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How to Make Work Actually Mean Something to Employees


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We’ve been told most of our lives that the ideal job is some version of doing what we love or following our passions. So it should come as no surprise that job candidates are looking for jobs that offer meaningful work in addition to good pay.

2014 study from Millennial Branding and asked workers what were the most important benefits they considered when selecting an employer. Here’s what the respondents said: 30% highlighted salary and 30% chose meaningful work 

There’s a bonus for employers, too. A 2014 Energy Project survey found that employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations. They also reported higher job satisfaction and engagement levels.

In some industries, finding meaningful work is inherent in the job description. Each year PayScale puts out a list of the most meaningful jobs. The perennial winners are the usual suspects: clergy, surgeons, firefighters, therapists, kindergarten teachers, etc. tend to find the most meaning in their jobs.

But that doesn’t mean that meaningful jobs don’t exist outside of these specific career paths. In fact, employers who work on making any job more meaningful give employees a reason to stay.

How do you infuse meaning into a 9-to-5 office job? For a job to be meaningful, it has to be fulfilling on some level, whether it’s achieving a personal goal or helping to save the world. We’re using three distinct categories — personal, organizational, and community — to talk about ways in which you can provide that meaning.

Personal Fulfillment

#1. Fulfill professional dreams: Many employees find significance at work when they’re allowed to advance themselves on their own merit. Give them the chance to do so with a formalized career advancement program within your organization, or help them build on-the-job skills that they can use to score that big promotion. Plus, employees who get the chance to develop within an organization are more likely to stick around, according to Gallup researchers. 

#2. Celebrate personal talents: Your employees have a life outside work from which they derive meaning. Blur the lines between professional and personal by inviting employees to showcase their talents. Set aside an hour each week for music lessons, art lessons, yoga classes, and anything else your employees are good at.

#3. Provide a social space: A meaningful work environment is one that cares about its employees and how they interact with each other. Build social time into the fabric of your workplace, whether that’s just a respite from day-to-day activity or specialized groups — for example, supporting new moms and dads. Spending time with colleagues reinforces connections between individuals and also contributes to better teamwork.

Fulfillment in the Organization

#1. Recognize employees: Organizations with formalized recognition programs see higher levels of engagement and retention. Recognition also contributes to a more meaningful experience at work because employees feel valued for what they contribute. Be sure to highlight the achievements of both individuals and teams, and showcase the impact of employees’ daily work to overall company goals.

#2. Stick to your values: A values-based mission statement that guides everyday actions is invaluable in making employees feel like they’re part of something bigger beyond their daily routine. It’s crucial, though, that values be embraced from top to bottom. Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer note, “Unfortunately, far too often, mission statements turn out to be empty lip service to values that aren’t lived every day by managers inside the organization. So this is the leader’s second task: walking the talk of the mission statement.”

#3. Promote mentorship: An organization is made up of its disparate parts, but one way for those parts to feel more cohesive is through guidance from others. Mentorship is crucial at every stage of an employees’ career, but particularly important at the beginning. A formalized mentorship program helps junior employees get the coaching and training they need from more experienced colleagues. It not only promotes bonding between coworkers, but also highlights the company’s investment in each employee.

Fulfillment in the Community

#1. Encourage volunteering: A company-wide volunteer program is one successful way to encourage your employees to give back to the community, but you don’t have to limit yourself to a monthly outing at a local soup kitchen. Many of your employees likely volunteer in their free time. Give them the chance to support an organization they care about by factoring volunteering time into their work week. Use your employees’ talents to do pro-bono work in the field that they’re the experts in, partnering up with a local school or nonprofit for maximum impact.

#2. Be a socially responsible partner: Corporate social responsibility has become a buzzword, but it’s a big way in which a company of any size can commit to making a difference in the world. This matters to employees, 35% of whom say they’d take a 15% pay cut if it meant working for a socially responsible company, according to a survey from nonprofit Net Impact.  By integrating social and environmental concerns into their business model, socially responsible organizations are telling employees and consumers that they care about the community they live in. The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ideas: opt for a paperless workplace, cut down on water usage, choose to work with suppliers located in your region, commit to paying above the average median wage, invest in emerging markets, etc.

#3. Help employees give back: Many organizations match their employees’ charitable donations, which is a fantastic financial incentive to donate. Take this idea one step further by offering small internal grants that employees can invest in their favorite causes. Encourage employees to come up with innovative solutions to community problems by offering them exploratory funding. If funding isn’t within your budget, try other incentives like a day off from work.

By the law of averages, not all workers end up in their career of choice or an inherently meaningful job. That doesn’t mean that their work can’t be without significance. Meaning comes in all shapes and sizes, so it’s on companies to find ways to help employees fulfill personal goals, feel invested in the organization, and give back to the community. By figuring out what makes employees derive more meaning from work, employers will make their employees happier, prouder, and more loyal.



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