When was the last time you completed something and felt really accomplished? Think back on that moment and picture it in your head. (Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this!) How did you feel? Proud? Confident? Maybe helpful? Chances are good that whatever you accomplished was meaningful to you, especially if it was at work. So, why is this concept of meaningful work so important?
In a recent Gallup poll, it was found that it would take about a 20% pay raise to draw employees away from a job or role where they were engaged and doing work that mattered to them. The inverse was also true - it would take little to nothing to move people on from a job where they were disengaged. Companies are spending a lot of funds to keep people invested in roles where they’re providing you uninspired and disengaged work. Instead of keeping people in roles where they’re frustrated and disengaged, what would happen if we could figure out what would help them see their work as meaningful and lead to more employee engagement? Let’s first take a look at how meaningful work is described.
Adam Grant, renowned I/O psychologist at Wharton, has said that meaningful work can be summed up as “the belief that your job makes other people’s lives better”. I love this definition of meaningful work because for almost every role in most companies, this can be true. I don’t know about you, but when I am able to run and pick up a coffee (because it always tastes better when someone else makes it!)I consider my life to be better by the team who made that coffee. That may seem like a simple example, but I hope it rings true with you. When you truly believe that your job makes other people’s lives better, it shows in your attitude, your performance, and overall outlook on your work. So, how can you as a business leader help your people figure out what makes their work meaningful? Here are a few suggestions:
- Work with your employees or team to figure out what’s important to them about work. Do they want more autonomy? Do they need more connection with other employees? Are they looking for more certainty in their role? My encouragement to you when you approach these conversations is to be genuinely curious and solution seeking, especially with employees who you already feel are struggling with whether or not their work matters.
- Together, create a set of shared goals, including the why behind those goals, with your employees and revisit them frequently. Why is this important? You know that old saying, “If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, you’ll hit nothing”? That is why this is so important. Let’s take the coffee example from earlier. If your goal as a manager is to have people in, order taken, and drink in hand in less than 2 minutes, your team needs to know that. But also communicating the why behind that is just as important! The “why” behind the 2 minutes may be that customers will be happy with the speed of service, the store won’t get bogged down, and you’ll also have an opportunity to connect with that customer while they wait, which creates higher customer engagement (hey, that barista actually knew my name AND seemed to genuinely care about my day! I like this place so I’ll come back next week!...you get the idea).
- Lastly, help employees map out the connectedness of their roles to emphasize how their work is making other people’s lives better. A question that Adam Grant suggests starting with is “who would be worse off if my job didn’t exist”? It can be easy to think about customers only with this question, but I encourage you to paint the full picture with your team of who on the team would be worse off if my job didn’t exist. This builds that connective tissue between roles and can help increase the perspective that my work really does matter because Joe over in Accounting is linked to me through x, y, and z.
While it may seem like a time consuming exercise to identify what goals matter and why or helping your team build out their connectedness map, I promise you, it’s well worth the time and effort to help increase your employee engagement through meaningful work. Identifying meaningful work is something that I’m passionate about helping business leaders work through so please contact me to see if we’d be a good fit to work together!
I'm JoEllen and I'm so glad you're here. Thanks for visiting and let me know how I can best serve you!