Understanding Meaningfulness in the Workplace

Meaningful work is one of the top most important factors cited by employees when it comes to job satisfaction and engagement and has been found to outweigh the importance of expected pay. Work plays a critical part in how people define themselves, so it is to be expected that they will look to their jobs as a source of meaningfulness. Meaningfulness, for employees, is about finding a connection to humanity through their work. Companies can promote this by establishing a culture of ethics, morals, and corporate social responsibility that combines an employee’s personal values and work life together.

Elementary teacher who finds his work meaningful.

Qualities of meaningful work

Meaningful work brings out an employee’s authentic self, helps others, and has clear purpose. Meaningful work taps into the most genuine and talented parts of its employees. It is often connected to their personal and professional lives wherein they may feel inspired by or relate personal experiences to the work they are doing. Meaningful work also works to fix problems that humanity has i.e. serves humanity. Employees want to know that their work is benefiting others. Lastly, meaningful work has clear purpose where employees can sense the impact of their work every day.

Negative Effects of Meaningless work

Meaningless or pointless work can negatively impact productivity, job satisfaction, and employee engagement levels. Employees who are unhappy with their work are more likely to leave their organization to find more meaningful work. High turnover causes productivity to decline and lessens employee morale which leads to more turnover. Here are some reasons employees find their work to be meaningless.

  • Their values do not match their employer’s values.
  • When they are not being recognized or rewarded, employees feel that their work is unimportant or doesn’t make an impact in the organization or for humanity.
  • Many employees have a general idea of what their jobs should be and the tasks involved. When they feel they are doing to many tasks that don’t fit this view, their work seems pointless.
  • Unfair treatment, such as holding employees to different standards and offering few opportunities for promotions, can make it difficult for employees to find meaning in their work.
  • Micromanaging lessens the sense of control employees have over their work and leads to feelings of being not listened to or respected.
  • Lack of connection to their colleagues and communities makes employees feel isolated and insignificant which leads to a sense of meaninglessness.
  • While most employees understand the risks that may be involved with their work, extreme or needless risk decreases meaningfulness.

When people feel their work is meaningful, they become more committed to their organization’s success. They work harder and more effectively and have a greater drive to produce results. Employees who draw meaning and significance from their work are more likely to stay with their organizations. They also stated higher job satisfaction and engagement levels.

Creating Meaningful Work

Employers can help employees to find meaning at work by tapping into core human needs: social connection, positive reinforcement, and self-actualization. Here are a few ways employers can help employees find meaning at work:

  • Offering frequent validation shows employees that what they do day to day matters to the organization. When employees are recognized for their good work, they are more prone to do more good work. Recognition can be formal and informal between managers and subordinates and peer to peer.
  • Connecting employees’ jobs to a greater cause gives employees a feeling of pride in the work their organizations do. Managers should provide context into how employees’ everyday work helps the organization realize its vision, mission, strategy, and goals. Organizations need to connect business success with how it contributes to society.
  • Creating a strong sense of community gives employees the chance to share who they are with colleagues and create a workplace in which they would want to work. Employers can help foster employee connections by starting groups or clubs. Open communication policies create a coaches and mentors style of relationships between managers and their teams and encourage frequent ongoing communication. Leaders must ensure they are putting forth the effort needed to form a collaborative work environment where employees genuinely like working with each other.
  • Encouraging continuous learning helps employees find meaning at work by giving them new skills to learn and apply to new responsibilities. Employers should make training and development resources continuously accessible to employees. Peer-to-peer classes provide both attendees and instructors with learning opportunities to share their knowledge and practice their presentation skills.

Wrapping It All Up

What makes work meaningful for employees differs from person to person. It is up to companies to deliver great employee experiences to enable employees to fulfill personal goals, feel empowered within the organization, and give back to the community. Doing so will make employees happier, prouder, and more loyal to their organizations.

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