Discretionary effort, or extra-role effort as it is sometimes called, is work we get from employees that they don’t necessarily have to give. Or, as ACC Tim Jacques would say, what amount of work people will do when nobody is looking! So, what does that look like?
I often ask how much employees have to do before they get into trouble? What amount to avoid being sanctioned, disciplined or sacked? In terms of percentage, this is usually about 30%. Taking this further, you could argue that we can’t work at 100% all of the time, because that’s not very good for our wellbeing! And, will lead, over time, to burnout. So, we could reasonably suggest that a work rate of around 80% is sustainable, based on operational management literature that refers to ‘the coping zone.’ This leaves a 50% gap of work, which I am suggesting is discretionary.
When we asked our people what they found stressful in the workplace, the answers were often not framed around external phenomena, such as austerity, exposure to violence, or the demands from the public. They were mostly internal, and sometimes being the relationships managers, “I love working for this organisation, but it doesn’t love me!”
In terms of leadership, my great friend Prof Sir Cary Cooper suggests that line manager recruitment should be focussed on people skills as a priority. A lot of research currently suggest this is not so.
I wrote a piece for the CMI a few years ago describing the benefits of transformational leadership. Transformational leadership is not easy to digest, the language is all very complicated and can be confusing if you are not submerged in it all the time. Together with Tim Jacques, and after running numerous focus groups to test our thinking, we had a go at simplifying what it was actually suggesting were good management traits. We boiled these down to being caring, having credibility, creating challenging work and being committed.
This seemed to make perfect sense, to us anyway. Feeling supported at work, led by someone who knows what they are doing, is fully committed to looking after us as well as the public, and can deal with the challenges we face is all fairly good. We further distilled this down to ‘knowing yourself, knowing your staff and knowing your stuff.’ I know many may see this as an over-simplification, but I would suggest it is the basis for all that follows?
It is commonly held that work is good for us; it brings meaning and purpose to our lives. However, poorly organised work and poor leadership can make this an uphill journey, and eventually even the most resilient of our people will say they’ve had enough. For me, creating the right environment is the key to our people enjoying, yes enjoying, their working life. And, if people enjoy it, draw meaning and purpose from it, and are well led, I would suggest we should realise a good chunk of the 50% spare of discretionary effort floating around in our workforce?
Citation: Dr Ian Hesketh; Cary L. Cooper; Jonathan Ivy
Published: 17 June 2016