Why arent you happy at work, and what companies should do to fix it

April 23, 2008 6:23 pm 18 comments

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The topic of HR and related issues is going very hot here, what with Salman Munir and his battery of posts on the subject. (Way to go man! you’re making commenter’s creep out of the woodwork!!)

The discussion on 25k led me to think about one additional point in a employer-employee relationship, and something which i believe is seriously lacking in our hiring processes, called motivation. Yes, M-o-t-i-v-a-t-i-o-n.

I keep hearing people wanting more pay, people switching for greener pastures, people not happy with their jobs, but very rarely have i heard, ‘i wasn’t motivated enough to stay there’ and yet that is one of the major reasons people switch in the first place (according to LifeHack.org). I’ve seen people stay at the same job for years without much financial gain, while others who switched even though they were being paid through the nose, and the only sane reason behind this (IMO) is the motivation one has for doing their job.

Coming to the IT industry in specific, what would motivate developers, testers, technical writers, project managers or even senior managers to stick with one company? I’ll tell you what i think, you tell me what you think.

Challenge me!

When someone enters into the technical field, they are by nature, problem solvers. If they’re not, then they’re not in the correct field to start with. Most of the hard-core development people i know love to have a challenge, something which will pick at their brains and keep them coding late into the night just to resolve it. The ‘ah-ha’ feeling at the end of solving a complex problem, the adrenaline rush, is what keeps them going and for the most part, they don’t really care about anything else. I was once part of this group, the junkies, who would challenge each other trying to out-solve each other. These people think at breakneck speeds, switching context so fast, it would make any sane person’s head spin, and still manage to talk coherently to others. These people require that constant need for having a problem to think about otherwise, they get frustrated, and when ‘managed’ leave in droves.

Make we want to get up in the morning!

No one likes repeating the same old boring task day in and day out (apart from bankers and insurance agents). We all need a reason to do something, and im sorry to say.. ‘to earn a living’ just doesn’t cut it anymore. Atleast not among the kind you want creating software and thinking design. For techies, one of the prime reasons for getting up in the morning, going through the mundane tasks of cleaning themselves up, being presentable and making the (often long) commute to work needs to be something other than just making money to survive on. A variety of factors come into play here, with the most effective one being, ‘i owe it to the company to be there’. Yes, you heard correctly, they feel they owe it to their employers to be productive and not slack off. How that is managed comes from many sources (some presented later) including a) being of a team or b)having a deadline (funny how well that works for developers, wonder if that’s why agile development took hold so fast?) and c)having a comfort zone at work.

Reward me!

Consider the case of newly graduated, super talented developer that you hire into your company, who comes up with this amazing piece of code which reduces your server response time by almost 100%! Only, their supervisor thinks it was a fluke, the manager thinks it was the only logical solution and nothing for which the newbie should be credited for and the rest of the senior developers fall into the alpha-male dance of who can beat his chest the hardest because they suddenly feel threatened. By the way, marketing finds this out, sells it aggressively and makes the company a bunch load of money in the process.. all of which stays with the company.

What would happen to the developer? Who, incidentally, has also signed an agreement to not claim anything he wrote as his own, nor to ever speak of it outside of the fourwalls of the company, you know, the NDA.

Compensate me!

And finally, compensation. Afterall, we all have to eat, dont we? This is where peer pressure (and parental pressure) rears its ugly head and people are cornered into believing either they should be paid more in terms of money because their cousin xyz at abc corp (which is an MNC) is being paid 4x the money you are for a brain numbing, soul killing job of crunching numbers while you are being taken advantage of. Compensation doesn’t have to be monetary by the way, (though in some cases it is the most useful). Compensation also means being recognized, given special treatment, given medical cover (!!), or even a comp’d dinner at a 5 star for them and the family. I mean, even the Pakistan Navy now has Sailor of the Month programs where the lucky sailor’s picture is put up at every major thoroughfare in the establishment! Yes, compensate me, make me happy and i’ll gladly solve all your problems and make you even more money~!!

While finally leads me to my final point…

Take me where i want to go!

Career growth is a very potent management tool, which is not used all that well by a lot of companies. I will do a detailed post on this later, but suffice to say, ‘you were hired to do xyz job, keep doing it otherwise you’re out the door’. I dont want to be doing the same thing all my life! For techies, they dont want to be coding in the same java/dotnet/php (or whatever is the latest pet language) all their life, they have specific goals, specific destinations they want to get to and this is a stepping stone. Employers who dont see that, end up loosing their people, employees who dont see that, end up being frustrated in the same job till they switch. See the connection?

So tell me, what motivates you?

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18 Comments

  • Motivation is very important. I remember my first job was with a very decent company and for first year or so I had a great time working on the project. We did some very creative problem solving but then due to management changes and office-politics.. I started to loose motivation and i felt as if I am going to work just for paychecks …. so i decided to resign from there and join a startup.. (which went out of business soon lol) but it was fun.. when i decided to resign a lot of ppl around me (family, friends etc) told me that I was making a mistake. But my main beef was that I am not doing anything at work.

    anyways, I can’t imagine working at a big blue collar company for the rest of my life and telling somene that I worked at XYZ for 25 years and retired lol..

  • Ob: or worse yet, telling your grandkids that all you did in your life was sell shampoo :)

    Brand Managers – I’m looking at you

  • ob: office politics is also one of the area’s we should target, the what/where and why! but that’s for another day.

    osama: lol! i had one brand manager actually tell me that.. “i travel, stay in 5 stars and attend every A-list party there is, but at the end of the day, all i have to show for myself is that i sold soap!”

