Today more than ever, employees want work that pays their emotional bills as well as their physical ones. The evidence is conclusive: meaning matters.
Which means creating meaning in the workplace should be a major strategic priority for HR.
The problem is, creating meaning is easier said than done. Often your organization’s purpose is only vaguely defined and difficult to relate meaningfully to employees’ day-to-day activities.
So keep reading.
We’ll explore exactly why meaningful work is so important (hint: it could save you millions every year), then share some practical ways you can help your people feel their work is meaningful.
Why meaningful work matters
The BetterUp Meaning and Purpose at Work report found that 90% of employees would trade a proportion of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work. On average, the 2000+ respondents would willingly forgo 23% of their lifetime earnings in exchange for meaning at work.
That means you could cut your wage bill by almost a quarter – just for helping employees feel work is meaningful.
It would be dramatically easierand lesscostly to attract and recruit new talent. You’d instantly have a more competitive employer brand, without flashing the cash. (And employer brand matters more than you think)
Plus those people would spend longer working. Employees who feel their work is meaningful work an extra hour every week and take two fewer days of paid leave each year.
Even more important than hours-in-office, employees who feel their work is meaningful are more likely to be satisfied with their job. Which means they’re more productive (the ultimate HR metric).
$9,078 more productive per worker, per year, BetterUp conclude.
And they’d stay with the business longer, because employees with meaningful work are nearly 70% less likely to think about quitting. They have an average job tenure of 7.4 months longer than employees who don’t find their work meaningful.
That cuts your turnover-related costs dramatically.
By $6.43 million per 10,000 workers annually, according to BetterUp.
And the meaningful work conversation is especially relevant right now. On their new HR course, CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese notes,
“Look at the many different dimensions of work today – look at the rising levels of stress; the plateauing of engagement; the relative levels of productivity and so forth. Those all need to be addressed. And one of the central tenets of how to address that comes from a perspective of creating ‘good work’”
This concept of ‘good work’ comes from the influential Taylor Review in the UK, and is another way of expressing the need for meaning. As the CIPD summarize:
“Work should do more than meet our basic financial needs and contribute to economic growth; it should also improve the quality of our lives by giving us meaning and purpose and contributing to our overall well-being”
Creating ‘good work’, then, should be HR’s main priority.
How to create meaning in your workplace
A deeply-embedded sense of purpose is fantastic but you can still create engaging and inspiring pathways for your people, even if you don’t have that crystal clear understanding.
Even if you’re not sure what the overarching meaning of your organization is, or how to connect that to your employees’ day-to-day working life, there are ways you can help your people feel more fulfilled at work. And enjoy all the benefits that come with that.
1 - Hire for value- and culture-fit
One person’s meaning is another person’s mediocre. To help your people find your workplace meaningful, you should hire the right people to begin with. Which means people who align with your values and culture.
As Harvard Business Review put it, “Values function like an inner compass or lens through which we assign meaning to the world. Leaders who pay attention to […] individual values are more likely to hire people who will find it easier to connect with their colleagues and the wider organization, all of which help to drive a sense of meaning.”
2 - Cement your culture early and constantly
Hiring people who fit your business is only the start. You’ve made new hires a promise – ‘This is what we’re all about’ – and they’ve chosen to come on board on that basis. You have to constantly and consistently live up to that promise, or new hires will quickly fall out of love.
That starts before day one. Your new starters are at ‘peak meaning’, if you like. Don’t let that slowly disintegrate and become cynicism and lack of engagement.
New starters’ first few weeks are the most important time in the employee lifecycle. It’s when you prove they made a great decision (or not) and cement their commitment, their feeling of meaningfulness and their engagement. And so their productivity and performance – you know the drill.
So start new hires’ journey on the right foot with smart employee onboarding, to join the culture dots from interview to offer to acceptance to notice period to first day, first week, first month and beyond.
3 - Facilitate socializing
Tatjana Schnell’s paper, Predicting Meaning in Work, notes the link between a sense of belonging and a sense of meaning. Which isn’t surprising given that 70% of employees consider having friends at work the most important element to a happy, motivated working life.
Feed your employees’ sense of belonging by creating an environment where they can network across the company, to help them make friends. Think inside and outside the workplace – mentor programs to social events. And don’t underestimate the importance of small changes: one study found introducing communal lunch tables drove a 25% increase in morale and productivity.
4 - Recognise success – and effort – with wider context
There’s an old anecdote about a cleaner at NASA, who was asked what his job was. He replied, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon’. That’s the quintessential example of someone finding meaning even in a seemingly mundane role.
The lesson is, we find work more meaningful when we understand its impact in some wider context. Now, that context can be overarching company goals – but it doesn’t have to be. It can simply mean telling an employee what their work meant for you, or for the team.
For example, ‘thank you for working so hard to get that project finished. It meant Lucy had the research to back up her presentation today, and made our whole team look good’.
5 - Ask. Listen. Repeat.
To feel work is meaningful, we need to feel our voice is heard and input valuable. So give your employees plenty of space to share their ideas, thoughts and feedback. (Think radical transparency…) An easy action point you can do right now: stick an ideas and feedback comments box in communal areas of your office.
Regularly review, and where appropriate send a company-wide email recognizing interesting or thoughtful ideas. You never know where a business-critical process change or innovation could come from. Encouraging feedback outside and across siloes will boost creativity as well as help employees feel their voice matters.
6 - Disrupt learning and development
Meeting employees’ needs as individuals is a crucial aspect of helping them feel work is meaningful. It’s about recognizing, respecting and catering to their unique needs.
Learning and development plays a huge role. Traditional L&D often focusses more on teaching employees ‘how-to’, rather than truly helping them grow. Put another way, it’s often tailored more to the operational needs of the role than to the personal aspirational needs of the employee.
Disrupt the status quo, and look to create an individualized, intelligent L&D program that gives your people what they want. And that’s what the business needs, too.
As Gallup write, “rather than telling employees what to do, organizations need to teach employees how to think”. A disruptive L&D program must look beyond operational knowledge to empower your people with the right mindset for growth. This will be more flexible to their individual needs while equipping them to evolve quickly as the business does.
Meaning matters. But helping your people feel their work is meaningful doesn’t need to be hugely complex. These six tips are simple, actionable ways to help your people feel their work is more meaningful – so they’re more engaged, more loyal and more productive.
Talmundo is on a mission to make every new hires’ life better, and help businesses benefit from a more engaged, more committed and more productive workforce. Discover how our employee onboarding platformdoes just that.