Challenging job experiences offer us an opportunity to develop our skills and rise up the ranks of our
organisation. While challenging work experiences are an effective way of retaining talented staff, 'we must
also take account of the various types of challenges, and the individual motivations of our employees',
according to organisational psychologist Roy Sijbom.
Employees seek challenging experiences in their job in order to develop their skills. It is no surprise then,
that many people are looking for challenge. According to the results of a replacement study, led by
organisational psychologist Roy Sijbom, challenging job experiences are often meaningfully distinguished
into challenges that are more publicly visible and those that are more private in nature. The willingness to
perform these challenging job experiences is driven by our specific personal goals. Organisations
seeking to retain talented staff would thus do best to tailor the nature of challenging tasks to employees'
Challenging job experiences
The study on challenging job experiences was centred on two key questions: (1) can we identify different
'types' of challenging experiences, and (2) are employees' personal goals a determining factor in the
challenges they take on? The researchers contacted employees at various organisations through
LinkedIn and other professional platforms, and asked them to answer questions on their personal goals
and challenging work experiences at various measurement moments. This helped the team resolve the
two central questions.
Private versus public challenging job experiences
Challenging job experiences are best described as experiences that involve solving unusual problems,
overcoming difficult challenges and/or taking high-risk decisions. This includes 'holding a presentation on
behalf of your organisation' and 'handling relatively new and unfamiliar tasks'. While both challenging
experiences involve a certain degree of complexity and offer opportunities for personal development, they
also differ in key aspects. The first task, holding a presentation, is publicly visible and clearly defined. The
second, handling relatively new and unfamiliar tasks, is less visible to others and less clearly defined.
Different challenges, different goals
'Our research underlines the value of distinguishing between, what we call, public and private challenging
job experiences', Sijbom explains. This is relevant, because employees may be striving towards different
goals. For example, employees may be striving to improve and develop themselves (mastery-approach
goals), or demonstrate competences to others (performance-approach goals).
Sijbom: 'Our study assessed these various goal types and their relationship with challenging job
experiences they execute. As it turns out, the employees that were highly focused on mastery-approach
goals wanted both public and private challenges. After all, these challenges offer an opportunity for
personal development. Employees that were more focused on performance-approach goals exclusively
sought public challenges.'
Positive assessments of others
According to Sijbom, the explanation is simple: 'Public challenges offer employees the opportunity to
demonstrate their competences and gain the approval of others (e.g. managers or other co-workers).
Moreover, public challenging job experiences are clearly defined, allowing the employees to prepare and
practice effectively. This increases the chances of success.'
Offering challenging job experiences
Challenging job experiences offer employees an opportunity for personal development and growth.
Providing such challenges should therefore be a key priority for any organisation seeking to retain
talented staff. In doing so, the organisation should take account of employees' individual goals and adjust
the challenging job experiences they offer.