jobs people love

What “Office Space” Teaches Us About Designing Jobs People Love

Sponsored by: QuantumWork Advisory

In the classic comedy Office Space, Peter Gibbons and his friends have a permanent case of ‘the Mondays.’ Stuck in dead-end programming jobs in an uncaring corporate environment, the movie is prescient of what is being termed ‘The Great Resignation.’ In one scene, Peter explains his attitude toward work in an interview with Bob, the dimwitted consultant responsible for reducing costs:

Peter Gibbons: The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.

Bob Porter: Don’t… don’t care?

Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, alright? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation? And here’s something else, Bob. I have eight different bosses right now.

Bob Slydell: I beg your pardon?

Peter Gibbons: Eight bosses.

Bob Slydell: Eight?

Peter Gibbons: Eight, Bob. So that means when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation, not to be hassled. That and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

The Full Potential of People

Like Bob, we have frequent examples of people that have had enough as resignations hit record numbers. Unfortunately, resignations only reflect the tip of the iceberg of the total problem – a lack of engagement and productivity.

With the tendency to design very narrow job descriptions with clear performance metrics, we ignore the full potential of people. As a result, we create a problem of hidden and untapped abilities and skills. Most organizations only engage a percentage of an employee’s potential. As a result, employees feel undervalued, unfulfilled, and leave.

Design Jobs People Love & Enjoy

There is a movement to understand what employees want. The obligatory presence of foosball tables, baristas, and physical proximity to senior leadership is now largely redundant in a hybrid world. Having a “cool” work environment starts to look tone-deaf when you cut your workforce every time Wall Street sneezes.

The good news is the answer is attainable. Design jobs that people will enjoy. People resign for many reasons and money is normally a key factor, so it’s important to regularly benchmark the marketplace. Apart from using money as a solution, the next biggest factor is designing jobs that people find attractive with great employee experiences. I was recently quoted in Authority Magazine about this urgent need for top-notch workforce UX:

“I’m being repetitive, but it’s so important. Try and design jobs that people will enjoy. I think we lack a true understanding of human motivation and satisfaction. While it may flow against the tide of popular sentiment, I believe people like to work. When it gets down to it, we get a kick out of having a challenge and being able to use a range of our skills to solve it.”

The importance of Designing Work That People Love was further explored by Marcus Buckingham in the HBR Magazine (May–June 2022) writing:

“Simply put, work isn’t working for us. It wasn’t before the pandemic, and it isn’t now. According to surveys my colleagues and I have conducted at ADP Research Institute (ADPRI), before the pandemic, only 18% of respondents were fully engaged at work, 17% felt highly resilient at work, and 14% trusted their senior leaders and team leader.”

And he goes on to say:

“To stem the tide and to attract and retain the best people, then, we must redesign jobs around a simple but powerful concept: love for the content of the work itself.”

As you would have gathered already, I believe that enjoying work is everything. It is the most important factor. Data constantly says that people leave because they are unfulfilled. As a result, they search for something they can’t quite find. If people are passionate and engaged at work. they’ll often do great things! Yes, we all get frustrated, tired, and annoyed. However, if we enjoy the work at intrinsic level day-to-day, then we will have employees who are more engaged and productive.

People-Centric Jobs

It’s vital to ensure jobs are designed with a people-centric lens so people truly enjoy them and reach their full potential. Here are some thought-provoking questions to challenge the design of a role:

  • How can they express creativity or innovation?
  • Can they work on short-term projects across the organization?
  • Do they have access to constant learning and mentors who have shared experiences?
  • Do we have policies that enable us to take advantage of untapped skills?

At Quantum Work Advisory, we recommend employers use empathy-based design thinking methodologies and new AI technologies to design jobs that people are more likely to enjoy. Additionally, there is an opportunity to benchmark the market to assess how attractive a job will be using supply and demand modeling.

The Role of Technology

Technology has a major role to play in helping to design more enjoyable jobs. In our area of specialization, by leveraging design thinking, we focus on ensuring that all Worktech supporting an organization’s Talent Acquisition and Contingent Workforce function, is people-centric and removes manual tasks through new AI and Automation tools.  As a result, users are less frustrated, have more time to do higher-value tasks, and are therefore more satisfied at work.

Another key tool for employers is to use exciting technology platforms to match skills to projects so employees can find opportunities to develop skills outside their current job description. Thankfully, many exciting new tech companies like Eightfold, Gloat, and Fuel 50 use powerful AI algorithms to match projects to untapped skills in the existing workforce seamlessly.