  • I think mentoring is a good tool for the newbie to get some career counseling. I’ve been lucky to have a mentor that made an effort to understand what I wanted to do in my life and advised me on how I could achieve that within that company.

    The worst thing that I’ve seen happening is that your manager is assigned to be your mentor as well. I dont think that works because it’s hard to open up to your manager and tell him exactly what you think about your current position etc..
    btw .. those of you who work in mid-size to larger companies, how common is having mentoring programs in Pakistan??

  • Mansoor good post and good round up as well.

    Few things that I would like to share

    1. What training options are their for “firt time” managers? Many manager you come across were promoted to be Manager just because they were doing very well as engineers and the only way to “progress” the career was to push them into a managerial role. HR accepts it as they can pay more on managerial grade/skills and hence retain the engineer in the company. There is nothing wrong with engineers getting into Managerial position but proper training on leadership skill , conflict managements, time managements and other required skills should be provided.

    2. Career path for each employee and Annual Performance management (NOT APPRAISALS). A mix of short term and long term goals of the employee should be discussed. Organization (depending on size) should help employee achieve his personal goals as he/she grows within the organizations.

    3. Personal and Professional Values: This is important to encourage a healthy environment at work place. Some example could be following
    – Make and meet commitments
    – Learn to say NO
    – Give credit wherever its due (Hard one!)
    – Have FUN (one of the jobs I was working in Pakistan the company was shutdown due to dot com crisis and the CEO took everyone to Murree for a farewell party ;) )

    4. Competence Management
    Ensure that right competence is at right place. If not then ensure that someone will take of this. It will make employee happy and they will feel valued.

    Money is the best reward but if its blended with different perks like performance base bonuses etc it can yield far better results.

    My 2 cents.

    /Majid

  • arfeen: if you’re lucky enough to have someone mentor you, then there’s nothing like it! i’m been blessed with someone in that role as well, and even though he is my direct supervisor, he’s been much more considerate. enough that i have a hard time even thinking of leaving my current job :p

    majid: that is something i touched upon my post on letting people grow into new roles. especially management ones, but i love your points on competence management.. am going to look into this area as well. thanks for your two cents.. definitely left me a little richer :)

  • Mansoor, Thank you! This post really sums up all the initial bits and pieces I started off with.

    We are basically facing a middle management crises from small to large; and to be honest in some mnc’s too. Recently, I recruited a senior finance professional to Qatar and his only reason to go for it was “there is too much politics in my company”.

    The starting 25k/Appraisal all become irrelevant if a company can provide a prospect employee a career path, which is tangible and not part of HR fiction and commensurate him/her according to the performance and growth they show.

    One very important thing with which folks who have worked outside of Pakistan will agree with. The minute you step out of Pakistan and become part of International community, you realize “Hey! we are not the only one with brains” and also very less hunger for money. Indians, Sri Lanka’s, Phillipino’s will work for half of your starting salary only to get into the role and then with their performance, will grow not into the role but in the company as well. This is where WE lack foresight.

    I hope we all are able to sum it up into something productive for our own companies, start-ups etc.

  • Some more input from linkedin forum check the following link

    http://www.linkedin.com/answers/MGM_ODV/214461-19269722?trk=ape_q080423i_9

    /Majid

  • Osama: I currently have a hard time explaining to my parents what am I exactly building.. the whole web2.0 concept is just weird for them..

    mansoor: yes that is part of ones office life.. its an art that needs to be learned quickly…

  • Ob: that indicates a potential problem in your business – “web 2.0″ isnt a product, nor a service. If you arent able to explain your service and who it affects simply and succinctly then maybe you’re focusing too much on the technology rather than the solution

  • Asif Akhtar Nizami

    Mansoor,

    Very well written article. I’ve become your fan! :-)

  • I like the way Osama addressed the problems.

    @Everybody: you all are right

    yesterday our company had a hiking trip. On the way One of my colleague asked my comments about the company and I said “I like to call it a family rather than a company”.

    If the company cares about you … you care about the company.

    Make your employee feel like the part of the family.

  • asif: Thanks! its comments like these which keep me writing.

    awahid: now that is definitely the way to go! i can’t imagine you leaving the company without any good reason to anytime soon.

  • @Mansoor: A very good article.

    @Osama: I liked your reply to ob about explaining web 2.0.

  • Asslam O Alikum!

    This is a very important topic. I like to share my experience that I have till know (experience of 2 years), I started my career with a small company and I love my work but my team leader was not good in leading team and not know how to deal with people. Anyhow, I switched my job after some big clashes with team lead but still I am missing my work. Reason is, till now I do not get any quality of work after switch. Quality of work is more descent word and its mean, I am Software Engineer, but in my current job I am doing testing work, documentation work, facing attitude problem etc. Even I talk with manager to fix these issues but… Office politics is one of the issue in my current job.

    I have one question now,

    How can I stay with M-o-t-i-v-a-t-i-o-n in IT Industry?? What I do, even my performance is excellent according to my manager?? either switch company again???

  • I work in a good tech company, but routine work and status quo severely demotivates.

    What motivates me is:
    - innovative work
    - culture open to improvements
    - be kept in loop about project I am working on
    - ability to see broader picture
    - great company vision
    - ability to learn from others
    - high performance team members
    - highly competent team leads/architects
    - startup culture
    - keeping things funny and in light in day to day grind

    I am lucky to not run in to any politics in my career span of 7 years. I have in interview today, lets see if they can kill my career boredom.

  • hi DMX,
    I agree with your all motivation points.

  • dms: thanks for your input! its definitely these things we were looking for! you’ve put them very concisely in one place.

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