How to Help Employees Take Ownership

Easy instructions for assembling engagement.

CO_WebSite_BlogHeaders v2-09Have you ever heard of the “IKEA effect”? Mind you, I didn’t say IKEA affect — that feeling of pained displeasure when you realize an hour into building your veneer chest that you’ve installed one of the cam connectors into the wrong opening, even worse, you installed it with great vigor. Short of invoking every four-letter name in the book, you’ve inconvenienced yourself — to say the least.

No, I’m talking about the “IKEA effect” with an e. I read about it in a November Business Insider article by Shana Lebowitz. The IKEA effect is what researchers call the feelings of admiration people have for work when they toil over it themselves. It’s that feeling you get when you finally finish building that chest or dresser that gave you so much trouble earlier.

You may fancy it a bit more than the assembled piece you purchased a few years back. Or, like me, you may want to hold onto it just a little bit longer — across yet another state line — because of your connection to it.

In the article, Dan Ariely, a psychology and behavioral economics professor at Duke University and coauthor of a 2011 study on the topic, said that companies can draw on the IKEA effect to better motivate people at work. In short: managers can engage and motivate their employees by literally or figuratively giving them credit for the work

Giving people credit for an idea and work isn’t as easy as it used to be, Ariely told BI, but that shouldn’t preclude managers from enabling employees to claim greater ownership over their work.

Employee engagement author and speaker Eric Chester shared in a blog that there are several ways managers can do this, ultimately influencing whether employees decide to dig in and be engaged or check out:

Share your vision. A manager’s vision and expectations should be clearly communicated. But they can strive for even greater employee buy-in and involvement and reinforce alignment by continually asking employees for their input.

Let people draw their own map. This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a source about the relationship between great customer service and strong employee experiences. Imagine how empowered workers must feel when they’re given a structured but liberal degree of latitude to make sure guests are happy with their in-store experience.

Divvy up authority, not just assignments. We all know there’s enough work to go around, and then some. But encouraging managers to delegate some leadership roles like leading a regular meeting will help develop leadership skills and give employees incentive to lean in to their work and role.

Encourage employees to solve their own problems. Managers should listen to their employees’ problems, and while they might have just the right solution teed up in their minds to give, they shouldn’t. “Instead, ask probing questions that will lead them to determine the right answer,” Chester wrote. When the employee gets it right, managers should compliment them and tell them they can handle similar situations independently in the future. Remember, the idea here is not for managers to leave their workers fending for themselves but to demonstrate they trust their judgment.

Given the discouraging employee engagement levels often cited in talent management articles, supporting workers in achieving that IKEA effect around their work is a great approach with which to increase engagement levels.

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email