Discretionary Effort In The Workplace

Philip Cleave
June 28, 2022
Employee voluntarily putting in extra hours at work

Whether a customer or colleague, or maybe a friend or family member. I’m sure you can all recall times when you went the extra mile for someone and your reasons for doing so, maybe to feel better about yourselves, or in response to some good treatment you received from another party.

Whatever the reasons, with the right conditions we can all raise our effort in a similar manner at work. In the workplace this is called discretionary effort.

What is discretionary effort?

When we talk about discretionary effort, we’re essentially referring to a workplace interaction where an employee gives more than their employer expects or requires from them.

This voluntary approach to going the extra mile, is typically developed in a workplace culture of trust and appreciation. It begins when the employee starts to form an emotional commitment to their organization and its goals.

Subsequently the higher your number of discretionary workers, the better your overall work culture, the lower your staff churn rate and the better your growth.

Examples of discretionary effort at work

Examples of workers going the extra mile can be quite generic, from staff regularly working above their contracted work hours to those taking on additional training to gain more skills. However, they could also be more specific, such as the above and beyond actions taken by an individual working in a particular department, or an employee helping another colleague.

For example, if you worked in a customer service department, it could simply involve you making an unexpected follow up call to a customer to check everything is still fine following a problem you solved for them a week earlier. Besides their surprise at hearing from you again, such action could culminate in that customer taking out an extra product or service from you.

Alternatively, it could involve a staff member helping out another colleague. In this scenario the individual could be struggling or falling behind with a task due to it’s technical nature. By helping and equipping them with fresh knowledge to solve their problem and meet their deadline, not only will that individual feel better, but such random kindness can help to create a culture of support and trust within that organization.

Discretionary effort and employee engagement

Staff engagement, which looks at the strength of an employee’s mental and emotional connection to an organization, is another popular area of examination in the field of employee relations. And it’s strongly related to discretionary effort.

Essentially, unless an employee is engaged and motivated enough to work, they won’t display any discretionary effort. In fact, you can argue that employee engagement levels within an organization can be measured purely in terms of how much discretionary effort staff put in. In other words, how much energy, effort and focus are they dedicating to the work they need to complete?

It therefore makes sense to improve engagement levels within your business. And the best way to do that is through a survey and acting on the staff feedback you receive back.

An employee engagement survey is an ideal way to measure how connected and committed staff feel to your business and what areas you need to improve.

From internal restructuring and shifting around people and departments within an office, to employees leaving and new recruits joining. Things can change very quickly in a business and depending on the severity of that change it can impact employee engagement. Therefore, it makes sense to run additional surveys to pick up this sentiment and the best way to do this is with a smaller and more frequently distributed survey called a pulse survey. Asking quick and frequent pulse survey questions can pay dividends, as the the quicker you can respond and act on staff feedback, the sooner you’ll be able to improve engagement levels.

How to inspire discretionary effort

Surveys are really effective to identify what staff are thinking. However, there are also additional things you can be doing to help inspire more discretionary effort from your staff.

Here’s some ideas to think about:

Place the best people in the right places

It might sound obvious but having the right people in the right places at the right time can make a big difference to levels of discretionary effort in your organization. This is because when people enjoy what they’re doing, not only do they tend to be better at it, but they often willingly go above and beyond what’s expected of them.

Give them the right tools

Having the right work tools can simplify work processes and help staff to complete jobs on time.

For example, with a project management tool an employee can break down a large project into multiple tasks. They can also communicate and share documents more easily with their colleagues.

Simplifying things for staff makes them happier and more comfortable, subsequently increasing their likelihood of putting in discretionary effort.

Work to remove any roadblocks

Whatever part of the business your employee may be working within, it’s important to remove any barriers that might prevent them from doing what’s important to them.

Help them to identify and garner any extra resources, tools and support that can help with this including collaboration with other departments.

Binding people in more meaningful ways can help foster an environment of togetherness and willingness to go the extra mile.

Be appreciative and reward positive outcomes

How frequently do you appreciate and recognize the discretionary effort of your employees?

When you acknowledge and reward your staff, they feel cared for and valued. As a result, they’ll be more likely to continue putting in the extra effort at work.

Rewards can take many forms from gift vouchers and monetary bonuses to lunch outings and more days off. Then of course there are wider company benefits that serve to provide additional motivation. However, everyone is different with alternative tastes and preferences. So, why not find out more about this through an employee benefits survey.

Offer autonomy and opportunities for growth

Rather than be micromanaged, most staff appreciate being given greater autonomy to complete their tasks. In addition, giving employees more responsibilities and development opportunities to upskill and succeed helps increase their engagement and esteem.

Ultimately, with more freedom and development opportunities, your staff will much more incentivised to put in discretionary effort.

Develop a culture of trust

Think about your company values and mission. Use it as the foundation for building a culture that inspires discretionary effort.

As a leader communicate your vision clearly and connect the value of what your people do to that vision. Doing this gives employees purpose and focus. It also demonstrates to them how much you value their work.

Feeling valued for their contributions is really crucial to staff, as this is what yields their discretionary effort.

Maintaining discretionary effort requires ongoing employer commitment

From increased productivity and growth to an improved work culture and reduced employee churn. There are many benefits that discretionary effort can bring to a business. But without ongoing commitment from employers to maintain the conditions necessary to encourage this, levels of discretionary effort can quickly fall.

Subsequently, with an ongoing plan of activities and feedback data gathering and analysis through employee surveys, employers can put themselves in the best possible position to engage and motivate their staff and encourage the discretionary effort needed for greater success.


Get started and create your first survey

If you would like more information then please get in touch.