Do Employees Really Want to Be Challenged?

I was thinking about corporate culture last week because I’m currently in a great culture—not because I have bosses who are especially sensitive or interested in my development, but because every Friday a movie that recently appeared in a movie house is shown on a wall-length screen in our employee lounge area, and we get an unlimited amount of gourmet coffee from our own coffee bar, staffed by a professional barista. I’m not kidding! At one time, I would have just been excited to have an employee lounge area, let alone movies on Fridays and all the gourmet coffee I could want.

Is this exciting level of indulgence “corporate culture,” or is it something else? I researched it, and found “The 2019 Digest of the Most Valuable Company Culture Statistics,” written by Jeff Previte. An array of statistics are covered about the employee experience, and what a modern-day workforce expects, but what got me was this statistic: Some 30 percent of people told the Employer Brand Research Report that they leave a company because of “lack of challenging work.”

When I think of why I would leave a company, “lack of challenging work” doesn’t make it into the top 10 reasons, or even the top 100, as I look at challenging work in the light of overwhelming projects, crazy deadlines, and overcomplicated processes. I Googled “Do people truly like to be challenged?” and couldn’t find anyone who had answered that simple question. However, I found many pages on how to challenge yourself further, how to manage challenges, and even what to do if—gasp! Say it isn’t so!—you work with people who don’t like challenges. My suspicion is the vast majority of people don’t like challenges—at least the way I’m defining them here. Do you have research you could send me to prove my hunch is wrong?

I believe many people leave companies because the work is too challenging, meaning processes are not streamlined enough, and the workload is overwhelming. The pay and benefits don’t warrant the level of work-life difficulty the job requires. 

Instead of racking your brain for ways to create challenges for employees, leadership development and manager training should focus on just the opposite—“work smarter, not harder” strategies. The mark of great managers is they can take a huge task, and find ways to organize it and space out due dates, so it becomes manageable and less challenging. If challenge was so beloved, ineffective managers would be beloved. After all, there’s nothing easier for a manager, and more challenging for employees, than to have a big mess of a project dumped on their laps and be told to figure it out and finish it within a week. Challenging, but not fun to most people. 

Streamlining and simplifying assignments for employees could be a whole course or series of learning modules unto itself. Streamlining and simplification go against some people’s natural inclinations. Not mine, as I am always looking for ways to eliminate challenge and unnecessary complexity. As I’ve written previously on this blog, a person who works over me reflexively adds difficulty to any problem he is asked to solve. Inevitably, his “solutions” add process and work. When extra steps and tasks are added, the solution often isn’t viable because it isn’t livable. It’s like a doctor or nutritionist imposing an unrealistic dietary regimen that’s so challenging and unpleasant, it makes failure a certainty. 

In addition to teaching managers and executives to develop business solutions that streamline and simplify workflow, are there other ways a company can make employees’ lives less challenging?

In an article that will be part of Training’s July/August issue, I’m writing about “Putting the H Back in HR.” Part of doing that is helping employees with work-life integration. That means flexible hours and benefits such as on-site or near-site child care. 

What can you do to make your employees’ lives less challenging? Born-to-wealth bon vivants and fabulously wealthy entrepreneurs are looking for ways to fly hot-air balloons around the world, climb Mount Everest, or pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to experience zero gravity on the “vomit comet.” For most of the rest of us, getting out of bed early and going to an office to do work you’re not in the mood to do is challenge enough.

Do you have any tips for training bosses to keep work output productive while making employee work lives easier?



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