If you have employees who've held the same job for some time, it's quite likely they're bored and their job performance is below par. They're in danger of burning out--if they haven't already. And I bet you haven't even noticed.
That's because these bored employees are typically consistent workers and are most likely not on your radar screen of "problem" employees. So you probably haven't noticed that their productivity has been slipping and they're just not doing as good a job as they used to. Although their performance may be "just okay," it's not yet a visible problem, especially if you're not looking for it.
If you don't address the issue now, however, over time, their productivity and work quality will continue to decrease--and you'll begin to notice that an increase in errors and bad judgment.
So what can you do with these close-to-burned-out employees? You have a few options: You can ignore them and hope the situation improves by itself; you can try to motivate them after determining that the situation is, in fact, a motivational one; you can educate and/or mentor them; you can reprimand them; or you can fire them.
No matter which option you choose, the process begins by examining the employee's job description, a document that clearly and objectively defines the employee's job in rational, clear terms as well as lays out their responsibilities, obligations and reporting relationships up, down and across the organizational hierarchy. It's not unusual for the boss to be surprised that the job being performed isn't in synch with what's listed on the job description--the employee may be underperforming or even performing beyond those boundaries but no one's noticed. What's more, it's not unusual not to even have a written job description in the first place.
If that's the case, the first logical step in turning around this negative situation is to create an accurate job description. It's at this step that you can put your leadership skills to work. To begin, ask the employee to be part of this exercise by asking him or her to prepare a written description of what he or she believes the job entails. By doing this, you help the employee become invested in the process. This will also help you see opportunities for change and growth in the position and in the employee's career path.
You can also encourage the employee to identify what he or she would rather be doing as well as find opportunities for improving their skills and knowledge. Although the employee may not have any idea what else they'd like to be doing, this is an opportunity for you or your HR manager to explain the next steps, such as more knowledge, greater skill development and enhanced abilities, on the career ladder that would lead to a promotion. And, in fact, this is a key source of motivation because you'll help your employee see opportunities for professional growth. The process of participating in the creation of a job description can serve to clarify the employee's roles and responsibilities as well as to foster their enthusiasm for work again.
Once the job description's been created--with clear definitions and clear lines of authority and responsibility laid out--you can look for further sources of motivation to enliven and re-energize your tired employees. Frederick Herzberg, author of The Motivation to Work, said that employees can best be motivated by three techniques: job rotation, job enlargement and job enrichment.
The first tactic, job rotation, involves cross training employees, or teaching employees each other's jobs. So, for instance, in your finance department, your accounts payable people can learn the accounts receivable function and vice versa. The process of job rotation is motivating because the additional tasks and responsibilities are new and different, a breath of fresh air, if you will. Plus, employees will be feel a sense of achievement (another source of motivation) by expanding their job knowledge and capabilities. The value in cross-training for you is that individuals can fill in for each other when illness or vacations come up, thus further increasing their sense of accomplishment and value to your organization.
The second source of motivation that Herzberg refers to is job enlargement. In this technique, employees are given a wider breadth of tasks and responsibilities within their own job. Using the previous example, your accounts receivable employee may increase the number of accounts they're responsible for or may expand their tasks by sending late notices to a wider geographical area or be in charge of more names in the client list.
The third technique for re-energizing employees is job enrichment. With this approach, you'd increase the depth of your employee's responsibilities, not by increasing the number of tasks but by increasing the complexity of the tasks. Again, in the finance example, you could increase the amount of responsibilities and authority the employee will now have. Instead of being given more accounts to be in charge of (job enlargement), your accounts receivable employee could now be in charge of follow-up on the calls, talking with bill collection agencies, and designing and re-designing work flow issues.
The process of re-energizing your tired employees doesn't need to be an overwhelming one. Simply by beginning with an effective job description, one that clearly outlines their roles, responsibilities and authority, employees can increase their levels of motivation, action and performance on the job while increasing the breadth and the depth of their job responsibilities. This is clearly a win-win situation for both you and your employees.
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.