Extraordinary Effort on Ordinary Things Will Make You Less Engaged at Work

Employees who have a difficult time seeing or predicting what happens next also have a difficult time staying engaged at work.

Time and energy spent on mentally preparing for many outcomes or possibilities is draining, and if people have to spend it consistently on things that should be fairly reliable and/or predictable, they find themselves exhausted. An employee in this situation will be tempted, perhaps overwhelmingly so, to seek safety in passivity, or invisibility.

Reducing commitment to the future is the first line of defense when that future is hard to understand, make sense of, or predict.

To shed light on the nature or reliability here, I want to go back to a blog post I wrote a few months ago about “Work and Rules for the Road”.  In it, I wrote that rules for the road vastly improve effectiveness and efficiency because they guarantee a certain degree of reliability.

Just like when you drive to work, the rules GUIDE us through our decision making. You can still use your skills and experience to choose how to do the work, as long as we agree to some rules that make it easier on everyone. (Read the rest here)

It’s not a question of how much unreliability it would take for you to stop using your car altogether, it’s a question of what level of unreliability it would take for you to consider putting off driving until another day or time, to consider home delivery, or to wait until driving was unavoidable.

That’s how the lack of reliability affects employees.

It’s not about whether the employee will keep showing up (although eventually, they might seek more fulfilling work), it’s whether their mind is elsewhere, focused on protection and/or self-serving interests in the name of personal safety and efficiency.

Yes, the world of work is change bound and inherently unpredictable. Yes, it’s true that great businesses thrive on their ability to adapt and be nimble in the face of that change and unpredictability. It’s also true, however, that great organizations thrive because they bring out the best in their people.

When a lack of reliability creeps into ordinary work, thriving in the face of change and bringing out the best in people become incredibly difficult things to achieve.

The best organizations don’t require people to put extraordinary effort into ordinary things. Helping employees see and predict what happens next is part of building such an organization.


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