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The Power of Variety at Work

05 Apr
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During each month of 2022, an average of four million U.S. workers quit their jobs.1 Even as we’re seeing more layoffs in early 2023, employers can benefit from understanding the mindset of workers coming out of the pandemic. According to Gartner’s extensive research on the Great Resignation and the effect of the pandemic on work, employees are looking to get more value from their jobs.2 Companies that want to retain high performers need to design jobs and work environments that offer better value.

David Long, Ph.D., an associate professor in William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business, points to five elements that help employees find satisfaction at work. Managers and company leaders should take these five elements into consideration if they want to put practices in place that will drive improved morale and engagement. Variety one of these elements that he highlights, which we will explore in greater depth in this post. To learn more about all five elements, check out the video “Five Strategies to Drive Employee Engagement and Boost Morale.”

Types of Variety

Just like we crave adventure and surprises in life, we also need the same at work. When employees have more variety in their day-to-day work, they report feeling more satisfied. If you’ve ever felt stuck in a dead-end job, then you know boredom can lead to disengagement. It can also wreak havoc on team productivity and the company’s competitive edge.

The connection between monotonous tasks and employee demotivation was initially explored in the 1960s as work was being redesigned to lead to greater employee motivation.3 Two organizational psychologists, J. Richard Hackman and Greg R. Oldham, researched employee motivation and released their definitive Job Characteristics Model in 1980.4 This model identified variety in skill and in task as two important factors to increasing employee motivation. Monotonous jobs were shown to increase negative stress that in turn shattered motivation.

Skill Variety

Skill variety refers to the unique skills that employees possess and get to use in their day-to-day work. A role with skill variety allows employees to develop and hone a range of abilities.5 Using various skills also leads to a diversity of experiences. Skill variety helps workers find continued interest and fulfillment in their work, which ties back to improved retention and satisfaction.

Task Variety

Variety in tasks is closely tied to skill variety, as varying daily tasks require the use of different skill sets.5 Task variety will depend on the industry and the specific role. It might mean the employee meets with clients in the morning and spends the afternoon working independently on a project. Or it might mean spending a morning on ideation and an afternoon on execution. Generally, employers can switch up work assignments or roles periodically to give employees the chance to build new skills.

How Managers Can Add More Variety

Regardless of whether a company is remote, hybrid or fully onsite, research has found that most engaging work cultures prioritize job variety and growth opportunities for their employees. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Cross-train Teams

Professor Long helps companies develop positive work cultures and has found that cross-training is an effective way to introduce variety at work. Cross-training offers a break from daily routines and gives employees more opportunities to contribute to the company.

“When I was at Home Depot, I decided one day that department supervisors should all learn each other’s jobs. The hardware supervisor learned how to mix paint. That way, if a customer is ever waiting for help in paint, the hardware person can go over there and mix paint for them,” he said. “Cross-training is a fun way to learn a different skill set, adding variety to everyday work.”

As a bonus, cross-training is also a great way to break down silos (real or imagined) between different teams at a company. Understanding each other’s work can lead to a better appreciation for teammates and for the company goals as a whole.

Hire Employees with Different Backgrounds and Skills

Another way to introduce variety is to recruit and hire for diversity. Ideally, teams should include professionals with a wide range of backgrounds, abilities and experience levels. Diverse teams tend to engage in more creative problem-solving and find innovative solutions that ultimately yield better results. One study found that inclusive teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time.6

Additional Ideas to Vary Work

Here are some further approaches to implement more workplace variety:

  • Help new team members find their passion in a new organization
  • Give employees autonomy to choose projects they truly enjoy
  • Give employees projects that further the company’s mission to help work feel more purposeful and fulfilling
  • Craft tailored job roles that encourage employees to leverage their strengths
  • Foster a culture of continuous learning to help employees develop new skills and expand their knowledge
  • In addition to cross-training, offer job shadowing and mentorship opportunities to expose both new and tenured employees to different perspectives, skill sets and job functions

Overall, when employees get to work on different tasks and with diverse teams, that goes a long way toward building positive work cultures where high performers want to stay and contribute. Job variety not only opens the door to collaboration with new people but, also, helps employees and identify areas where they excel.

Learn More About Organizational Behavior

Organizational behavior provides a framework for understanding how people and groups within organizations behave and how to promote productive behavior within an organizational setting. Studying organizational behavior provides a foundation for the effective management of people in organizations, from inspiring individual motivation to structuring positive team dynamics to building and maintaining a functional organizational structure. Managers with a grasp of organizational behavior better understand how to promote productive, sustainable work environments, which are characterized by trust, ethics, minimal stress and healthy power dynamics.

Step Up as a Business Leader with William & Mary’s Online MBA

Learn more about job satisfaction and employee morale by watching the video, “Five Strategies to Drive Employee Engagement and Boost Morale.” Hear from Professor Long as he goes in depth on the importance of creating a more engaged team, extrinsic and intrinsic motivators, the five elements of job satisfaction and how to build a culture of engagement.

Ready to go further? Learn more about our Online MBA program. This program is renowned for its rigorous, comprehensive Online MBA curriculum, which includes a course on organizational behavior. William & Mary offers students a deep dive into many of the most in-demand business fields, with core courses and electives in business analytics, finance, integrated technology, strategy, managerial accounting and much more.

Schedule a call with an Admissions Advisor today to learn how earning an Online MBA from William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business can help you take your career to a higher level, on your own schedule.