What Motivates People to Stay in their Jobs? Stretch Assignments

What really motivates people to stay in their jobs? Beyond the obvious pay increases, job perks and flexible working hours, have you heard of stretch assignments?

Nothing drives people away from their work than lack of motivation — or lack of opportunities for growth. A Glassdoor report titled “Why Workers Quit” implicates career stagnation for being the leading cause of turnover. But stretch assignments, which the Harvard Business Review coined years agom could take employees out of the doldrums, give them confidence and push them toward career-defining productivity.

Using basketball analogy, let’s take Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors as an example. Without power forward Kevin Durant and center Boogie Cousins, he has had to do more. He is a power forward but in his recent games, he has done well filling up the center and point guard (or point forward) or small forward positions.

While there will be people with specialized skills, Green is a good example of someone who thrives in doing a little of everything and doing well at it. He was selected with the 35th overall pick, a long way off from Stephen Curry who was picked 7th.

A global mobility manager needs to spot a Green in his roster of talents, someone who is willing to take on new challenges. Of course, there are talents who will not take on more than they can handle for fear of failure when they are already settled in their specialized skill sets. But those who are up to a challenge should have a venue to prove themselves.

It’s not unusual if companies do this already. Mikaela Kiner, founder and CEO of uniquely HR, in the same Glassdoor piece,  thinks “a stretch assignment might have been deliberately created to advance talented employees” because of organizational growth, an unexpected vacancy or a new product or initiative.

The key is how to spot these multi-talented professionals. Many employees also have unique skill sets but they simply want to focus on doing their job as assigned to them.

What makes people excel in stretch assignments? These are employees who accept a system or process in their job. Their heart is in the work because they like the culture and values of an organization and sees their work as the vital cog in the business.

A stretch assignment allows talents to shine as they build new skills, increase their visibility, develop leadership roles and provide them a roadmap toward a worthwhile endeavour. However, these talents need to know what is not a stretch assignment. A higher volume of work is not a stretch assignment; it’s simply more work.

But can you tell if an employee is ready? Having good communication skills can play a huge factor, because in most cases, getting a stretch assignment means one has a vote of confidence from the human resources personnel to the higher ups.

Why does a stretch assignment sound like one is going to be exploited for juggling a lot of work? Only a pessimistic person thinks this way. Passing up an opportunity to play a bigger role in the company means a lost opportunity.

Employees interested in a stretch assignment need a couple of things settled. Kinner and Jo Miller of Forbes came up with the following tips before taking on a stretch assignment:

  • Make sure goals and deliverables are clear
  • Find a mentor in this role
  • Check in early and often with the manager for direction and feedback
  • If the assignment is dramatically different from the current role, see if the company will pay for an executive coach
  • Remember people make mistakes when learning something new. Learn from failures
  • Plan some downtime and make sure to sleep and eat well, exercise, etc
  • It’s a chance to develop new skills, discover new strengths and build influential networks
  • Scan the landscape for business opportunities that match challenges
  • Go after a project no one wants but know the risks. If the project will cut into the main job, then proceed with absolute caution.
  • Negotiate for success. Negotiate the authority, resources and support needed for success. Then, enlist mentors and influential allies to help navigate office politics

Finally, it’s important to make sure that outside of the stretch assignment, one’s day-to- day living essentials, including food and housing accommodation, are substantially met, as an assignment like this could take away from some free time. No one wants to neglect their health.