How to engage employees in traditionally unpleasant roles

Recently I met with someone who works in waste management at their local council,  and upon chatting to them about their work, I found they were incredibly engaged and motivated to do a great job.
Traditionally we have seen working with waste as an unpleasant role. Garbage truck drivers are often portrayed as the lowest rung in society. In addition to this, working in a local council can be fraught with bureaucracy, bringing endless frustration to its employees.
Waste management isn’t sexy, and would seem unpleasant. Though my interviewee is not a garbage-truck driver,  and he absolutely loves his job. I asked him about the reasons why his workplace was such a rewarding and fulfilling environment, and he shared an interesting perspective of how management can make even the least palatable-sounding of jobs enjoyable.

Here’s how to engage employees who are in traditionally unpleasant roles:

Support from management

A strong willingness to support employees by management was one of the first factors described by my interviewee. He stated that this was clear early on in his role, that during learning the ropes he was very comfortable with the level of support provided by management.
He also suggested that he didn’t feel pressure to take on new responsibilities before he was ready, being able to step up to answering calls on his own terms. In addition, open lines of communication have continued to help him feel supported in his role, and he feels his career development is well supported by training programs and certificates.

Team environment

The team environment in his workplace is solid, with the workload shared between members. Roles and values are clear, to ensure no one is confused about their responsibilities. And there is a great sense of camaraderie, with everyone working toward a common goal.

A culture of acknowledgement

There is also a strong culture of employee acknowledgement. Management makes the effort to set aside time to acknowledge the work of the team and will acknowledge individual efforts as well, though not publicly. Colleagues will acknowledge the efforts of co-workers also, but this is more informal that a structures part of the company culture.


Some flexibility exists in terms on when and what tasks are performed by employees, which my interviewee described as a motivating factor at work. He stated that this motivation increases efficiency and speed of achievement of tasks. Additionally, management is clever in that when tasks are assigned, this is done with employee strengths in mind. My interviewee described being good at meeting and greeting, so many of these roles in the public eye are assigned to him.

Greater meaning of the employee’s role

Finally, my interviewee feels his role plays a broader context in society. Particularly in this pre-climate change world, he is proud of the work he does towards protecting the environment and sustainability. The sense of meaning and fulfilment is what employees often need for a greater sense of engagement and passion for his role.

Overall, this is a great snapshot of how management can effectively support the roles of their employees to improve their motivation and engagement. The only thing that appears to be missing to be is a public acknowledgement platform that employees can use to congratulate each other on their good work, as public acknowledgement has been shown to be more effective.

WooBoard is a peer to peer recognition platform where your employees can send public messages of thanks and appreciation to their colleagues. Sign up for your free 14-Day Trial of WooBoard today.


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