Problem-based working – a key motivator

Problem-based working – a key motivator

A significant factor in work satisfaction is being in control of the work done.  This satisfies our need to make autonomous decisions, be self-determining, and also our need to be valued as capable human beings.

And it doesn’t seem to matter if you are a highly qualified professional or someone working on a car assembly lines – if you have some capacity to make decisions about your work, then you will be more satisfied.

According to Duhigg (The Power of Habit), giving employees a sense of ‘agency’ – some control over their situation, dramatically increases how much energy and focus they bring to their work.  He sites a 2010 study of a manufacturing plant in Ohio that examined workers on an assembly line who were given the authority to make decisions about their schedules, their uniforms and work environment.  No other changes were made to pay rates or work design.  Within 2 months, productivity at the plant increased by as much as 20%.

Recently I interviewed a past participant of our Clinical Leadership Development Program who had found a similar result.  This lady is a Unit Manager.  In the past, when faced with an issue or problem in her Unit, she would take charge, come up with a solution and tell every one to get on board.  She operated from the belief that this is what managers do – they come up with answers and fix problems.

One of her revelations from the Program was that she did not have to have all the answers, and in fact by genuinely engaging her team in finding solutions they come up with strategies that they were committed to acting on, but that also produced real results.  For example: like many hospital units, getting the budget under control consumes a lot of attention. Now, traditionally clinicians are not that excited about managing costs – it is not really seen as the point of their work.  However, by asking her team to work out what the problems were, they revealed the biggest preventable costs and a range of solutions – this resulted in a reduction in costs relating to sick leave (reducing it from 6% to 2.5%), agency nurse use and lining use – and it has only been one month!

Give your staff more control, authority and autonomy

Giving staff more control, authority and autonomy over how work is done and coming up with solutions to problems is proven to improve staff satisfaction, engagement and performance.  And it is because it is satisfying three of their most important needs: autonomy, mastery and belonging.  When staff feel that a high sense of self-efficacy, that their efforts count, they are more likely to also feel they belong and invest more heavily in the Unit.


What problems could you be engaging your staff in solving?  And, maybe more telling, what problems are you trying to fix on your own right now?  Who could you ask for help?