In Summary

In any job, there is a level of discretionary effort and thinking activated because we are passionate about what we do. If you aren’t happy and passionate, companies don’t create and capture the value of that extra effort, ideas, and innovations. That lost economic value has a direct impact on the bottom line and the future growth of the company.

Changing a company’s overall people strategy may seem like an insurmountable task. However, designing jobs that people want seems like a very good place to start. Leverage new technology to remove mundane, manual tasks to better engage and motivate people like Peter Gibbons in the film Office Space.

Designing Jobs

The Human Aspect of HR Communications Strategies

If you’re in HR, no matter your role, you have complex messages to communicate to employees. You also likely have a hard time getting them to pay attention. This frustration is always in the top three for HR — you’ve told them multiple times, but they’re not doing what they need to.

But why? Partly, it’s because of who’s telling them…HR. 

Employees tend to see HR as a corporate function, with company goals in mind. A recent Gartner Human Resources survey shows that only 41% of employees think senior leadership has their best interest in mind.

The good news? The fix is (metaphorically) staring you in the face.

HR Communications Channels – People Vs Marketing

Your best channels are staring you in the face. When you think about multi-channel communications, it’s probably a mix of email, monitor screens, home mailers, posters, etc. What you may be forgetting is a more personal way to reach employees. 

The Gartner study points out that employees are more likely to trust messages coming from people they know…and see — their peers and managers. It seems employers are starting to agree, at least in theory and expectations.

77% Say It’s Effective – Only 31% Actually Do It

According to Gallagher’s 2022 State of the Sector, 77% of those surveyed said employee advocates (peers) are an effective way to communicate with employees. Yet only 31% use employee advocates for HR communications. This is an untapped HR resource.

In that same Gallagher study, 81% of companies report having an increased expectation of managers when it comes to communications. And, for the first time in the study’s 14 years, a top-three priority for employers is enhancing manager communications skills. 

If peers are an effective way to get the word out, and managers are bearing the load of yet more expectations, there’s an opportunity here to build your human communication channel. 

First, Find Your People

Most managers are, by default, part of your human channel due to their job description. But employee advocates can be hand-picked. Whether it’s by department, division, or location, managers and local HR folks generally know the popular employees with positive attitudes. Ask them who would be a confident, trusted, and enthusiastic messenger. 

Make it a personal invitation, not a mere email. Build up the importance of this new role by explaining why you’ve chosen them. “We’ve heard good things about you, and we know others trust you. So, we’d like to entrust you as an HR representative.”

To Make It Effective, Make It Easy to Help

Employees are busy — whether they’re managers, programmers, drivers, or accountants. For most, helping HR get messages out isn’t at the top of their to-do list on any day. But, if you make it easy, it won’t fall to the bottom either. 

To make your human communication channel effective, you’ll need to do more than send an email with talking points and attached flyers. Like any assignment, it’s easier to accomplish when there’s an organized plan with easy-to-follow instructions. 

For Routine, Predictable HR Communications

Quarterly tool kits are easier than unexpected emails. Kick-off each quarter with a 30-minute manager/advocate call. Give them the gist of each month’s topic and make sure the two groups are working together, not duplicating effort. After each call, send (or post) the quarterly materials in three separate packets, one for each month — these could be printed or digital materials. 

In each packet include:

  • Talking points and an FAQ on the topic.
  • Flyer, poster, email text, monitor screen, etc. 
  • Detailed schedule showing when and how to use each piece (talking points in huddles, posters in break/bathrooms, etc.). 

For Ad Hoc “This Just Came up” HR Communications 

Be sure your managers and advocates are plugged into a “message cascade.” This is especially important when you need to communicate change. Cascading starts with messaging for senior executives that are then tailored as it flows down the chain to regional, local, and team managers, and eventually to advocates and employees. You can read more and download a template here.

If you’re depending on people to help you get the word out, they need to know you’ll help them when there are questions or concerns. Commit to having answers (or at least get in touch) within one or two business days.

A Rewarding Experience — Show Your Gratitude

There are many ways to thank managers and advocates for being the trusted voice of HR, from plaques and certificates of appreciation to gift cards or an extra vacation day. The simple act of a handwritten note is an easy, inexpensive, and authentic way to say thank you. 

Employees aren’t ignoring HR communications because they don’t care what you have to say. They’re expecting a complicated message that takes time, so they plan to review it later. Then it gets later…and later.  If you can put your message in the hands of someone they know, see, and trust, they’ll take the time.