So what’s going wrong in the Australian workforce? Is it the workers, or is it the work? A new report says job design is to blame.
According to new global job figures only four per cent of Australians have what Gallup defines as a “great job” and 29 per cent have “good, not great” jobs. Globally we’re quite far behind. The top countries with great jobs are the USA and Russia, at 13 per cent while the lowest have one per cent – this includes Togo, Pakistan and Italy.
The discussion about the nature of work, and how it can be changed, is becoming part of the zeitgeist. It’s one that leading change and management expert, Dr Jason Fox will be expanding on at the Australian HR Institute’s forthcoming national convention in August.
“I think most of us have things back to front,” says Fox. “We try to motivate people from the inside out. We look at attitudes and goals and beliefs and assume that something has to be fixed inside.”
“I think if you want to fix motivation, you need to fix the work. You design the work to be inherently motivating,” he says.
So what makes for ‘a good job’?
A ‘great job’, as defined by Gallup, is a ‘good job’ where the employee is analysed as being engaged. So what’s a ‘good job’? In the report it’s any job where the person doing it has “30 hours per week of consistent work with a paycheck from an employer”.
Whatever way you want to cut it, this is a reductive definition of ‘good’. It might be necessary, as Gallup is trying to report on the whole world and getting an apples to apples comparison of jobs between developing countries and more established ones is just not going to happen. But, particularly for Australia, “good” can give the wrong impression.
The definition leaves out contractors, the self-employed and a lot of part time work. It also doesn’t take into account how labour and minimum wage laws vary from country to country.
If you set it against findings from the most recent World Happiness Report, the definition becomes even more dubious. The report showed that self-employment in Western countries such as Australia is “associated with higher life evaluation and positive affect” and that “part-time employed individuals who do not seek more hours of work report greater happiness”.
This quibble aside, Gallup’s measurement of engagement in full-time jobs, using a series of questions rooted in workplace research linked to performance outcomes, seems robust.
The fact that the vast majority of full-time employees around the world are not engaged suggests that the issue is larger than the practices of any single employer. Indeed, a more sweeping theory of what’s wrong is required.
Job design has long been an HR function, one that has undergone a continual evolution – from scientific management through two-factor theory and job characteristic theory. Jason Fox is part of a new school that utilises the latest in behavioural science and believes managers can take a role in designing better jobs.
“Managers need to shine a light on meaningful progress, the things that otherwise would not be noticed or measured, but which are ultimately really important,” he says. He warns of a delusion of progress where “we are busy, efficient and productive, but neither effective or progressive.”
So everybody is working hard, and hitting their targets at a steady clip, but the organisation is not advancing.
The limits of engagement
Even the best aren’t perfect, so Fox agrees that no work place can achieve a situation where all employees are always motivated. His advice is “assume that people are motivated, but don’t rely on motivation. In other words, design work for low motivation.”
Considering the Gallup data, which says that globally only 213 million adults have great jobs, this sounds like a wise suggestion.
Dr Fox is a speaker at AHRI’s National Convention this year. To read more of what he has to say, get a copy of the May 2018 edition of HRM magazine.
Hear motivation expert Jason Fox and other global thinkers and leaders at the AHRI National Convention and Exhibition in Melbourne from 28 to 30 August 2018. Early bird registrations close 31 May.