“Challenging” isn’t usually considered a positive descriptor. When a person, situation, or environment are flagged as challenging, it usually means they’re a problem. They’re an obstacle to be navigated around or an issue that needs to be overcome.
When employees face challenges at work, for example, that usually means one of two things: 1.) they feel enough personal motivation and love for the company that they work to resolve the challenge, or 2.) they don’t. Challenges push engaged employees to excel, but they also push unengaged employees out the door.
So if you have a top performer on your team who seems disengaged, bored, or ready to look for work elsewhere, it may seem counterintuitive to deliberately place obstacles in the person’s path. But think twice. This may be just the thing that he or she needs to buckle down and face the job with fresh eyes. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind.
Challenges help us learn, and learning feels good
Your employee wants to learn new things; she doesn’t just want this because learning feels positive and meaningful. She also wants to build out her resume and achieve her career goals. Difficult projects, new skills, and exposure to new aspects of the industry can all be considered challenges…but facing them can build an employee’s sense of accomplishment and rekindle a fading sense of ambition. Giving a glazed-over employee a difficult project can spark a transformation.
Challenges make us feel alive
We don’t always love adventures while we’re having them. And there are some activities we enjoy having done, even if we really don’t enjoy doing them. There’s something magical about looking back on a harrowing ride after it’s over. And when you offer this feeling to a checked-out employee or disengaged team, there’s a strong chance they’ll want to get back on the ride and go through it again.
Challenges should be appropriate; choose them wisely
Push your employees toward challenges that make use of their rarest and most valuable skills, not toward busy work or manufactured hassles. Just because a task is awkward, miserable or tedious doesn’t mean it will make your employee feel engaged and connected. Before you overextend an employee or push them into the deep end, make sure you’re choosing the right employee, for the right task, for the right reasons.
Again, the wrong task and the wrong reasons may push a detached employee further out the door, so be careful. Before you move forward, sit down for a conversation about what your employee wants to accomplish or learn while they occupy this role.
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