"What was the best time of your life?" Sitting across the living room from my 89-year-old grandmother, I expected her response to be a story of a joyful childhood, marrying her sweetheart right after the war, the birth of my father, or becoming (thanks to me) a grandmother for the first time. Rather, her response caught me completely by surprise: "Working as a teller at the bank was the best time of my life … I so loved that job!"
What is it about work that holds the potential to impact us so significantly? Recent Gallup studies have revealed the devastating effect of sustained unemployment as well as the great impact that a good job can have on our entire wellbeing. Work possesses the concurrent capacity to give us great excitement, encouragement, and engagement -- or it can give us dread, despair, and disengagement. The difference? Using our strengths.
A classic Gallup study reaffirmed what good managers have known for decades: Ignoring people is one of the worst things you can do to an employee, but managing an employee based on his or her strengths is one of the best things you can do for his or her level of engagement. But why? What is it about doing what we do best that makes such a dramatic impact on our engagement? Part of the answer lies in personalization of the work we are doing and our sense of mastery of our work.
In my Grandma Helen's case, she loved being a bank teller because of the end of the day audit. She explained that her favorite days were the ones when other tellers' drawers were off by a few pennies and they couldn't find the discrepancy. "Other tellers would come to me if they couldn't get their books to add up and I'd always find the missing numbers. The numbers just made sense to me and I could easily follow them until I found the issue, even if it kept me at the bank an hour or two late, I always found the error and corrected it before I left."
A good job -- a job that allows us to do what we do best -- is one where we are able to bring our strengths to work with us each and every day. My grandma is extremely fortunate to have had such a job -- one that she remembers so fondly because she knew she was doing superb work and she had an impact on those around her.
Far too many employees walk into work each morning and feel they have to check their strengths at the door. They are managed through a series of formulaic and routine job descriptions and are beholden to impersonal processes and steps. Their opinions aren't asked, their input is not valued, and their strengths go untapped. Using strengths at work engages employees because it brings humanity back to the workplace. It allows the employee to customize the job description to best fit how they work best and it trusts and honors the employee to reach their outcomes, but to reach them in a way that leverages what they do best. When employees use their strengths daily, not only do they thrive, but so does their performance. This is why we need leaders who can point employees in the proper direction, be clear about expectations and outcomes, and then get out of the way and let people succeed with their strengths.
I pressed my grandma, "If working at the bank was such a great job, why did you leave?" "Well …" she paused and smirked, "Your dad was born."
Engagement is a key business metric that drives many important business outcomes. Gallup's employee engagement survey, the Q12, is now available for small to medium-sized organizations.
Grandma Helen's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Responsibility, Belief, Adaptability, Analytical and Deliberative.
Kyle Robinson's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Strategic, Communication, Learner and Achiever.
Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed: