Monday, September 25, 2017

How Specific Should a Worker's Contract Be?

A set of studies by Eileen Chou, Nir Halevy, Adam Galinsky, and the late J. Keith Murnighan have examined how specific labor contracts should be. They conducted experiments on an online labor market. They wanted to know whether specifying work duties and responsibilities increased or decreased employee motivation. Here is what they found, according to Stanford Leadership Insights:

Across nine different experiments, the researchers found that workers whose contracts contained more general language spent more time on their tasks, generated more original ideas, and were more likely to cooperate with others. They were also more likely to return for future work with the same employer, underscoring the durable and long-lasting nature of the effect. But why? The researchers found that the more general contracts increased people’s sense of autonomy over their work. Those findings dovetail with previous psychological research showing that increased autonomy boosts motivation, which leads to a ripple effect of other desirable outcomes.

Indeed, this research proves consistent with the work decades ago of Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham.  Those scholars argued that one could enhance intrinsic motivation by, among other things, designing jobs that provided workers with a substantial dose of autonomy.  Of course, one has to have some guidelines and policies.   You can't provide no direction at all.   In my view, you have to be more specific with regard to WHAT needs to be done, but less specific with regard to HOW it should be done.  In short, you have to establish goals and objectives, but you should empower your employees to discover the best ways to achieve those goals (provided they uphold ethical and legal rules and responsibilities).  

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