Sense of Accomplishment Is Critical

I recently read an article in The Washington Post entitled, “How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life.” Written by Professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer, the premise of the article is that people want to make a valuable contribution in their jobs and what makes employees most miserable is management that keeps them “from making progress in meaningful work.”

The article lists four steps managers take that lead to maximal “work-life demolition.” One of them really stood out for me because I think many employers — including those who are in no way evil — are guilty of this morale-killer: “Never allow pride of accomplishment.”

As described in the article, this occurs when work setbacks occur so frequently that employees can never complete anything and feel they made a difference. The article gives an example of the head of product development who routinely moves  people on and off projects “like chess pieces in a game for which only he had the rules.”

Strike a chord? How many workplaces have we seen or worked in where priorities constantly change? Or where a combination of budget cuts and turnover means that employees are constantly being given new positions and responsibilities? Or where funding, and therefore projects, come and go? For an employer to be able to “change on a dime,” is deemed a good thing. But what about the impacts of such rapid change?

I myself have seen the impact on employees. It is devastating and creates significant morale issues. This is true even when the employer is acting in good faith to meet changing needs.

So what’s the solution? First, employers need to be aware of how detrimental it is for employees to feel they never can complete anything. Then, they need to handle their prioritization and re-prioritization processes with more sensitivity to this issue. Finally, employers may want to talk about the problem openly with employees to try to figure out what they can do to meet their need for accomplishment.

Any other ideas on what employers can do? ~Amy Stephson

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