As an employer, you want your employees to be positively engaged at work for the best possible outcomes. Part of establishing that positive engagement is by focusing on motivation because it enables you to create a culture of meaningful work. It’s important you show you’re invested in what’s important to your employees because when employees feel the work they’re doing matters and contributes to their values and sense of self, your organization will thrive. After all, it’ll be driven by individuals who believe in what the organization is doing.
Meaningful Work Defined
Meaningful work is professional opportunities for people to make a difference and have an impact in ways that align with their values. Though the specifics of what qualifies as meaningful work depends entirely on the person, meaningful work usually ties to core values such as solving problems, making improvements, and connecting with others. I ask every one of my potential clients what having a career of meaning and purpose means to them, and though the answers I receive vary greatly, each person cares deeply about the positive outcomes of their actions. They are deeply motivated by the outcomes that align with their values.
How to Use Motivation for Organizational Success
Understand what values motivate your employees.
Each of your employees has a unique set of skills, strengths, and motivations. Organizations are usually good at identifying and utilizing these skills. However, where organizations have room to grow is in the area of understanding motivation -- what actually drives their employees to want to come to work every day.
It’s key to know why employees do what they do, and it’s your job to find out. Is it about connecting to people? Is it about solving tough problems? Is it about doing their part to make the world a better place? When you understand what values drive your employees, you can better align their work with opportunities for them to exercise their values and improve their overall satisfaction.
Regularly reassess progress.
Like a great plan that goes unimplemented, knowing what values drive your employees without taking action to realign their work will not create benefit. Good managers regularly speak with employees about deriving meaning and purpose from their work, and advocate on behalf of their team members to align employee responsibilities with these values.
Be curious and open to change.
When the organization’s leadership is genuinely curious about the values driving their employees, and advocate to align employee values with responsibilities, employees will see they care. Enforcing support for meaning through management goes a long way in showing your employees that their values matter, which positively contributes to your culture. You may find a mismatch between how responsibilities are currently assigned and then have to hurdle the challenge of changes, but the reward of employee engagement and satisfaction is far greater. If you continue to ignore the opportunity to connect meaning and values to employees’ work experiences, you risk losing them to a place that does.
Meaningful Work is Only Part of a Positive Culture
I’ve found my clients usually say the opposite of an environment conducive to meaningful work is a toxic work environment. While they are not quite opposites in reality, many assert that if the elements of a toxic work environment are present in an otherwise “meaningful job,” they will not experience the positive impact of the meaningful work that aligns with their values.
When building a culture based on meaningful work, it’s important to remember to also create a culture around employee independence, defined expectations, useful feedback, a clear vision, fair treatment, and vacation time, to name a few. Meaningful work is only part of a sum that contributes to employee happiness and satisfaction.
Is Meaningful Work a Universal Concept?
What meaningful work specifically looks like from person to person varies, though there are often core themes and values that are repeated. I often find my clients seeking out roles that allow for human connection, problem solving, and being part of real improvement. It’s this passion that motivates them and gives them a positive experience.
On the other hand, there are some people who view work as just that—work. To them, work is something that affords them the lifestyle they want to lead, and is purely a transactional relationship (i.e., “I complete these tasks during this allotted time and my company pays me for that”). Those who prioritize finding work that is meaningful tend to view their work as transformational. These folks see work as an opportunity for them to have a meaningful impact as defined by their values.
If you’re wondering how you can empower your teams by helping them find meaning in their work, check out my programs for building an organizational culture where employees are thriving, engaged, challenged, and committed.