workplace

How to get more discretionary effort from employees

January 8, 2020
4 minute read
Last updated April 8, 2020

How do you drive employees to achieve results with vision and passion? How do you get them to go above and beyond—rather than putting in the minimum level of effort required to keep their jobs?

Think about employee effort in terms of “want to” and “have to.” Discretionary effort is the extra effort employees give because they want to. Imagine the outsized business results you could achieve if your workforce was intrinsically motivated to work harder?

It’s no wonder why companies search for the key to inspiring discretionary effort.

Unfortunately, many companies think they can motivate employees with foosball tables and well-stocked office kitchens. Amenities like those can’t hurt, but the real sources of motivation and engagement are far more complex.

The four factors that drive discretionary effort

Discretionary effort and employee engagement are inextricably linked. Engaged employees give discretionary effort while disengaged employees withhold discretionary effort. 

There are four main factors that determine engagement::

  • Job fit. Does an employee find their work fulfilling? Are they behaviorally and cognitively wired for the role? Does their job description accurately reflect the day-to-day duties?
  • Manager fit. Does the employee feel “heard” by their manager? Does the manager understand the employee’s behavioral makeup—and tailor their leadership and positive reinforcement accordingly?
  • Team fit. Does the employee feel safe to share ideas and voice unpopular opinions? Do they positively impact team dynamics?
  • Culture fit. Does the employee feel emotionally connected to the company culture? Do they feel valued by the organization?

The more factors that are met, the more motivated the employee will be. Ensuring job fit, manager fit, team fit, and culture fit can mean the difference between mediocre effort and discretionary effort. Some leaders call discretionary effort nice-to-have, but it impacts the bottom line. 

How to motivate employees to give discretionary effort

No business can hope to improve discretionary effort without insight into these four factors. What’s driving engagement at the company-wide level? What’s driving engagement on individual teams?

To answer these critical questions, you must be able to efficiently and reliably measure employee engagement.

The PI Employee Experience Survey is one way to get the data you need to understand the unique engagement drivers at your company. As opposed to a traditional engagement survey, our employee experience survey is designed to measure emotional investment in the organization—as well as engagement with one’s specific job. The result is a comprehensive read-out of engagement at both a macro and micro level.

Another useful tool is an automated check-in bot. At PI we use Ava, which integrates with Slack.  This is an additional way we solicit feedback from all areas of the company. These findings are anonymous, so employees can be comfortable sharing what’s going well—and what isn’t.

With this data in hand, leaders can take action. Do more of what’s working well—and act to correct anything that’s driving disengagement. Disengagement causes employees to withhold discretionary effort, so it’s critical you act fast on your engagement data. 

When you work to improve engagement in your company, you’ll find your employees are more motivated—and willing to put in more effort than is required. By setting the requisite groundwork, organizations increase the odds of getting the most discretionary effort from their workforce.

Communication is critical to success.

If you think that improving engagement lies solely with HR or mid-level managers, think again. The C-Suite plays a critical role in driving engagement and discretionary effort.

According to author and speaker Simon Sinek, employees give the most effort when they understand the “why” behind their organization—its mission.

It’s senior leadership’s top priority to make sure their organization’s mission and strategy is understood across the entire organization—not just at the top. If not properly communicated, what may be clear at the highest level can read as confusion at the lower ones. This lack of alignment can result in:

  • Conflicting goals
  • Tribal and clique behaviors
  • Employee frustration
  • Lower productivity

If that’s not concerning enough, case examples show that up to 25% of a business’s revenue is at risk when the vision isn’t shared—and agreed upon—by all employees.

By ensuring utmost clarity and transparency when it comes to business strategy, organizations remove potential roadblocks for employees—and inspire them to put in extra effort.

Employee that puts in more discretionary effort

More discretionary effort means better results.

Creating an ideal working environment takes time and effort. But the extra legwork will pay dividends in the long term—especially when employees start going that extra mile for their organization. 

By addressing the four factors that determine engagement and making sure employees believe in the company mission and strategy, leaders can get the most out of their people.