Put the Progress Principle to Work

You know that employee engagement is what it’s all about. But how do you make that happen?

You could stand on a chair and yell, “Hey everybody! Become engaged!” (Don’t laugh – I’ve seen approaches that are almost that silly.)

Engagement has more to do with something researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer call the “inner work life” of employees. The best managers and colleagues help those around them build great inner work lives, including positive attitudes about themselves, their situation, their colleagues and their company.

Some of the simplest everyday events, especially when repeated, can have a big impact on employees’ inner work lives. Poor leaders can wear it down day by day, often without knowing it. But good leaders and colleagues alike make it a priority to enrich the inner work lives of those around them for everyone’s benefit.

Research is showing that one of the most powerful ways to improve the quality of that inner work life is by giving employees a feeling of progress—of forward momentum in meaningful work.

Everyone has had the experience of feeling like you’re on a treadmill, going nowhere, slogging your way forward through one day after another. Even writing that takes me back to the times I’ve felt that way. It’s HORRIBLE. There’s nothing more disheartening. Look at that word—disheartening—and you’ll see why the lack of a feeling of progress kills your inner work life, while an injection of progress and purpose quickens the pulse and gets you engaged.

For many managers, this is still apparently in the “best kept secret” category. When researchers at the Harvard Business School asked managers to rank the things that motivate employees, most gave the highest score to tangible things like higher pay. Others saw the value of recognition for good work. But very few ranked “a feeling of progress” as high as it should be.

If you’re a manager, you have more influence than you may think over employees’ wellbeing and motivation. And if you’re not a manager, just a caring colleague who knows that leadership is not a position but a state of mind, you can have just as much influence on the inner work lives of those around you.

Nurturing that feeling of continuous progress, including celebration of all the steps along the way, is a crucial key to the productive workplace, one we can ALL make happen.

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