Whenever the topic of employee engagement and performance comes up, it isn’t long before people start talking about the concept of discretionary effort. A truly engaged employee will put in discretionary effort when it comes to their career.
What is Discretionary Effort?
But what does discretionary effort mean?
Discretionary effort refers to the amount of additional effort, beyond what is already expected, that an employee is willing to put into their work. So when an employee goes above and beyond on a task or project without being asked, that is discretionary effort.
Discretionary effort is important because it shows employees are actively engaged in their work and likely enjoying it. Oftentimes, employees will show discretionary effort without intentionally doing it. They will get into a project or presentation and won’t stop until it’s perfect, even if that’s more than what’s expected of them.
Let’s take a marketer who has been given a quarterly goal for delivering leads to sales. They could do the bare minimum to deliver what has been requested of them and still maintain their position and earn a fair salary. But without engagement, they are unlikely to go beyond this minimum and put in discretionary (additional) effort.
An engaged marketer, however, would be more willing to put in extra time to deliver additional leads or make sure their leads are the highest possible quality. The extra effort is not only good for the company, but it is representative of a happier, more engaged employee. Let’s get into some examples of discretionary effort and what companies can do to encourage employees to work hard.
Discretionary Effort Examples
Below are a few discretionary effort examples to help you clearly understand what it is and how it affects the workplace.
- A salesperson is tasked with creating a new sales deck for presenting the company’s offerings to prospective customers. The salesperson creates a comprehensive sales deck but sees while researching that adding an accompanying PDF file increases the likelihood of closing a sale. The salesperson on their own decides to create a PDF of their services as an additional resource for prospective customers.
- A content writer is tasked with writing 2 pieces of blog content per day by their supervisor. The content writer completes the 2 pieces per day but does a third without being asked.
- A graphic designer is tasked with designing a logo for a new client of their company. Instead of providing one logo, the graphic designer creates one logo in a variety of color combinations for the client to choose from.
These were just a few discretionary effort examples in the workplace. There are many other ways discretionary effort can be shown, though –– the possibilities are endless!
5 Ways To Encourage Discretionary Effort and Employee Engagement
Promoting discretionary effort is essential to having the most productive team possible. When employees are engaged and motivated, their discretionary efforts don’t seem like extra workload. Check out these five ways to encourage employees and promote discretionary effort in the workplace.
1. Give Appreciation
Some leaders still believe the most effective way to motivate employees to work harder is through fear tactics and punishment for missing targets. The research, however, does not support such a perspective. Fear tactics tend to alienate the people whom they are targeted at, creating a lack of security and community. They make people feel less empowered to make the behavioral changes necessary for personal growth.
In a workplace setting, it is important to understand the pitfalls of punishment in contrast to the benefits of recognition. Employees who are consistently given recognition for their work tend to feel more appreciated, leading to an improved sense of belonging. In one SHRM study, 54% of respondents agreed that employee recognition improves employee engagement, and 58% agreed it improves employee relationships.
With engagement comes discretionary effort, which in turn impacts the overall performance and productivity of the company.
2. Provide and Inspire Purpose
Giving employees appreciation tells them that they have a purpose at the organization. But what about the broader, company-wide purpose?
Communicating company purpose to employees can be an extremely valuable tool when it comes to increasing overall performance. Employees who have a firm grasp of their company’s greater purpose can quickly determine where they fit in and how they can continue to propel the company toward its ultimate goals.
More and more companies are shifting towards a new way of doing business –– one that puts the focus on purpose rather than profit alone. Scoot, among a growing number of companies, became a Certified B Corporation® in order to create an environment where purpose can thrive. Not only does this benefit the public, but it benefits the employees, providing inspiration through the potential for social impact.
No matter what a company’s purpose is, clearly conveying it to employees is a great first step to engaging them and therefore inspiring discretionary effort.
3. Offer Resources and Support
It can be difficult to get anything done without the proper resources and support, let alone doing something new and challenging at work.
Imagine a sales person who has been tasked with calling 100 contacts per day has been meeting her quota, but she feels held back by the outdated sales tool her company has been using for the past few years.
Without the support of her manager, she would continue to meet the requirement for calling 100 contacts per day, but it’s unlikely that she would go out of her way to make even more calls per day.
Now imagine a sales person who has a manager that offers additional support and resources to their team. They would see how their sales people are being held back by the current tool and subsequently provide access to an updated tool that allows for increased efficiency. Suddenly, the employee who was held back by the outdated tool would be able to increase the number of calls she makes in a day.
By making the work experience better through resource support, companies get more employees who are willing to put in that discretionary effort.
4. Create a Positive Emotional Culture
In addition to providing resources and support, companies can benefit from creating a positive emotional culture. In a positive company culture, the sales employee from the previous example would feel comfortable communicating with management, letting them know what is holding her back.
Creating a company culture where positivity can thrive is an important step in encouraging discretionary effort from employees. This is largely due to the concept of emotional contagion, which refers to the mimicry of human emotions in groups. If the culture being created by company leadership is based around positive emotions like respect and gratitude in contrast to negative ones like fear and anger, then employees are more likely to feel welcomed, inspired, and happy to work hard.
5. Be a Champion of Healthy Work-Life Balance
With all this talk about discretionary effort, it’s tempting to think that encouraging employees to work hard all the time would be another key way to inspire this additional effort. While it may work in the short term, the truth is that no employee can work all the time.
Instead of creating an environment where excessive work is rewarded, companies can encourage their employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This takes a conscious effort on the part of many companies, especially those in the United States considering the average length of time spent working per week compared to other countries around the world.
Although it may be counter-intuitive to some, a workforce with a healthy work-life balance is more likely to be happy, engaged, and willing to put in discretionary effort. Rather than getting burnt out from non-stop work and a lack of time for self-care and family time, employees need an environment where they can come to work refreshed and ready to give it 110%.
Workplace relationships are a key contributor to company culture and overall employee happiness and wellbeing. Start encouraging discretionary effort from employees today by launching a recognition program and inspiring a culture of appreciation.
Encouraging Discretionary Effort in Remote Employees
One of the biggest challenges facing leadership today is how to build and maintain strong relationships with remote employees, in order to encourage discretionary effort. Without seeing your team daily in the kitchen or office, how can you encourage your team to form genuine work relationships, so that they are engaged and willing to go the extra mile to help your company achieve its goals?
Relationship building with remote teams takes time and effort. Simply hosting a monthly happy hour on Zoom won’t cut it, as we all know. Thankfully, there are alternatives.
Take 5 minutes at the beginning of your next team meeting for a social bookend. Just five minutes a day, where your team does an icebreaker, or activity, or something fun before you get down to the work. These social bookends, when practiced daily, offer small opportunities to build healthier relationships and get to know your colleagues. And over time, those small amounts of time add up to a lot of team building.
And with team building, comes increased engagement, and a willingness to go above and beyond.
Get Out of Zoom
Zoom and Teams are great for information sharing and presentations. They aren’t so great for relationship building and encouraging engagement.
Thankfully, there are alternatives. Scoot is a revolutionary virtual meeting platform where conversations and connections happen naturally. It’s realistic with smooth movements between groups, creating the opportunity for multiple conversations to occur simultaneously. Ambient voices that get louder and softer depending on one’s vicinity to a group mimic an in-person atmosphere and allow for richer and deeper conversations.
Companies around the world use Scoot to help increase employee engagement and build healthier relationships. Want to learn more?