Aimee Lucas
Written by
Aimee Lucas

What if I told you that, globally, only 45% percent of employees say they ‘always’ or ‘almost always’ wake up looking forward to going to work? Forty-five percent. That’s what Qualtrics found in its most recent research on employee engagement trends. And while it might be disappointing to those of us who research and work on ways to improve employee engagement, it shouldn’t surprise us given the fact that, generally speaking, engagement levels have stayed relatively flat across a number of different benchmarks over recent years.

So how can we begin to move that 45% to higher levels? Looking deeper into the research, it reveals that among the key drivers of an employee’s desire to go to work are:

  • Being able to try out new things at work that interest them
  • Having a manager who consistently acknowledges good work
  • Trusting the people on their team

And not only are these drivers of an employee’s desire to go to work – having a boss who consistently acknowledges good work and trying new things at work are among the top 3 global drivers of employee retention.

Making these part of employees’ work experiences starts with companies and managers who recognize the benefits of having engaged employees on their teams and who accept the responsibility they have – every day – to focus on creating an engaging workplace. Drawn from some prior research I’ve done on engaging employees, here are three ways to get started making work worth waking up for:

  1. Expand job descriptions.

    When a company finds ways to expand job descriptions it allows managers and teams to create a variety of opportunities for employees to expand their knowledge and skills in ways that are meaningful to them (and valuable for the company). One way to do this is to expose employees to new skills through stretch assignments, as one software company does. It has a program that allows employees to spend up to 20% of their time on work outside their primary job and encourages them to join projects or do job shadowing outside their usual responsibilities to grow their business knowledge. Another approach: help employees control their own career path. Companies should develop clear, accessible career paths that highlight knowledge and skill development and encourage both employees and managers to initiate conversations about career navigation and matching individual interests to development opportunities. The investment is worth it. Beyond driving desire to go to work and employee retention, 89% of employees who said they have a lot of opportunity to try out new things at work that interest them are happier in their roles.

  2. Make work matter.

    If you want to engage employees, one of the essential mindsets you have to develop in them is that their contributions on the job make a difference. A sense of meaningfulness is one of the primary intrinsic motivators of human beings – and that meaning doesn’t only come from an individual’s personal understanding of and affinity with the company’s mission or values. It also comes from having his or her work matter. All employees – not just Millennials – want to hear that they are doing a good job and contributing to the success of the team or the company. Managers should look for opportunities to regularly express appreciation for a job well done, sharing specifics on why and how the work and the person made a difference. And companies should examine their formal reward and recognition programs to make it easier for managers to celebrate individuals and teams for demonstrating the behaviors required for success.

  3. Create connections.

    Most employees are used to working on teams and collaborating with others, but these teams operate most effectively when employees trust each other. While a number of environmental and behavioral factors influence the sense of trust shared between coworkers, it begins by creating connections and forming relationships. This means companies should look for ways to foster an environment of sharing and learning within and across generational lines, organizational levels, and functional roles. When employees have a chance to learn about other teams and individuals before they have to work together, it can fast-track cooperation and performance when the time comes to solve an urgent issue or collaborate on an important project. At one global organization, local volunteers lead a variety of connection-building activities including social events, community service projects, and professional development sessions across all of the company’s regions. While all employees benefit from these networking opportunities, the volunteer leaders also gain meaningful leadership experience, stretch assignments, and coaching from the local executive sponsor (fulfilling opportunity #1 above).

If you are manager reading this, you might be lucky and work for a company that already has these practices embedded into work routines and leadership processes. But if you aren’t one of the lucky ones, don’t let that stop you. It doesn’t take coordinated HR campaigns to make small steps forward, such as encouraging a member of your team to get involved in a special project you feel she or he is a fit for and making an introduction to the project leader (expand job description), redirecting the credit to the members of your team who made a difference when you personally receive recognition at work (make work matter), or coordinating a lunch networking session between members of your team and one of your management colleague’s teams (create connections). Every day there is a way to make work worth waking up for.