How can we get people to care about their work? What can be done to help these people enjoy their work more? Given the opportunity, what quality of work are they really capable of?

The most common challenge for managers

“My team just don’t seem to care about the work they’re doing. Their standard of work is poor, they’re attitude is off and I have to spend so much of my time trying to pick up the pieces instead of being able to get on with my own work.”

Does this sound familiar to you? This is one of the most common complaints I hear from managers and in my opinion it is one of the biggest challenges that managers are faced with. It shows up in every industry across organisations large and small. In fact Gallup’s most recent State of the Global Workforce report shows that found only 14 per cent of employees in Australia and New Zealand are engaged in their jobs.

The impact is wide reaching. Individual and team performance, productivity and morale can be affected. Organisational profitability and culture take a hit. Managers might feel angry, frustrated and fed up whilst others feel upset, deflated and overwhelmed. This attitude towards work can also impact quality of work with high rates of errors and longer periods to actually get work done.

What if we take a look beyond the walls of the organisation, who else is affected? Clients can feel the impact with bad customer service, poor delivery of products and services or perhaps inadequate handling of enquiries, feedback or complaints. When the staff and managers leave work with high levels of stress, dissatisfaction or frustration the people who will invariably have to deal with these emotions are their families, friends and communities.

It’s a pretty dismal picture we’re painting and unfortunately it’s a problem that impacts a lot of organisations.

Let’s take a moment to look at this from another perspective and ask what would happen if these staff members have a better attitude towards their work? What might we see if they were highly engaged in their work?

From “participation” to “commitment”

When we find ways to increase employee engagement we have people who are committed to their work rather than just showing up and participating. If we’re looking for a big change in employee attitude we need to change the way we frame this challenge of employee engagement.

Most managers will be asking “how do I increase engagement?” What if we were to reframe this question as an opportunity and ask “how can we get people to care about their work? What can be done to help these people enjoy their work more? Given the opportunity, what quality of work are they really capable of?


Tip 1: How can we get people to care about their work?

This is so simple you wonder why we aren’t all doing this already. This approach draws on a methodology called Appreciative Inquiry which is used for change management and growth. Rather than focusing on what’s wrong and how to we fix these problems, it asks what is working, what would it look like if things were at their best and how do we achieve that? This shift of mindset from problems to strengths helps achieve buy in from all those involved and, more importantly, engages them in the process of change so that they take responsibility for action.

Ask your team the following and (most importantly) listen to their responses:

  • Tell me about a time when you have been really passionate about your work. What were you doing and how did it make you feel?
  • What strengths were you engaging when you did that work?
  • How could the work you do now make you feel that way?
  • What can we do over the next 3 – 6 months to shift your experience at work so you can be more passionate about it?

Here are two things to note with this approach:

  1. You can share you own answers to these questions as this helps to build understanding and rapport
  2. You can do this activity with a group of people. If you have a group of 4 – 6 people, break them into pairs to ask each other these questions and then report back to the group. As a group you can come up with strategies and actions to put into place.


Tip 2: What can be done to help these people enjoy their work more?

A very common reason for people not feeling engaged in their work is that they don’t feel challenged. They might feel the work is beneath them, not relevant to them or not interesting enough to make an effort. Challenges are what help us learn and grow as individuals so it’s important to consider whether your team are challenged enough by their work.

How do we create a challenge for them that is worthwhile and won’t just make them feel overwhelmed or that you’re dumping extra work on them?

“Make them more valuable than when they started with you”

The trick to creating challenges that will engage your team is to align them with their personal strengths and interests. Someone who understands the value of this approach is Jason Santiago, owner of several OrangeTheory franchises here in Sydney. His philosophy with staff is to “make them more valuable than when they started with you.” I recently interviewed Jason and he stressed the importance that “you need to understand the person as a whole, what interests them and excites them”.

“You need to understand the person as a whole, what interests them and excites them”.

Once again you can ask your team to take on responsibility for identifying possible opportunities to challenge them in their work. The two of you can then negotiate the best way forward.


Tip 3: Given the opportunity, what quality of work are they really capable of?

As managers we often think we have to find the ideas or projects that will engage our teams. What if we shifted this ownership to them and asked them to identify the workplace opportunities, issues, tasks and problems that are out there and invited them to take action on them.

Here at FMI our short course and program participants take ownership over their own performance and development by engaging in self-directed projects that are focused on improving the way they work. By giving people the opportunity to take control of an area of frustration or explore an area of possibility, their interest and engagement soars.


What return on investment will you get?

You don’t need to throw money at improving engagement. Studies have found that wages, perks etc. only have a certain level of impact. Instead you need to invest time to build relationships with your team, get to know them, their interests, strengths as well as their frustrations, goals and ideas.

In terms of return on your investment, improved engagement leads to better retention rates, competitiveness, responsiveness to change, increased resilience, more creative problem solving, improved innovation and enhanced wellbeing. In addition these approaches can lead to stronger relationships at work which in turn can have a positive impact on relationships at home and in our communities which is a win for everyone.