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Are you happy in your work?

Your career is compiled by Fiona McWilliam fiona@gn. apc. organd Sally O'Reilly sally. platt@btinternet. com

British workers are among the unhappiest in the world, according to a recent survey carried out by the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College in the US. Only 36% of the British employees questioned said they enjoyed their work and only Japan and Hungary have an unhappier workforce than ours.

If these findings are true, we can safely assume that motivation levels among British workers are not at their all time highest - which is bad news for all sectors of industry. And workplace gurus are hard at work looking at ways to tackle this problem.

'Motivation is incredibly important in the workplace, ' says organisational psychologist Tracy West, of employment expert Warwick Consultants.

'Where job satisfaction levels are high - with the knock-on effect that self-esteem is increased - results are far superior.'

As morale drops, so too does motivation. This can be as a result of any number of factors, including a lack of trust between management and their workforce and - particularly pertinent to the construction industry - economic factors beyond an individual's control.

Diane Newell, managing director, Europe, for workplace consultancy Blessing White says special attention and skill is needed when it comes to motivating engineers. 'They are a particularly difficult group to keep engaged, ' she says. 'This is partly because of the demands of the marketplace - they know they could get another job tomorrow - and also because of the way they think of their career. The emphasis is on getting the right kind of experience and skill. Often, they aren't company people.'

So what does make a workforce happy and productive?

'The working environment can be a definite motivator, ' says West. 'So can colleagues, a degree of autonomy and pride in a product or company.'

This view is shared by Newell.

'For engineers to be well motivated, they need to work in partnership with their employers, making suggestions about work they want to do, and about ways that they can work, and the company needs to listen to that.' She applauds the example of Marconi, which seconded an engineer keen to learn about websites to a department just about to develop its own site.

Other engineering firms are also putting these ideas into practice. 'Motivation is everything, ' says a spokesman for contractor Christiani & Nielsen.

'An employer should take an avuncular approach and really care about their staff. We show this through our mentoring, team-building, training and Investors in People initiatives.'

Above all, Christiani & Nielsen believes it is the nature of the work which makes civil engineering a rewarding career:

'We believe the fact that we're involved in challenging and prestigious projects helps to motivate our workforce.'

Chris Parkinson, HR manager with Binnie Black & Veatch, takes a similar line. 'This work is interesting, challenging and stimulating - and that is the main source of job satisfaction, ' he stresses. 'These are professional people doing professional work, not people working on a production line. We don't have a particular policy on motivation. We have an appraisal system, and we set objectives and goals for staff. We don't have a need for a formal system.'

And although the retention rate is lower than Parkinson would like, he sees this as a problem endemic across the sector. 'People do move around - it's a fluid market, ' he points out.

Pay is an issue for staff, but Parkinson says pay hikes do not boost morale. 'There's lots of evidence which shows that increasing pay doesn't motivate staff - it's a negative, not a positive, ' he says.

Life coach and business consultant Mo Shapiro is equally adamant: 'People think they're motivated by money It certainly gives satisfaction, but it's not a prime motivator, ' she says.

Shapiro refers to the work of management thinker Herzberg, who found that responsibility, positive feedback and ensuring that workers feel valued are what motivates a workforce.

'So many people say they only get attention when they do something wrong, ' Shapiro says.

She points out that US research suggests that employers should provide four times as much positive as negative feedback just to maintain the status quo, and a staggering eight times to keep people feeling good.

If you do find yourself working for an employer where even the greatest achievements attract little attention, there are ways to motivate yourself, says Shapiro. 'Try thinking about an occasion when you did feel motivated and recreate that feeling, ' she suggests.

'You can choose to have the worst job in the world, or to make something out of it.'

Case study

Mott MacDonald Group Nina Merchant, manager, learning and development at Mott MacDonald, comments:

'Motivation is a huge subject. But in spring 1999, we began to pilot a company-wide policy to ensure staff are developed at all levels of the organisation. All UK staff have been trained in this process, and we are emphasising that staff development is a joint responsibility.

We are monitoring this closely.

In particular, we want staff to be able to insist that their managers spend time on training and developing them. We are getting detailed feedback, and managers are picked up if they are not doing that. It's very easy to forget the people side of an organisation - we are trying to make sure this doesn't happen.

It's too early to say if this has affected retention rates - but increasing motivation is one of our prime objectives.'

Question of morale

Want to boost your own morale? Then look at the following questions: What do I want from work? What am I already getting? What am I missing?

What are the opportunities in my organisation?

What are the opportunities outside my organisation?

What skills and experience can I offer my employee in exchange for what I want?

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