenges. That’s right: Just as valuable as the complimentary organic meals, on-site oil changes, free gym access, and massage therapy, Googlers rate being assigned difficult projects and tasks as one of their favorite parts of their jobs.
Why it works: Again, the Harvard Business Review offers some insight. Humans have a natural need to comprehend, and we find it invigorating to figure out solutions to complex problems. You don’t need to look far for proof: It’s likely that you or someone you know left a job because they were burned out on doing the same monotonous, unfulfilling tasks.
Real-world application: Opportunities to take on new and exciting projects may not always present themselves, but when they do make sure all hands are on deck to strategize, execute, and bask in the feeling of accomplishment. Whether it’s the perfect search algorithm, widget, or Excel balance sheet, happy employees are hard workers who enjoy sweet success — especially in the form of a Darth Vader cupcake.
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