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Carla Cavanagh

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2010: The year of interesting jobs?


As HR professionals know only too well, the recent months have been a difficult time for organisations but in 2010, this fluctuating operating environment can actually offer a great chance for HR teams to improve engagement among staff, says Carla Cavanagh of Best Companies.

Coping with radical change has been one of the biggest challenges, but even if the recession has not yet quite lost its bite, continuing to offer staff interesting and challenging work can really help get staff behind the company goals and purpose.

Analysis of the data from our survey measuring levels of engagement among employees shows how important interesting work is. Over 90% of employees who are engaged with their organisation – and therefore at their most productive – report that their work is stimulating. In comparison, only 39% of those who are not engaged tell us this about their day-to-day work.

More evidence can be found when we look at development opportunities at work. Seventy five per cent of disengaged staff report there are only limited opportunities to learn and grow in their workplace. A clear message that even in tough times, the chance to grow and develop is critical.

This may seem like a stark warning for HR teams – but it is also a golden opportunity. The more interesting work they are able to provide for employees, the more likely staff are to be engaged, have better morale and continue to be productive. And the more likely they are to stay with the business. HR teams need to be getting the best from staff now more than ever.

This doesn’t have to be a complicated challenge. Giving people the sense that they are moving forward in their career does not need to come through formal training and development activities. The smartest HR teams are the ones that have perceived the recent tough times and challenges as an opportunity, not a threat. For many, the recession has meant a reduction in the size of teams, new responsibilities for employees and new ways of working. The businesses that will recover the quickest are those that have presented this as a win-win, a chance to reduce costs but also an opportunity for employees to grow and learn, enhance their CVs and further their career.

In fact, our data shows that personal growth is more important than getting a fair deal from an employer; a sense of achievement and challenge at work can often outweigh simple financial gain.

Of course, there will always be some who turn up at work simply to fund the excitement and challenges they seek elsewhere; through competitive sports or ambitious hobbies. But even these people will eventually get bored undertaking the same repetitive tasks, and seek a change by moving elsewhere.

There is a critical role for line managers in all this, which must be encouraged and supported by the HR function. It is the influence of line mangers and leaders as to how change and difficult times are presented; whether it’s perceived as a bad thing or a good thing. If people are not recognised for taking on new challenges and supported when they take on extended responsibilities, they will quickly begin to harbour negative feelings towards the business.

So, to help prevent this, there are a number of suggestions for HR and line managers that will help keep employees feeling a sense of achievement and growth:

  • You do not have to look beyond the team for learning opportunities; teams can share knowledge and skills within themselves. Not only is this a good starting point, but will create a more flexible and dynamic team, sharing roles around people keeps them interested in work and provides a fresh pair of eyes on a job
  • Break down the silos. Knowledge and skills can be shared between departments regardless of how different they may look from the outside. Teams may be working on different outcomes, but may have useful skills and ways of working can help other teams. Job shadowing can be a useful way to share knowledge and encourage communication between departments 
  • Don’t assume because a person is good at a task, they enjoy it, or are kept challenged by it. Too often managers rely on people they know can do the job well. But ultimately this could lead to a disengaged employee
  • Preconceptions often curtail opportunities for learning and development. Ignore factors like age and actually find out what the ambitions of staff are; it could provide untapped motivation for new tasks and roles 
  • Demonstrate the benefits of new roles and extended responsibilities, even if financial rewards are not available

The challenges presented by the downturn are an opportunity to learn new skills, if presented right. 2010 will continue to be a difficult and challenging period for organisations across the UK and beyond. Understandably, people may often seek the security of familiar job titles and work they know all too well. But HR teams and line managers must work together to make sure employees have stimulating work and roles to keep then fully engaged in the business and its goals.

About Best Companies
Best Companies has been making an impact on workplace engagement since 2000. As the name behind The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For lists, Best Companies conducts the largest employee engagement survey in the world having received nearly one million survey responses from over 3,000 different organisations.
Best Companies has also developed an accreditation scheme which recognises organisations that demonstrate high levels of employee engagement. Based upon employee feedback, organisations receive a Best Companies Index score which if sufficiently high, results in the awarding of a star rating. One star is first class, two stars are outstanding and three stars are extraordinary.

Carla Cavanagh is research associate at Best Companies



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