There are times in your career when things just seem to fall into place. The team you work with gets along well, the work may be challenging but rewarding and results are good. Getting up each day and going to work is fun. You look forward to it and most days are energising.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe that time is right now, or maybe it was some time back and you feel like it may never return. For me, there have been three times across a 25 year career that stand out.
In my work with clients, I make a point of discussing this with them. I ask them to reconstruct their best workplace experiences (I’m talking about experiences across extended timeframes: months or even years…not just a few days or weeks). Over time, clear themes have emerged. Just as importantly, there are potential reasons which are almost always absent.
First the things that aren’t important:
- The company you work for. That’s right, who you actually work for plays a very small, almost irrelevant role in determining workplace happiness.
- The pay and conditions, although there is a caveat on that statement. There are minimum standards to everything. Pay and conditions are hygiene issues and must be respected by the employer, lest they act like submerged icebergs and disaster awaits. And,
- The work itself. This may be more difficult to believe, but in constructive and high performing work teams, that actual job performed plays only a small part in long term workplace happiness and engagement. The mission may be incredibly important and can be a critical driver of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, but long term there are few (if any) differences across groups in the things that they describe as important, regardless of the work performed.
So what is important, and what makes a work experience truly memorable?
Competence – feeling competent to do your job and knowing those around you are competent and capable of doing theirs.
Control – Having the autonomy to get the work done and enough certainty that conditions are not going to change in the short term to negatively impact on getting things done.
But the biggest factor of all:
Trust – In each other and in those who lead. When trust is high, extraordinary things happen. Trust is empowering and enables smart risk taking. In high trust environments, status is respected but does not overwhelm and decisions are made in a spirit of fairness. In high trust environments, people are not placed into a “threat state”. Powerfully, there is a sense that we are watching each other’s backs and we close ranks and jointly problem solve when challenges emerge.
With careful investment in culture and leadership development, these conditions can be created in any organisation, but they never just happen by accident.