By Morgan Housel
Look at the co-worker to your left. Now, to your right. At least one of them hates their job. Maybe you do, too.
According to a recent Gallup survey of 5.4 million working adults, 52 percent say they are not engaged in their work. They limp to work, toiling without passion. That's half the workforce! Another 18 percent describe themselves as "actively disengaged" -- disgruntled and spreading bitterness among co-workers. With the exception of recession periods, the majority of employees start each new year vowing to look for a new job.
Imagine a 10-person bicycle. This means three people are pedaling, five are pretending to pedal, and two are jamming the brakes. That's you, corporate America. Now scale that bike higher: 520 out of every 1,000 employees don't care, 180 are trying to sabotage the place, and 300 are left doing their darnedest.
The most strategic act that any organization can take is to better engage and inspire team members. Here are three (of many) ways you can make life better at work.
1) Abandon your sick-pay and vacation-pay policies
If you can't trust me when I say I have the flu, why are you letting me engage with customers, define budgets, and access internal documents?
There's a radical disrespect involved in limiting the number of sick days employees can take each year. Replace that with this simple policy: require that any worker not come to work when sick. If you think an employee will abuse this system, you need to reassess your entire relationship with that person. Your workspace will become healthier on multiple fronts.
Get rid of limited vacation days, too. Show employees that you value the sustainability of their great work by letting them take as much time as they need, approved by their managers. At The Motley Fool, we observe that the best use of this policy is the use of half days as needed to tend to life. If you're worried about how much this will cost, you've missed the point: A culture built on trust and respect will pay for itself several times over.
2) Make your office live and breathe
Employees spend a third of their lives at work. Make your office a place someone would actually want to spend time.
No sane person can inhabit a cubicle 8-10 hours a day, sedentarily, and remain healthy. Buy treadmill desks. Hire a personal trainer to run classes in a conference room. Contract someone to lead meditation class.
Let employees check Facebook and ESPN. They're going to do this anyway. Don't make them feel like they're cheating the system. (Remember, at dynamic companies, more work is being done off hours -- via mobile texting and email -- than ever before. Give your workforce credit for this!)
3) Let employees write their own job descriptions
This final challenge is more difficult, but also very rewarding.
The vast majority of employees performing well at their job are also miles below their potential and bored out of their minds. They're doing repetitive work. You know what happens next? They leave.
To counteract that, a few months after a new employee is settled, coach them through the process of writing their own job description. Their dream job description. As a manager or boss, your job is to do everything to make as much of that dream a reality (so long as the job helps your organization fulfill its purpose).
Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski calls this "job crafting." It's when employees get to reshape and redefine their work to better fit their passions and talents -- passions and talents the employer probably didn't know existed.
Maybe your accountant has unexpected marketing insights. Maybe your information technology manager would like to beat traffic by leaving at 3 p.m. and work from home in the early evening. Maybe your recruiter wants to create a new training program. You'll never know until you ask. Allowing employees to articulate their passion puts them on a path toward fulfilling their true potential. It's a win-win for you and them. Because there is simply no doubt that the average organization is operating at less than 30 percent of its full potential.
Peter Drucker said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Get your fork and knife and let's get to work!