Turning Good Work Into Great Work

When the nation faced an economic crisis, many companies tightened their belts. Benefits were reduced, raises were frozen. Employees took to job hopping every year or two to get pay increases and benefit improvements. Now that the economy is recovering, companies need to focus on providing the right incentives to retain employees and keep them working to their full potential.

The majority of employees want to do their best work, according to the Great Work Index Study from O.C. Tanner. The problem is that some employees aren't given the chance to contribute as much as they are able.

"There is nothing more frustrating than the feeling you should be doing something that you are never given the opportunity to do," says Gary Beckstrand, vice president of the O.C. Tanner Institute. "In a separate study, we also show that employees doing more great work also have a better overall well-being compared to employees who don't."

On the Front Lines

Non-management employees often wind up feeling like "cogs in the machine," the report says, and they don't feel there is any incentive to do more than average work.

"It's not that non-management employees feel that performing great work is above their pay grade," says Beckstrand. "In fact, 86 percent of non-managers feel they should be responsible to perform great work, but only 63 percent of non-managers feel like they actually get the opportunity. This is explained in large part by the fact that only 62 percent of executives surveyed feel like all employees should be doing great work."

Conversely, 38 percent of executives feel like employees who do adequate work that meets basic requirements are doing good enough, so they don't offer encouragement to do better.

"These managers are less likely to ... provide opportunities to non-management employees. An opportunity exists to better align manger expectations with employees' desires to do great work," Beckstrand says.

Five Ways to Drive Employee Engagement

Related: The Benefits of Bringing Your Dog to Work

(function() { var config = { question: 'Are dogs at work a good idea?', mediaElementSelector: '.livevote-media', questionSelector: '.livevote-caption', id: 'jlYyYx2XEx' }; var referer="";try{if(referer=document.referrer,"undefined"==typeof referer)throw"undefined"}catch(exception){referer=document.location.href,(""==referer ||"undefined"==typeof referer) var lvel=document.createElement("script");lvel.id = 'lv_' +Math.floor(Math.random() * 1000);lvel.type='text/javascript'; lvel.src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/livevote/beta/embed/public/js/lv-widget-runner.js?id=" +config.id+" lvel.async = true;document.body.appendChild(lvel); })();

To encourage further employee engagement, Beckstrand recommends the following five incentives:

Realize that employees at all levels of the organization desire and expect to do great work. This realization will minimize any unintended actions that may diminish the opportunity for top-notch work to be done at all levels.

Spread the message that every employee is expected to perform great work and lead by example. For instance, in company meetings, recognize employees who have done innovative work and underscore how important that type of work is to the whole organization.

Model and encourage others to focus on the following five "Great Work Skills": Ask the right question; see for yourself; talk to your outer circle; improve the mix; and deliver the difference. These are the actions that will best lead to increased results. (The Great Work Study explains these skills in more detail.)

Increase your visibility and interactions with employees. Seek employee input and ideas. Communicate that the success of the organization is dependent on their work. Align their work to the mission, vision, and values of the organization.

Support and encourage all leaders and employees to both informally and formally recognize the contributions of others (their great work). A separate O.C. Tanner study quantified that communicating appreciation through recognition is the No. 1 thing leaders can do to influence great work.

Great Work, Great Results

Executives who engage employees at all levels of the enterprise and offer sufficient incentives to drive them to put forth as much effort as they are able will see noticeable benefits company-wide.

"Our study also shows that how well employees are doing great work is a strong predictor of business results," Beckstrand says. "In fact, an increase of one point on our great work index yields a 9 percent increase in business results. Our study also showed that employees performing great work are the most engaged employees at an organization."

When an employee feels like a recognized contributor, they become more committed. This commitment has tangible benefits for any company, and an employee who makes this kind of commitment to their company will probably stick around for a long time.