Human beings are complicated. It’s a fact that has perplexed economists for decades – as often their models of how a workforce should behave simply don’t match with how individuals act in reality.

Take the impact of the recent pandemic, for example. We might expect people to cling to paid work in economically uncertain times. But, in fact, employees are walking out of their jobs at an unprecedented rate, as the Guardian reported in June.

As people around the world take the opportunity to reassess their career goals and work-life balance, it is more vital than ever that employers take the time to create workplace cultures that help them retain and motivate their team.

Sadly, this isn’t as simple as it might appear. Complex humans, remember? While many employers focus on creating a good benefits package, research shows that meaningful work actually has the biggest impact on an employee motivation.

The problem is that it’s much easier to just give someone a raise than to inspire them to feel a sense of purpose in their work. Don’t abandon hope though. It takes a little more time – and some creative thinking – but focusing on job enrichment can help to motivate and retain staff.

What Is Job Enrichment?

We’ve talked before about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. As a quick recap, extrinsic motivation comes from external factors. That might be a pay raise, a bonus, scoring highly on a performance review, or receiving praise from managers and colleagues.

On the other hand, intrinsic motivation comes from inside us. This is what drives us to perform tasks simply because we want to do them. We might enjoy the task, find it mentally stimulating, interesting, creative, or just fun.

Both are important in the workplace. But it is much easier to create sources of extrinsic motivation because these are factors that are clearly under our control. Inspiring intrinsic motivation in our employees is a more difficult task.

This is where job enrichment comes in. It involves making jobs more purposeful, and therefore more likely to give our employees a sense of intrinsic motivation to do their work.

The theory was proposed by psychologist, Frederick Herzberg. He observed that employees are happier in their jobs when they have work that is interesting, challenging, and has a clear impact on the organization they work for.

By designing roles with job enrichment in mind, we increase employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. This is great for employee retention and is also good news for our bottom line.

Job Enrichment Techniques

Now that we are clear on the theory, let’s look closer at some of the job enrichment techniques employers can use to create more purposeful roles and increase their team’s job satisfaction.

1. Give Your Team More Autonomy

When the University of Birmingham in the UK analyzed survey data from 20,000 employees, they found a clear link between the level of autonomy that people have at work and their sense of job satisfaction. Those who had more control over their work schedule reported greater levels of motivation and well-being. Of course, it isn’t always possible to allow employees to fully pick and choose their hours or tasks. But as far as is practicable, managers should aim to give their employees control over their schedules.

Ways to do this include:

  • Flexibility about when team members work their contracted hours. E.g., earlier or later start or finish times
  • Options for home working or hybrid working
  • The ability to choose when to tackle different tasks and what order to do them in
  • The ability to decide for themselves what steps need to be taken to achieve a particular outcome

2. Increase the Level of Accountability

Hand-in-hand with giving more control of over work is increasing the level of accountability your team has for the outcome of that work.

Taking ownership of their own area of work helps employees to feel like a valued and important part of the team. This isn’t about fostering a culture of blame, but one in which everyone feels trusted to take responsibility for their work, without a manager looking over their shoulder.

According to the 2019 Boss Barometer Report by Kimble, 72% of Americans want more responsibility at work. They also want to be involved in decision-making – 74% said they prefer to take a collaborative approach instead of having their manager make all the decisions.

Allowing your staff to take control of projects or processes and report back when needed shows that they are trusted. It also helps to motivate them by introducing more challenges and responsibilities to their roles.

3. Vary Tasks

There’s no getting away from the fact that every role involves some boring aspects. But employees whose jobs consist solely of dull, routine tasks are less likely to find satisfaction and purpose in their work.

You may not be able to give exciting tasks to every employee. But managers can make sure their team members have a variety of duties to keep them interested and motivated by their work.

You can achieve this in two ways, depending on the nature of the role. Job descriptions can be designed to incorporate a variety of tasks, ideally with the team member controlling when and how they tackle those jobs.

Alternatively, if you have several members of a team doing a similar role, you can rotate them around different jobs to ensure everyone has variety. This also means no one gets stuck with the least desirable tasks all the time.

4. Allow Individuals to Become Specialists

As well as giving employees a range of tasks to keep jobs from becoming too mundane, managers can encourage their team members to become specialists in a particular skill or area of knowledge.

For example, a restaurant might give one person responsibility for health and safety and put another in charge of training new hires. By giving people their own area of expertise, you increase their sense of value, showing they have a unique and respected role to play in your organization. This also encourages employees to develop their skills and expertise.

As far as possible, individuals should be encouraged to explore their own interests by subtly slanting the focus of their role. If one person has an aptitude for statistics and reports, they could take ownership of this type of work, while a colleague with a flair for design might take a more creative focus.

When roles align with an employee’s interests, they are more likely to find a sense of intrinsic motivation to perform well. It also shows them that managers see them as individuals with unique strengths, not interchangeable clones.

Managers can also help employees see how their work fits within the broader picture of the organization’s aims. Knowing that what they do has a genuine impact helps people feel their role is purposeful, increasing their sense of motivation.

5. Increase the Challenge of Each Role

When tasks stretch and challenge us, they are more rewarding. While we can tolerate a certain level of routine, our brains need new ideas and to learn new skills to keep us interested and engaged. Mastering new skills is also a reward all on its own, increasing our level of intrinsic motivation.

In a 2018 survey conducted by Korn Ferry, the top reason employees gave for seeking a new job was boredom and the desire to embrace a new challenge.

Broaden roles by including more challenging tasks among those an employee is already competent in. But go slow. It is a delicate balance to strike between engaging people and overwhelming them with jobs that are too difficult for their current skill level. Ideally, involve your team in this process. Letting people have some input into the design of their role will help them feel valued and respected.

Keeping your team engaged, interested, and productive is a challenge in any workplace. By embracing job enrichment techniques, leaders can help their team members find a sense of purpose. This will motivate them to work harder and stay in their job for longer.