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 Increase employee engagement with the IKEA effect

Niels den Daas, Chief Ninja

3 December 2018

The latest research from Gardner shows shocking numbers about employee engagement in the workplace. It was found that a whooping 85% of employees worldwide feel disengaged and unmotivated at work. Pretty horrible if you ask this Ninja… 

But, let’s not get into the immediate “finger-pointy-blame-game-mode”. Instead, let’s look at how we can apply a simple little trick learned from IKEA: the world’s largest furniture retailer. The trick? A little cognitive bias, called “the IKEA effect”.

What is employee engagement?

Unlike the popular belief, employee engagement is not the same as satisfaction, happiness, motivation or empowerment. Where back in the days people tried to make employees more engaged by trowing some extra money at them, nowadays the “happy-at-work gurus” are preaching for more slides and fruit baskets at work… all to increase employee engagement. 

Maybe a bit too engaged…?

Photograph by Aitoff via Pixabay

“Simply put, engagement has to do with how passionate you feel about your job”

While more money probably makes you feel more satisfied about your financial situation, and a fruit basket gives a brief boost to your happiness… these things do not increase how engaged you feel at your job. Simply put, engagement has to do with how passionate you feel about your job. In other words: to what extent you deeply care about it.

When you know a just little bit of human psychology, it’s not hard to make people feel more engaged with what they do. 

Let’s build together!

Did you ever buy furniture from IKEA? You probably did. If so, you know the great (and likely difficult) process of putting it together afterwards.

Even though the building process may result in a fight with your spouse, research shows that people actually loved their furniture more due to the fact that they had a role in the building process. This cognitive-bias effect was found to be so strong, that it got named “the IKEA effect”

But how can you make this knowledge actionable and apply it in your team today? 

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will fish together.

Photograph by Sasint via Pixabay

Next time when you are delegating work, assigning a new project or talking about the company in general, make sure that your employees feel that they have a very important role in the co-development in it.

For example, when you tell one of your employees to create a killer PowerPoint-presentation to impress the board of directors, don’t just ask for a PowerPoint presentation. Ask your employee how we can impress the board in order to push our project trough. Involve him or her in the end result you’re trying to achieve: the “why” behind the PowerPoint. You might even find that your employees have ideas you didn’t think about. Perhaps in the end, it’s not even a PowerPoint presentation you’ll be using at all. Maybe you’ll show up with box of LEGOs instead. 

Now this is co-development.

You don’t just give an order. You involve people in your decision making process. In doing so, people will feel ownership of whatever you’re trying to achieve for the company. They will feel it’s important because of the mission you’re all on together. Not because of the money they get added to their bank account at the end of the month.

In the end, that will result in much better results for your company. 

My personal experience

The IKEA effect has a special place in my heart, because it has helped me to achieve success on many different occasions. Due to this effect, I was able to “manage” 40 self-organising teams at the same time, while preserving most of my sanity.

I always made sure my employees felt they were part of something bigger, something they were helping to build towards. Something bigger than themselves. Whenever possible, I would make sure we were working together on something that we were all passionate about.

So go ahead, I strongly encourage you to incorporate this knowledge in your current way of working and try it out. Let’s together build towards a world of work that we are all passionate about!  

Niels is co-founder of Ninjafy, neuroscientist, AI and chatbot enthusiast… and who loves a good physical or mental challenge. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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