What is the Goldilocks Rule in the Workplace?

The Goldilocks Rule is a rule of thumb for how to give out assignments in the workplace that take into account an employee’s skills.

There are a few ways to look at the Goldilocks Rule, but the easiest explanation is that performing tasks below your abilities causes you to lose interest in your job. However, performing tasks significantly beyond your abilities can lead to discouragement.

The best workplace challenges fall between these extremes. Managers strive to apply the Goldilocks Rule with their employees, creating assignments that are difficult enough to challenge the employee but not so challenging that they cannot be completed without help.

The Goldilocks Rule helps staff members stay motivated in the workplace. Employees who feel bored at work are more likely to look for a new, challenging job.

Additionally, employees who are bored with work fall into negative habits. For example, they may wait until the last minute to complete a deadline because they know the project is easy enough to complete quickly.

However, once employees are assigned a more challenging project it is harder to set a normal schedule again. If you challenge an employee too much, he or she is likely to leave because he or she feels unqualified for the position. There are a few ways to apply the Goldilocks Rule in your workplace.

Spend Time with Co-Workers

You can only apply the Goldilocks Rule if you know what your employees are capable of and actively receive feedback from them. However, if you are in a leadership position it may be challenging for your employees or team members to honestly share their views with you.

Employees are often afraid of admitting they are having trouble with a task or need additional help because they think it reflects poorly on their skills. If you are outside of work, it is easier for your colleagues to view you as another person and not an authority figure.

You may find out your colleagues have additional skills you were previously unaware of once you begin to spend more time with them. Knowing these talents may help you with the Goldilocks Rule as you have more information to work with.

For example, if you know someone on your team has a background in writing code, you can assign him or her more programming related tasks. This is helpful if he or she felt bored at work.

This doesn’t just present employees with a new challenge. It also gives your employees a chance to use skills they may rarely get an opportunity to use.

When you spend time with co-workers, try and switch between individually going out with co-workers and taking everyone out as a team. The type of feedback you receive is different depending on whether it is a group setting or if you are approaching someone independently.

One of the benefits of a group setting is your colleagues may feel more comfortable providing negative feedback. If there are other colleagues around, an individual may be more willing to take the lead on the conversation.

However, your coworkers may be hesitant to say they experience boredom with work in a group setting if other employees are complaining about too many challenging tasks. This is because it may appear rude or dismissive towards their claims.

Related Article: Keys to Communicating at Work

Speaking with everyone as a group gives you a chance to reassign duties to create or alleviate challenges. Going out with an individual colleague gives him or her a chance to explain his or her work situation in greater detail than a group setting.

Small Term vs. Long Term Goals

The level of challenge often relates to deadlines. A relatively easy task becomes difficult if you have an unusually small deadline. Similarly, a challenging task loses some of the edge if you have an overly generous deadline.

Employees respond to deadlines in different ways. Many employees prefer smaller assignments spread over time instead of a single project with a long deadline.

By splitting a project into smaller parts with individual deadlines, employees feel a greater sense of accomplishment as they complete each part of the project. The challenge is technically the same, but because the employees are going through multiple projects and working with shorter deadlines, it feels more difficult.

Additionally, separating a larger project into smaller parts helps employees who have a difficult time focusing on multiple sections of a project at a time. Splitting up a project into individual parts is an easy way to make a project go from too difficult to manageable.

Another reason some employees struggle with deadlines is feeling they need to complete everything before the deadline to impress their employer. Employees may try to do everything as quickly as possible, making a reasonable project overly challenging.

To best enforce the Goldilocks Rule, do not be afraid to make changes to deadline based on employee preferences.

Celebrate Victories

Employees are less likely to feel challenged by their work if they feel underappreciated. If an employee knows his or her hard work is valued, it pushes him or her to accept more challenges and strive to produce higher-quality work.

Acknowledging victories can help employees who do not feel challenged by work, as this provides them with the motivation they need to complete their work efficiently. Work which normally becomes boring is much more manageable when the employee knows his or her work makes a difference for the company.

Flexibility is Important

To get the most out of the Goldilocks Rule, you need to be flexible with your assignments. A common mistake is pushing employees too far in an attempt to make work more challenging.

After a difficult project, employees need at least a few days to re-energize themselves before starting another challenging project. You should not continually assign increasingly challenging projects without allowing time for recuperation.

Outside forces impact the difficulty of a project. If you know an employee is going through a difficult time outside of work, he or she may be more challenged by a project than usual. If you have an employee who has not been challenged, see if he or she can take part of the project from an employee who needs a chance to recover.

Related Article: Breaking the Work Martyr Mentality

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