Do Your Employees Suffer from the Sisyphic Condition?

Do Your Employees Suffer from the Sisyphic Condition?

Sid Smith

Riddle me this, Batman: What can you do that is most likely to result in a higher level of employee motivation?

{Theme to Jeopardy playing…}

Did you answer “raises and bonuses”?

Per social scientist Dan Ariely in his book Payoff: The Hidden Logic that Shapes our Motivations, the answer is “a whole lot of stuff” that includes money, but also includes achievement, purpose, status, pride, and as he says, “all kinds of other elements.”

Motivation, which is often referred to today as employee engagement, is important to the success of any company. Motivated people are more productive, more actively involved in the success of the company, and more likely to stay with the company through thick and thin. Unfortunately, as a leader and manager, you lack the time and resources to take care of “all kinds of other elements.”

If you believe that people exchange work for wages, you’re stuck in industrial-era thinking.

How to take care of “all kinds of other elements” to improve employee engagement

Ariely describes something he calls the Sisyphic Condition, named after the Greek story about Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. In a simple experiment, he demonstrated that by devaluing people’s work, regardless of the complexity or importance of the task, he could quickly demotivate them from continuing. Soon they felt like Sisyphus, endlessly rolling rocks up a hill with no intrinsic reward for the effort.

People want what they do to mean something. We know that the millennials want their work to have meaning and purpose, and that scares us because we don’t know how to make their jobs meaningful. So, we give bonuses, raises, awards, and recognition. And, sometimes (but only momentarily), we succeed in making them feel better.

We don’t need to make this so hard. Here are three simple things you can do to add purpose and meaning to any job, thereby motivating employees to be more engaged in what they’re doing for your company.

1 Have and SHARE a plan

You hopefully have a mission or purpose statement and a set of core values. I’m also hoping that you have a long-term (10 year) target, a picture of where you want to be in three years, and your goals for the next year.

Every quarter, share your vision, values, BHAG (Big, Harry, Audacious Goal), and annual goals with all your employees. Tell them where you are, how you’re doing, your successes, and your challenges or issues moving forward. Let them know why you are doing what you’re doing. In EOS® we call this your State of the Company quarterly address.

2 Have clear roles, responsibilities, and measurements

First, clearly define all your major leadership and management roles and three to five key responsibilities. Then, build out your Accountability Chart™ until you have a clearly defined role, specific responsibilities, and at least one way for each employee to measure his or her success.

Share the roles and responsibilities for the entire organization with every employee. They know who does what, how they fit into the big picture, and how everyone contributes to the success of the organization.

3 Quarterly, “You’re not Sisyphus” meetings

Meet with each employee quarterly. Acknowledge the work they did in the previous quarter and point out how what they did helped to contribute to the success of the company. Review their fulfillment of each of their three to five key responsibilities. Review your core values and how well they do (or don’t) mesh with the company culture. Finally, review their three to five “Rocks” (most important things they were to accomplish) for the last quarter. {We call this process the 5-5-5 – review Rocks, Values, Responsibilities}

Signs that what you’re doing is working

When you see employees actively helping others, solving their own issues, suggesting alternative solutions or processes, and speaking openly about their concerns, then you know you’ve got engaged employees.

Engagement is less about the amount of time spent working then it is about their attitude and behavior while working.

Improving Employee Engagement


Sid: 971-678-1495
Eric: 503-635-2319