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What makes work attractive to people? - Bonar Institute for Purposeful Leadership

“Human beings are “symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking animals,”

– Clifford Geertz

The disconnection between employee aspirations to work and what they really experience at work is being increasingly voiced by their quest for destiny of preferred work and workplaces. This forces managers to rethink, “what makes work attractive to people?”

Will more incentives continue to be the means of attraction or is there something else? The quest by the employees for meaningful work essentially signal a direction that organizations might want to explore; a structural change towards making work meaningful to people, making organizations meaningful to societies, instead of restructuring pay scales and incentives.

Do people value the work they do, and perceive organizations worthwhile to spend their time and energy?

Simply, rules and incentives are short term solutions. In the long-term, rules and incentives become a downward spiral that limits employees’ productivity. Designing organizational practices and culture adhering to managers’ fixed mindset that ‘employees work only for self-interest’, hasn’t paid off. However, when people are engaged and challenged by the work they love to do, they go beyond their comfort zone. When they find challenging and meaningful work which fosters autonomy, they are motivated, engaged, and happy at work. They learn new things, share their knowledge, and innovate.

It is human to pay attention to what you do, and how you do it, and to pay attention to the structure of the organizations we work for. Professor Barry Schwartz (psychologist) says, “we ought to try re-moralize work”, and managers must ensure that their organizations encourage and nurture both moral skill and moral will of the employees. He prescribes to celebrate moral examples and acknowledge the moral heroes as a method to follow.

On April 28, 2022, Airbnb announced their new approach to allow employees to live and work anywhere. CEO Brian Chesky’s email to employees mentioned, “we started this process by asking a simple question – where is the world going? We then asked, what are we solving for?”

Airbnb’s design to live and work anywhere has five key features.

  1. Airbnb employees can work from home or the office
  2. Airbnb employees can move anywhere in the country they work, and their compensation won’t change
  3. Airbnb employees have the flexibility to travel and work around the world for up to 90 days a year in each location
  4. We’ll meet up regularly for team gatherings, off-sites, and social events as a company, and
  5. We will continue to work in a highly coordinated way, operate off of a multi-year roadmap with two major product releases a year

Brian Chesky tweeted (April 28, 2022), why they came up with this design as to, “The world has become more flexible. Our business wouldn’t have recovered as quickly from the pandemic if it hadn’t been for millions of people working from Airbnbs”.

We must challenge the traditional assumption that ‘because of human desire for money, success, or fame, they will be motivated to improve their quality of work’. We must move on from the factory system towards integrating values of the organization and the employees. Leaders must try to identify and align people’s aspirations instead of trying to fit in every employee to organization’s demands.

According to Clifford Greetz, “human beings are unfinished animals”, and organizations can design work to moralize people to produce their best when their aspirations are met with organization’s purpose. Leaders’ can make work attractive to people when their decisions are guided by the organization’s authentic higher purpose that intersects with the business interests.

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