Our little boy loves Thomas the Train. Although it can be mind numbing to listen to Thomas and his friends over and over again, listening to it enough has led me to pick up on the fact that the underlying theme is that all the engines' purpose is to be useful. Not happy, not successful, not prosperous, not even efficient, but useful. The usefulness theme is embedded in the videos, the songs, the website, in all things Thomas.
What if the workplace was embedded with the theme of making you and your employees useful? How would this shape employee satifaction efforts and organizational commitment and how would it shape how you handle leadership? What would be useful for you to do for your employees?
While I sometimes tire of the constant requests for "Choo Choo" (aka Thomas and his friends), I am pleased that the usefulness the lesson is being taught through one of my child's favorite things to watch and do. He not only sees that hard work is valuable, but that each train is different and, therefore, has a different way to go about being useful. The "steamies" have a different purpose than the "diesels" and that's okay. Taking it even further, each individual engine is especially good at something. One is obsessed with being on time (which you could see serving to be useful in certain situations), one is strong and hauls the heavy loads, while another is nice and clean and is responsible for carrying passengers on the island of Sodor where they all live to be useful.
While you might think that useful could be, well boring, it turns out that all the engines on Sodor are happy and satisfied. The only time they aren't is when they aren't serving their intended purpose. The end state of being useful actually leads to a greater end state of job satisfaction and commitment.
Research show that a key component in creating job satisfaction is the nature of the work or the characteristics of the job. Matching people with the right work helps create a sense of satisfaction that leads to motivation and success. Why? Because being useful means meeting a need, and deep down we all want to meet needs, whether it be our own needs or others. You want every employee to feel a sense of meeting a need that maximizes your company's success. Here are some tips for helping you emphasize usefulness which will help lead to job satisfaction:
1. Place people in assignments that allow them to feel as though they are important and competent (perceived competence) based on their strengths and personality.
2. Allow competent people the opportunity to make decisions about how they do their work or how they get it done (see Task-Purpose-Endstate as an example of this) (participative decision making).
3. Related to number two, leave those that are competent alone to do their job (job autonomy).
4. With the right training and leadership from you, allow people to expand their job role within their scope of usefulness so they can learn and grow with your organization (job scope).*
When have you felt most useful?
*Source Jex, S.M. & Britt, T.W., Organizational Psychology, A Scientist-Practioner Approach. 2008. pp 137&155.