I’m sure that it would be no surprise to hear that many of us do not grow up to be working in the career we had dreamed of as a child. In fact, only one in ten Americans say they are working their ‘dream job’.
And so, naturally, employees may indulge in a ‘what if…’ moment. What if I’d stuck with that hobby? What if I’d studied that degree? What if I chose that path instead of this one? The list goes on. Employers may not think that this happens often, but a recent study actually found that only 6% of participants reported never or almost never thinking about other paths they could have taken – that leaves a whopping 94% of employees wondering about those ‘what ifs’.
That same study also discovered that 21% of workers reported thinking about these questions often or almost always. Those who were somewhat ‘stuck in the past’ were more likely to be distracted or daydream, took more breaks and days off, were less engaged, and were more likely to search for other jobs.
It is easy to fall victim to this spiral of thoughts, as nowadays most of us are constantly being confronted with choices. A recent survey found that there had been a significant rise in the ‘apply anyway’ trend, with three quarters (73%) of recruiters citing a lack of qualified applicants for roles as the biggest challenge in the hiring process. This highlights that employees have such ease and accessibility to new job choices – LinkedIn’s Easy Apply option is a great example of this – that it’s no wonder they find themselves wondering about paths untaken.
This can all have an effect on engagement levels, and so it is important for employers to know what they can be doing to challenge these feelings of ‘what if’ and help employees turn them into creative and innovative output:
- Recognition – recognizing employee contributions goes a long way when trying to boost engagement. Quantum Workplace conducted research which discovered that when employees believe management will recognize their efforts, they are 2.7 times more likely to be highly engaged. Reminding employees of their value to the company, and making it clear how what they do for the business directly lends to the prosperity of it, is a great way of reaffirming that the job they do matters, and the choices that lead them there were for a reason.
- Role Flexibility – employers creating the opportunity for ‘job crafting’ where they can is a great way of lessening feelings of ‘what if’. This allows workers to be more innovative with their role and bring some of their personal passions into their job in order to help promote feelings of fulfilment. Managers should try to learn about these talents and passions and look to find creative ways to help employees embrace these parts of themselves at work. This can be a fantastic way of helping an employee feel that their identity aligns with their work and re-spark that fire of engagement.
- Internal Locus of Control – in psychology, having a high internal locus of control means that someone perceives themselves as having a lot of control over their behavior, and see’s things that happen to them as being a result of their own actions rather than outside of their control. Coaching staff to have this locus leads them to being more likely to respond productively to feelings of doubt associated with ‘what if’ thinking.
It‘s natural to wonder from time to time about what could have been. And while harmless reflection is always a nice thing, those who find themselves getting stuck in the past may need a helping hand getting unstuck. If you would like to discuss how we can help improve your employee engagement levels by optimizing the wonderment of ‘what if’, please get in touch with us.