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How much control do your employees have?

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How much control do your employees have?

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Over the last year or so, there have been a number of studies exploring why people get involved in crowdsourcing projects.  Whilst some of these studies have explored commercial competitions, others have looked at altruistic endeavours such as the citizen science website Zooniverse.  Despite the varying commercial interest in each of the studies however, the findings have been remarkably similar.

The studies suggest that people get involved in crowdsourcing projects because they allow them to work on projects that interest them, but they also give them a large degree of freedom over how they work.  I think this bares repeating.  People actively pursue projects that stimulate them whilst allowing them to work on them how they wish.

In other words, they give them a large amount of control over how they expend their efforts.  The situation could seldom be more different in the traditional workplace however, with employees given precious little control over what they do, how they do it, or even where and when they do it.  It seems quite likely that this lack of control has coincided with plummeting employee engagement levels.

It doesn’t have to be this way of course.  We’ve seen with various idea jam style events that organizations can easily solicit input from employees on all manner of things surrounding the kind of direction the company takes.  Some organizations have deployed betting exchanges to perform a similar function, thus simultaneously gaining the intellectual input from throughout the organization whilst also giving people a say in the work they do.

On a tactical level, there is a gradual rise in things such as job crafting, whereby employees are given significantly more input into the work they do, and how they do it.  A study, published last year, showed the numerous benefits of allowing employees to craft their own job descriptions.  The study focused on the demand and resource aspects of job crafting.

The demands tend to fall into two categories.  The first is the unhelpful and costly obstacles such as emotionally draining activities.  The second includes challenges such as high workload.

The resource aspect by contrast tends to be helpful, and often falls into either structural or social categories.  The structural includes the kind of organizational support offered by training and development, whilst the social involves the support and help we receive from our peers.

The study looked at the job descriptions of 288 employees, with each of them receiving feedback on how they scored in each of the demand and resource areas, together with some advice on how they could improve.  The employees were revisited a month later to have their scores measured again.

The researchers found that those employees that had re-crafted their job in resource related ways showed improvements in areas such as work engagement, lower burnout and job satisfaction.  These improvements could be manifested in simple ways such as trying new things at work.

Whilst the employees appeared particularly active when crafting their jobs in resource related areas, they were much less so in the demand field.  What’s more, any changes that were made failed to show any significant improvements in employee engagement or job satisfaction, with the only real gain being in lower burnout scores.

The findings suggest that when undertaking job crafting it’s generally easier to increase and develop your resources than it is to reduce the demands the organization places on you.  As such, the researchers recommend that management should focus more on the way demands on our time effects our well being, as these are more difficult to shift from the bottom up.

Similar findings have also emerged from studies into the time and place that we work, with flexible working being associated both with higher employee engagement scores and lower stress levels.

It’s a common misconception that managers do the managing, and employees the working, but these studies highlight how beneficial it can be to engage employees in the management of your organization.

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