Discretionary Effort: How Much Are You Getting?

Discretionary Effort: How Much Are You Getting?

The Gallup Organization research shows that only about 32% of the US workforce is highly engaged. What about the remaining 68%?  The issue is not about how accurate you believe those numbers are, even though their database is impressive, but rather what percent of your employees are highly engaged and what can you do to improve it.  If you look around your team and realize that perhaps those numbers are not that far off, there could be serious implications for you as a Leader.  It is no secret that there is a strong correlation between employee engagement and customer and patient satisfaction.  However, don’t despair.  There are concrete ways for you to create an environment where employees want and can do their very best work.  That’s where discretionary effort comes in to play. Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to above and beyond the minimum required. Once you understand how discretionary effort shows up in your employees you can work to cultivate it.

Pay and promotion absolutely have some effect on motivation levels in the workforce. Yet, most of the organizations I work with have a salary structure dictated by contracts with little if any room for negotiation in pay or promotion. So how can Leaders work to increase the level of discretionary effort expended by their employees when a bonus or increase in pay is not an option?

The level of discretionary effort one puts into their work is usually a result of how much they enjoy the task at hand, how much they enjoy the work place and the work they do and the type of person they are. An employee’s level of discretionary effort applied can be heavily influenced by you, the Leader. You can create an amazing environment where employees always do what is right and what is best for the organization. Here is what the employees want and need to know from you:

Does what I do matter? Your employees truly need to understand how what they do contributes to the organization’s success and the customer’s level of satisfaction with their experience. Make sure to have clear conversations helping them to make this connection.

Can I make decisions without fear of reprisal? Employees want autonomy. In order to ensure that this autonomy is channeled in the right direction, they need to have clear guidelines on what is expected of them. Ensure that your employees are prepared with sufficient information and encouraged to make decisions when you are not around. Review these decisions to praise the good ones and coach the ones that could have been better. Some organizations manage performance in such a way that motivates employees to do only enough to get by and avoid getting in trouble. Make sure that isn’t yours!

Can I develop and grow? Is there opportunity to stretch and learn if I choose to? That does not always mean a promotion but simply a way to contribute more.  Involve them in new initiatives, cross functional teams, developing more efficient processes, participating in think tanks, and improvement projects they can work on. The key is to balance the learning and ensure it does not get in the way of accomplishing their main function.

Am I treated fairly and with respect? Your consistent application of the rules and regulations in addition to upholding the behavioral standards for everyone in your office, unit or department will ensure this question is answered positively by your staff. Have the conversation with your employees. Ask how they feel working in your department? You might be pleasantly surprised.

Discretionary effort among highly engaged workers is usually very high. They want to do a good job regardless of the task at hand. Make sure you are creating the environment where the rest of your employees want and can step up to go the extra mile whenever possible. Your success depends on it. Read this “4 Secrets to Employee Engagement” Harvard Business Review article if you would like more information on your role in employee engagement.

Thank you! Please share your ideas on how you ensure your employees are performing at their best.


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