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Topic: Culture

The Secret Weapon for Workplace Opportunity: Special Projects

New Research Highlights the Power of Working on Projects Outside of Day-to-Day Job Responsibilities

It’s no secret that employees universally value promotions and pay raises. But they also want to feel heard, to do challenging work, to try new things, and to be continuously learning—in short, they want opportunity.

O.C. Tanner’s annual Global Culture Report gives a quantitative look at just what drives the employees of today. The company polled more than 14,000 employees at larger companies (500+ employees) from 12 different countries to better understand what is it that attracts and retains employees who produce great work. Magnifying a section of that global research, it’s clear that employees want variety in their day-to-day job and working on special projects is a powerful way to satiate that desire.

According to the research, two in five (41 percent) employees would rather have variety in their day-to-day job than take a promotion. Cue the special projects. In the past 12 months, half of respondents (49 percent) have worked on a special project at work, and out of those: three in four (76 percent) agreed that special projects help them grow in ways their day-to-day job cannot and nearly three in four (71 percent) say that working on a special project allowed them to connect with people they would not have normally met. What’s more, employees who are able to participate in special projects are 50 percent more likely to believe they learn new and valuable things in their current role and there’s a 20 percent increase in overall job satisfaction.

Being chosen to participate in a special project tells employees they are valued and skilled enough for the particular piece of work. It gives them visibility with leaders they may not normally work with and peers in other departments, and provides exposure to other areas where they can learn new knowledge and skills. While traditional advancement and compensation models are still important to employees and shouldn’t be ignored, this data suggests that working on special projects can lead to higher engagement and employee satisfaction, along with career advancement.


KEY RESULTS

Variety on the job? Yes please.

• 41 percent of respondents said they’d prefer variety in their day-to-day job over a promotion -- the highest percentage was among Gen Z employees (52 percent), and it trends down with age:
- Gen Z: 52 percent
- Millennial: 45 percent
- Gen X: 38 percent
- Baby boomer: 39 percent


Who has the opportunity to work on special projects?

• In the past 12 months, half of respondents (49 percent) have worked on a special project at work

° More salaried employees (51 percent) have worked on a special project at work than hourly employees (35 percent)
° Having tenure doesn’t mean you’ll get more opportunities to work on special projects:
- In the past 12 months, 52 percent of employees who have been at a company for 10 years or less have worked on a special project, as opposed to 43 percent of employees who have been at their company for 11 or more years

• Only 30 percent of respondents feel empowered to create their own special project
• 2 in 5 respondents (39 percent) wish they had more opportunities to work on a special project
• 1 in 3 respondents (33 percent) think that only the favorite employees have the chance to work on a special project
• Half (50 percent) of respondents agree that they have the option outside of their day-to-day responsibilities to work on special projects

° Gen Z appears to have the greatest opportunity, and then it goes down as age increases:

- Gen Z: 68 percent
- Millennial: 57 percent
- Gen X: 46 percent
- Baby boomer: 42 percent

° Top three job functions that have the option to work on special projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities:

- IT: 61 percent
- HR: 57 percent
- Executive/general administration: 56 percent

 

What does a special project look like?

• Out of those who have worked on a special project in the past 12 months (49 percent of respondents):

° 37 percent spent 10 hours or less per week on the special project; 61 percent spent 20 hours or less per week

° Goals of the projects:

- Improve an outdated process, procedure, or product: 40 percent
- Create a new process, procedure, or product: 39 percent
- Move the organization forward in a direction that was new and/or challenging: 21 percent

 

The special projects impact

• When an employee participates in a special project, they:

° are 50 percent more likely to believe they learn new and valuable things in their current role

° have a 26 percent increased sense of opportunity

° have a 25 percent increased satisfaction with leadership

° have a 20 percent increase in overall job satisfaction

• When an employee participates in a special project and excels, they are:

° 78 percent more likely to believe their job is preparing them for their future career

° 70 percent more likely to believe they have the freedom to try new things

° 34 percent more likely to believe they have the opportunity to do their best work

° 20 percent more likely to have an increased sense of success

• Out of those who have worked on a special project in the past 12 months (49 percent of respondents):

° 3 in 4 (76 percent) agreed that special projects help them grow in ways their day-to-day job cannot

° Nearly 3 in 4 (71 percent) say that working on a special project allowed them to connect with people they would not have normally me


CONCLUSION

Opportunity helps employees feel they can make a difference in the organization. It empowers them to influence important decisions that contribute to the company and take ownership in its success. Employees now expect it from their workplaces. If your organization doesn’t have a robust promotion track or significant raises, other forms of opportunity--like variety in work, special projects, and influence in important decisions--become much more critical to providing a sense of opportunity, and as a result, enhancing employee engagement.

ABOUT THE RESEARCH

The survey data was collected and analyzed by the O.C. Tanner Institute.

Qualitative findings are derived from 16 focus groups and 65 leaders among employees of larger companies and organizations, separated by gender. The groups were held in two phases: December 2017 and April 2018. Groups were conducted in Denver, CO; Minneapolis, MN; Toronto, CA; London, UK; and Sydney, AU. Each group represented a range of types of employers, including private companies, public companies, and government entities.

Quantitative findings are derived from online survey interviews administered to employees across Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, United Kingdom, and the United States. The total sample size was 14,081 adults working at companies with 500+ employees. Fieldwork was undertaken between June 18–29, 2018. The full 2018 Global Culture Report can be viewed here.

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