Competence and wellbeing at work: Can’t have one without the other

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In the 1970s, American psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan developed the Self-Determination Theory, which argues that human beings must satisfy three basic needs to achieve maximum engagement and performance: competence, autonomy and relatedness

Let’s have a closer look at competence. Have you ever felt like you weren't fully utilizing your skills at work? How did this affect your performance? Mismatched skills and tasks can hurt job satisfaction. 

When our skills are underutilized and we don’t have the necessary tools to complete our tasks, our motivation and performance at work suffer. Fortunately, it’s possible to avoid this pitfall and help team members stay motivated.

First, we can ask ourselves, “When you feel at the top of your game at work, is it because of your skills, your talents, or your interest in the task or project?”  

To answer this question, let’s consider Merriam-Webster’s definitions for each of these terms:

  • Competence: the quality or state of having sufficient knowledge, judgment, skill or strength 
  • Talent: the natural endowments of a person
  • Interest: a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to something or someone

In today’s working world, where everything is in flux, it seems fitting to focus on individuals’ professional interests and curiosity, in order to help them prepare for change, collaborate and create new value-added products and services.

Interest and competence

Interest and competence are sometimes connected, but not always. Making a conscious effort to align interests with responsibilities allows managers to get to know their team members and bring out the best in them. Below are the steps to achieve this:

1 - Ask colleagues about their interests

  • In the last few months, which tasks did you most enjoy? What specific actions did you prefer? Identify these actions in verb form, and be as specific as possible, e.g. research, compile, analyze, validate, create, help, explain, teach, lead, sell, interact, plan. 
  • Think about your professional and personal experiences, both here and elsewhere. What other specific actions are you most comfortable with?
  • What inspires you in these actions?

2 - Redistribute responsibilities and tasks based on each person’s interests

  • Some people have to perform tasks they hate, but others may enjoy them. A project can become a good opportunity to assign new responsibilities! No need to turn everything upside down; make one change at a time. Little by little, the tasks will be redistributed more effectively, and wellbeing and performance at work will improve.  
  • Be flexible and persistent, and keep the channels of communication open. This redistribution is an ongoing process. The goal is to stimulate each person’s enthusiasm for as many of their responsibilities as possible. And don’t forget, interests can change over time.

Joint responsibility

Managers often believe they are entirely responsible for their teams’ happiness. Not so! When managers communicate their intention to match interests with responsibilities, the onus is on each team member to reflect on the matter themselves. A manager’s role is to have a conversation with those who engage in introspection to discover or confirm their own areas of interest. This conversation between managers and the members of their teams is essential. It helps develop trust, which is vital to the process. HR advisors can provide guidance, questionnaires and compilation tools, but managers need to take the lead.

The skills of the future

We’ve all seen lists of skills of the future. Here are a few suggestions compatible with the concepts of competence and wellbeing: 

  • For everyone: Self-knowledge (including areas of interest) and the courage to express yourself. With these skills, you’ll find meaning in your responsibilities and want to surpass yourself.
  • For managers: An appreciation for the members of their teams, satisfaction from seeing their individual growth at work, and the ability to show gratitude. Being driven by team members’ development is a sure way to elicit improved performance.

Take action!

Now you know what to do, how to do it, who to include in your reflection, and what to focus on. Why? To achieve greater success! You just need to figure out when to get started. How about now? 


About the author

Danielle Michaud, PCC, MBA, CPA, CGA is an ICF Accredited Coach, trainer and facilitator. She has more than 20 years of management experience in various environments and contexts. She holds the Agile Coach and NOVA Profile certifications (profile on leadership style and motivations), and is passionate about new organizational forms, such as the liberated company.

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