Workers need to feel they're making a difference
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—When workers are aware that their work makes a difference to others—even in small ways—their job satisfaction and productivity rise, according to University of Michigan research being presented this week at the annual American Psychological Society convention in Chicago.
Most efforts to improve worker productivity hurt job satisfaction while efforts to boost worker morale tend to lessen productivity, but few factors have been shown to promote both, says Adam Grant, a U-M organizational psychology doctoral student.
Grant thought researchers could find ways to make workers more productive and happier at the same time.
He conducted several experiments and field studies to look at a variety of workers from fire fighters to telemarketers. Grant found that feeling your work had positive impact on others was important for both job satisfaction and productivity.
One surprise: 10 of 60 fire fighters studied actually hoped they could fight more fires so they could have a greater impact on people. And among telemarketers: those who believed their work had a positive impact on others were more satisfied with their jobs and had more sales per hour.
"Most work makes a difference in someone's life in some way or else the job wouldn't exist," Grant said. "We found that something as minor as showing people the client who benefited from the work made them care more. Just seeing that person, not even talking to him, could make them care more about what they were doing.''
Doctors, performers and teachers get instant feedback and immediately know how their work impacts others, Grant said, leading to higher job satisfaction, particularly when they do something appreciated by the people they serve.
In one experiment conducted by Grant's team, students were asked to improve another student's job application cover letters. One group was told the student didn't really need a job and another group was told the student really needed help finding a job. Some of the students in each group briefly saw the student in person, and the others only saw his picture. The group that saw the student and knew he needed the job made 25 percent more changes and spent more time working on it than the others.
"Even in a job like packing paper clips, if you understand how people are helped by what you do, how you make a difference to them, you will be motivated to care more about what you're doing," Grant said.
For more about the American Psychological Society, visit: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/
Contact: Joe Serwach