What Makes Your Work Satisfying?

Dan Ariely’s recent TED Talk, “What Makes Us Feel Good about Our Work” is for law firms, too.

Breaking work down into separate steps and assigning a different worker to perform each step – repetitively – increases productivity … of pins and things. It’s an idea that worked very well for manufacturers in the 19th Century (subject to the occasional labor riot).

But, Ariely and others say, it’s not such a good idea for 21st Century knowledge work.  For knowledge work, productivity depends on the quality of the attention you  give to your work – and the connection you feel with it.                                                   Good-work-aint-cheap

When knowledge workers feel that their work has meaning, they are more productive. And a sense of meaning Ariely says, arises from connecting with your work. Connections are forged by investing effort and making contributions to the whole work. External recognition (a pat on the back) enhances connection and meaning.

Ariely has devised experiments (people building things with Legos and what-not) that appear to confirm this (“nice little Lego house you built there”).

The implications here for familiar laments about lawyers consigned to document review or due diligence are obvious, right?  Work assignments should give workers (well, let’s say “professionals”) the sense that their personal efforts make a difference in the outcomes.

Creation, challenge, ownership, identity and pride in the work, are all factors that enhance positive connections with work. For team projects, I’d add: give people the sense that they are important parts of the entire project; keep them engaged at that level; and recognize their contributions.

It’s not hard to see how these ideas might be integrated into structuring lawyer work assignments.

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