5 min read

5 Ways to Encourage Discretionary Effort

November 25, 2019

Whenever the topic of employee engagement and performance comes up, it isn't long before people start talking about the concept of discretionary effort. A truly engaged employee will put in discretionary effort when it comes to their career.

But what does discretionary effort mean? Discretionary effort refers to the amount of additional effort, beyond what is already expected, that an employee is willing to put in to their work.



Let's take a marketer who has been given a quota for delivering leads to sales. They could do the bare minimum to deliver what has been requested of them and still maintain their position and earn a fair salary. But without engagement, they are unlikely to go beyond this minimum and put in discretionary (optional) effort. An engaged marketer, however, would be more willing to put in extra time to deliver additional leads or make sure their leads are the highest possible quality.

The extra effort is not only good for the company, but it is representative of a happier, more engaged employee. Let's get into what companies can do to encourage employees to put in discretionary effort.


1. Give appreciation.

Some leaders still believe the most effective way to motivate employees to work harder is through fear tactics and punishment for missing targets. The research, however, does not support such a perspective. Fear tactics tend to alienate the people whom they are targeted at, creating a lack of security and community. They make people feel less empowered to make the behavioral changes necessary for personal growth.

In a workplace setting, it is important to understand the pitfalls of punishment in contrast to the benefits of recognition. Employees who are consistently given recognition for their work tend to feel more appreciated, leading to an improved sense of belonging. In one SHRM study, 54% of respondents agreed that employee recognition improves employee engagement, and 58% agreed it improves employee relationships.

With engagement comes discretionary effort, which in turn impacts the overall performance and productivity of the company. Get a recognition program in place at your company to optimize for both individual and organization success.


2. Provide and inspire purpose.

Giving employees appreciation tells them that they have a purpose at the organization. But what about the broader, company-wide purpose?

Communicating company purpose to employees can be an extremely valuable tool when it comes to increasing overall performance. Employees who have a firm grasp of their company's greater purpose can quickly determine where they fit in and how they can continue to propel the company toward its ultimate goals.

More and more companies are shifting towards a new way of doing business - one that puts the focus on purpose rather than profit alone. Preciate, among a growing number of companies, became a Certified B Corporation® in order to create an environment where purpose can thrive. Not only does this benefit the public, but it benefits the employees, providing inspiration through the potential for social impact.

No matter what a company's purpose is, clearly conveying it to employees is a great first step to engaging them and therefore inspiring discretionary effort.


3. Offer resources and support.

It can be difficult to get anything done without the proper resources and support, let alone doing something new and challenging at work.

Imagine a sales person who has been tasked with calling 100 contacts per day has been meeting her quota, but she feels held back by the outdated sales tool her company has been using for the past few years. Without the support of her manager, she would continue to meet the requirement for calling 100 contacts per day, but it's unlikely that she would go out of her way to make even more calls per day. 

Now imagine a sales person who has a manager that offers additional support and resources to their team. They would see how their sales people are being held back by the current tool and subsequently provide access to an updated tool that allows for increased efficiency. Suddenly, the employee who was held back by the outdated tool would be able to increase the number of calls she makes in a day.

By making the work experience better through resource support, companies get more employees who are willing to put in that discretionary effort.


4. Create a positive emotional culture.

In addition to providing resources and support, companies can benefit from creating a positive emotional culture. In a positive company culture, the sales employee from the previous example would feel comfortable communicating with management, letting them know what is holding her back.

Creating a company culture where positivity can thrive is an important step in encouraging discretionary effort from employees. This is largely due to the concept of emotional contagion, which refers to the mimicry of human emotions in groups. If the culture being created by company leadership is based around positive emotions like respect and gratitude in contrast to negative ones like fear and anger, then employees are more likely to feel welcomed, inspired, and happy to work hard.


5. Be a champion of healthy work-life balance.

With all this talk about discretionary effort, it's tempting to think that encouraging employees to work hard all the time would be another key way to inspire this additional effort. While it may work in the short term, the truth is that no employee can work all the time.

Instead of creating an environment where excessive work is rewarded, companies can encourage their employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This takes a conscious effort on the part of many companies, especially those in the United States considering the average length of time spent working per week compared to other countries around the world.

Although it may be counter-intuitive to some, a workforce with a healthy work-life balance is more likely to be happy, engaged, and willing to put in discretionary effort. Rather than getting burnt out from non-stop work and a lack of time for self-care and family time, employees need an environment where they can come to work refreshed and ready to give it 110%.


In Summary

Getting employees to work harder takes more than just asking them to do so. Instead, the best way is to develop an authentic caring attitude towards their overall wellbeing.

From giving consistent messages of appreciation to offering additional resources and support, team leaders can increase their employees' engagement and therefore their performance.

Preciate's employee recognition platform is focused on relationship building for this exact reason. Workplace relationships are a key contributor to company culture and overall employee happiness and wellbeing. Start encouraging discretionary effort from employees today by launching a recognition program and inspiring a culture of appreciation.

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Lydia Stevens

Written by Lydia Stevens

Lydia is Preciate's Digital Marketing Manager. She works remotely from Colorado, enjoying the beautiful mountains on the weekends and creating new content for Preciate during the week.