Insights and Opinions

Man's search for meaning(ful work).

I’ve been reading the unemployment stats again. 35% plus percent of millennials unemployed, ten percent chance of getting a job if you’ve been out of work over 26 weeks, unemployment still hovers at (officially) well over nine percent.

And I’m still hearing that hiring and keeping good people is hard.

In Reality Is Broken author and game designer Jane McGonigal says, “Compared with games, reality isn’t productive. Games give us clearer missions and more satisfying, hands on work”.

Most people I know want to work; many love their job (or loved past jobs). What is meaningful work in our world of current realities of layoffs, mass unemployment, changing work place realities and the global challenges of industrialization (for those of us not working at Facebook)?

I’ll quote a great American:

Really great people make you feel that you, too, can become great
Mark Twain

In her book, McGonigal also explains why people are spending increasingly more time immersed in games, even those that are basically work. The games create the feeling of “blissful” productivity. “Blissful productivity is the sense of being deeply immersed in work that produces immediate and obvious results. The clearer the results, and the faster we achieve them, the more blissfully productive we feel”.

So how can great managers create a like environment in the workplace and maximize their employees? I don’t mean this question as an all work should be play theory. Reality is that workers are less loyal today due to the dynamics I’ve only touched on above. In good times they leave for better opportunities; in bad they worry about losing their job and not finding another one. Loyal, happy and challenged workers do better work and are less likely to leave.

Is the answer mostly economic?

Sometimes I’ve worked for free. As an investment banker – though you have a salary – much of your compensation, especially as you get more senior, comes from closing deals. If you don’t close a deal you don’t get paid for the related work (including work done late at night, over a holiday or on a weekend). I wrote Captive – my novel – not knowing if I could get paid anything for it. I advise people informally frequently and don’t always ask for monetary compensation. Mostly I have gotten paid in other ways over time.

So money isn’t the only thing that motivates me or others. But it’s a huge factor; most of us work to pay our bills (and, while that may seem obvious, I can site more examples of employers not paying fairly than I wish were possible). Pay competitively and increase salaries and bonuses as appropriate. Perception counts; being a tight wad shows that you don’t care about your employees. Not paying well provides an incentive for them to spend time on their own personal advancement, even if it’s at your expense.

But other than money how can you motivate people?

A good leader creates a strong culture and defines a common mission that everyone is working together to achieve.

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality
Warren Bennis

Vision and a common mission:
One of my favorite stories is walking into Alteon in early 1999 (sold to Nortel for $7.8 billion in 2000). The number 58 was posted on a wall and I asked Dominic Orr, CEO, what it meant. He said that 58 was the number of days since someone in the company had taken a day off – including over a weekend. In that statement you see peer pressure, upside opportunity, company culture and teamwork. Moreover, you see a common mission that had been bought into by the whole company. Employees wanted to be a part of the opportunity and they believed in their personal stake. And they succeeded.

Demonstrable, clear and achievable objectives:
People like to succeed. Provide achievable results and demonstrable objectives. Make the path to achieving the company mission clear and achievable.

Benefits and valuing employees:
Benefits such as vacation, healthcare and other perks (such as the Google cafeteria, time for personal projects of interests and massages) can make a difference. As can kitchens, nice offices, food and drinks and even ping pong tables. Why? Because people that feel valued as people tend to feel more loyalty and personal motivation to join into a company vision and help ensure it’s fulfilled. Remember names and birthdays.

Interesting work and empowerment:
Interesting projects, control over schedule or freedom in how work gets completed (as long as it’s done well and on time) make work easier and more fun (I do believe work is fun – or should be). Control and responsibility aid personal development and self esteem. Give enough rope for people to hang themselves and sometimes they will. More likely, if you’ve chosen them well they will surprise you with what they’re able to accomplish.

Treating people with respect makes a difference. I have worked for people who seemed to enjoy belittling their employees or wasting their time. One manager was known for his hour plus rants on you, other employees, the company, the world, etc. What a waste of time. His loyalty and buy-in to a common goal was non-existent. Putting yourself over employees and their career, dishonesty in your dealings with them or their clients and illogical rules or practices are frustrating, demoralizing and drive good people away. Always….eventually. Part of respect is demonstrating strong leadership.

A severe lack of resources within an organization is also demoralizing and prevents optimal performance. Resources help skilled employees leverage their time more efficiently. And, if your competitors have more resources they can do a better job.

Giving and sharing credit:
A real motivation killer is taking all of the credit or being the only one in the spotlight…especially if you didn’t do the work but even if you did. Everyone needs a team; don’t just hire well, work at supporting and recognizing those beneath you.

A career path:
Ambitious and skilled people will create one for themselves if one doesn’t exist within your organization. Problem is, they likely won’t do it for you but will find better opportunities elsewhere.

I’ll quote a recruiter friend on this important topic:

Career development consistently ranks as the top reason for retention above all others
Mark J. Landay
, Managing Director, Dynamic Synergy – Executive Recruitment

Simple, yes. But I’m surprised at how so many smart people can’t seem to stick with such basic practices. And basic words like thank you, good job, we’re in this together, I trust your judgment also go a long way in building loyalty.

A few of my bosses from years ago have bought (and read) Captive. They have my back … still … and that mutual trust and support developed years ago in our professional interactions was why I happily gave up nights and weekends to do the best possible job for them.

People will never be more than people. Value them as such.

Megan Lisa Jones is an investment banker who works primarily with companies in the digital media, technology, gaming and other emerging industries. Her experience includes time with Lazard Freres, Needham & Company and Merrill Lynch. Her investment banking blog is at; and she released a novel, Captive, in late 2010 (">"> This was also published on her blog.