My good friend’s son has an entry level job at a big box store. Although he doesn’t make much an hour, he likes the steady paycheck and the non-rush hour shift he is on and enjoys his co-workers. He has a good relationship with his supervisor and appreciates certain perks that are provided with the job –they reimburse his mileage to different stores, take 25% off of his Verizon bill and offer his crew free breakfast every morning.
I know this young man pretty well and, as entry level workers go, I believe he is a good employee. He is never late, works hard and makes good use of his time. He has yet to miss a day of work, can function independently, and is well liked by his peers.
The other day, however, I asked him how it was going and he said, “I don’t know how much longer I can stay there.” I was surprised by his answer. He said, “I’m starting to get bored. The days used to go by very quickly but the stuff they have me do is too repetitive and too easy.”
I remember Dan Pink’s assertion in his book, Drive!, that employees need more than money to feel engaged and satisfied at work. His research showed that they also need autonomy, mastery and a transcendent purpose. The latter is what my friend’s son’s job lacks and why his heart isn’t in it anymore. Two out of three isn’t enough to keep an employee satisfied and loyal.
In today’s tough economy employees are less likely to quit an unfulfilling job. They may stay but that doesn’t mean they’ll stay productive and engaged– the way they were at the start.
So how would a big box store offer its employees a transcendent purpose? One way would be to take an interest in the employee’s career path. When you see someone with character traits that show some promise, take that person aside and let them know that you see how hard they work and that the company wants to groom them for something more challenging. Boring work seems less so when it is seen as a means to an end that looks more appealing.
They could show that they care about his career by making sure he gets his review on time (necessary for a supervisory position). Employees disengage when they see that their supervisor is in no hurry to conduct a six month or annual review. It sends the message, “Your advancement and career aspirations aren’t important to me.”
Another way to keep young workers engaged is to fill them in on the big picture, where the company is headed, what it is trying to achieve. Let them in on the vision and let that vision be more than just making profits for the stockholders. A company that offers leadership development, mastery and the opportunity to make a difference will keep its employees engaged, loyal and driven to succeed.
I’d love to hear what keeps you engaged at work. Please share your comments below.