Opportunity for growth and development in the workplace can be tricky. Many employees equate opportunity with promotions and raises, which can be difficult for companies to provide to everyone. According to the O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2018 Global Culture Study, only 49% of employees believe that everyone has the same amount of opportunity available to them at their organizations.
Instead, organizations should focus on building a sense of opportunity in other ways employees desire. People want to make a difference in their work. They want to know they are impacting something bigger than themselves. They want to do great work. Currently 63% of employees feel they have the opportunity to do their best work at their current job.
Here are 4 ways companies can empower employees to do great work and provide a sense of opportunity and growth in the workplace:
1. Give employees a voice.
Employees want to feel empowered to influence important decisions at their organizations—to have a seat at the table, to feel like their opinions and input matter, and to take ownership in the company’s success. Only 52% of employees feel they influence important decisions at work.
One focus group participant in Toronto describes it this way: “I used to work at Starbucks and they have a lovely way of doing things, where it feels like everyone is equal. Even when you come in at entry level, they say you are at the same level as your boss. They tell you that one day you could even be in the board room. That message really encourages your spirit. It makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger, that you’re doing something for both the company and for yourself.”
The prospect of moving up the org chart and being paid appropriately for their contributions are important factors in an employee’s experience at work, but are not the only opportunities employees crave. In many cases, a promotion or a raise becomes more important because they aren’t given any other sense of opportunity that they, too, can have a seat at the table.
2. Involve employees in special projects.
Employees feel a sense of pride when they are handpicked for a special project because of their unique skill set and expertise. And while 3 out of 4 employees feel special projects helps them grow in ways their day to day jobs cannot, only 50% of employees have the option to work on special projects.
Special projects also give employees visibility with leaders and peers who they may not work with, which helps provide networking and mentorship opportunities. Seventy one percent of employees say special projects connect them with people they normally would not have interacted with.
When employees participate in special projects, they are 50% more likely to believe they learn new and valuable things in their current role. There is a 26% increased sense of opportunity at their organizations, a 25% increase in satisfaction with leadership, and a 20% increase in overall job satisfaction.
Also remember to recognize people for their impact on special projects. Only 48% of employees received recognition for their contributions to special projects.
3. Provide a variety of meaningful work.
Give employees variety in what they work on, who they work with, and how they work. We all want to be challenged—after all, who wants to do the same job, in the same way, day after day? Over half (52%) of Gen Z employees prefer variety in their day-to-day job over a promotion.
Variety also gives employees exposure to different parts of your organization. It allows them to expand their skills, learn new things, and see how their work impacts all areas of the company. Eighty three percent of employees are more likely to stay at their organization if they are given new problems to solve and projects to work on.
When employees have variety at work, there is a 56% increase in overall job satisfaction, 106% increase in motivation, and 114% increase in the sense of opportunity. As you provide employees with a variety of work, ensure that it’s meaningful work: something that connects them to your purpose, makes a difference in your organization, and inspires them.
4. Create a fail-safe environment.
Organizations are currently not cultivating an environment where people can safely fail, try new things, or take risks. Only 42% of employees feel they can safely fail in their organization and 52% feel they have the freedom to try new things.
That being said, true innovation is born out of failure. Organizations should find ways to help employees take educated and calculated risks, fail appropriately, and learn from that failure. Recognize and reward attempts, as well as successes. Encourage leaders to share stories about their own failures, which helps employees to learn from previous failures and also feel empowered to try new things.
If providing regular promotions and pay raises are difficult in your organization, give employees the same sense of opportunity by empowering them to do their best work. They’ll feel valued, learn, grow, and be able to lead your organization to success.
*Research from the 2018 Global Culture Report, O.C. Tanner Institute
For more research and best practices on providing opportunity in the workplace, read our 2018 Global Culture Report.
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