As Studs Terkel said in his book Working (1974), “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread.” If you were able to find a job that offered meaning, purpose and reward, would you be willing to take a pay cut? According to recent reports, we’ve entered an era of meaning over money — a huge consideration if your business is looking to recruit (and, importantly, retain) top talent.According to the Harvard Business Review, as many as nine out of ten employees are willing to earn less (and limit their earning potential) in exchange for work that is more meaningful. The Meaning and Purpose at Work report showed that the average participant was willing to forego up to 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings for more meaning. The same report also found that only one in twenty respondents rated their existing jobs as providing the most meaningful work they could imagine.
This research doesn’t stand alone, either — another source shows that employees are more willing to ask their boss for work that is more meaningful and impactful (61%) than to ask them for a raise (34%). On top of this, it has been shown that employees increasingly want to work with companies that are ethical and demonstrate strong values — Millennials want fulfilment at home and at work, and if they don’t get it from you, they’ll feel justified in jumping ship to a competing business.
Given that meaningfulness as a factor in driving job selection has been growing steadily over the years, it’s important for us to ask how we, as business leaders, can actually foster meaning in our organisations.
The problem with meaningfulness is that it is subjective, individual and hard to measure. It’s true that some people bring a sense of meaningfulness with them to the workplace, but there are certainly some concrete ways organisations can set about creating meaning, cohesiveness and satisfaction at work. Your company doesn’t have to be a non-profit or social venture to create meaning for your employees — you just have to care about your employee experience and adapt your performance management system to support it.
Prioritise Transparency in the Workplace
Employees can only find meaning and purpose in their roles if they understand what they are working towards, what’s important to the company and how they are contributing towards organisational goals. Transparency and open communication help your employees feel a part of something bigger than themselves. On top of this, once employees know how their goals feed into organisational objectives, they will feel a serious sense of reward and meaning when they achieve them.
Tempting though it may be to shield your employees from certain information, be as honest and transparent as you possibly can — let your employees know what your company is trying to achieve and let them know any issues your company is currently experiencing. Armed with this information, employees can create their own SMART goals and align them upwards to better support the company.
Encourage Social Networks to Create Shared Meaning
We’re social creatures — we’re all looking to connect. You might love it when your employees are hyper productive and focused, but when employees don’t take the time to get to know one another, it can lead to isolation, which can create a strong sense of meaninglessness. In fact, it’s been shown that employees with strong social support at the workplace experience much more meaning in the office, with one source suggesting individuals with the highest levels of social support scored 47% higher measures of workplace meaning than those with poor social support.
For this reason, you shouldn’t worry about water cooler conversations or workplace banter. Such activities mean a lot to your employees, and you should do your part to encourage it. Provide after-work social outings to encourage social connections that will contribute to a shared purpose. In your recruitment efforts, consider highlighting the social aspect of your company and discuss how much support it receives from management.
Give Employees Control over Their Career Progression
Another way to provide your employees with meaning is to provide them with personal and career development opportunities. You aren’t going to continue to recruit top talent to your business if they know they’re only going to stagnate in the same position for years on end. Employees need to know they will have avenues to learn and develop. This is something highly sought after, with 87% of millennials stating that they see careers as learning opportunities.
Take the time to develop personal development plans with your employees and ensure they are tracked — don’t simply pay lip service to this performance management tool and proceed to ignore it. To ensure you and your employees keep personal and career development fresh in your minds, you can make use of HR technology, such as performance management software.
Provide Employees More Autonomy in General
There’s no better way to crush the spirit of a dynamic and ambitious employee than to constantly micromanage them. If they feel they have no say in what they do or how they do it on a day-to-day basis, they will quickly begin to view their role, and their position within your company, as meaningless. Though it can be hard to loosen the reins if you have, thus far, kept a tight hold, it can be tremendously rewarding, and you as manager will benefit from independent and engaged employees.
Provide a Healthy Work-Life Balance
We all want to lead a balanced life. We don’t want to sacrifice our work life for our home life, but equally, we don’t want to have to compromise the quality of our private lives for our careers. Companies around the world have been experimenting with flexibility in its many forms and, in fact, flexibility has been shown to be a highly desired workplace perk for qualified candidates. If it works for your company, consider implementing flexible hours or introducing telecommuting on certain days to allow your employees to explore meaning outside of work as well as inside.
Show Your Employees They Are Appreciated
Recognition and reward are important to employees — if they are never picked up on their efforts or their good work, we can’t exactly blame them when they begin to feel their work is meaningless. At the very least, you can show your employees how much their performance matters to you and to the business as a whole. Take the time to appreciate the efforts of your employees and to give them some recognition. Something as small as a “thank you” can go a long way.
Encourage Regular Communication between Manager and Employee
If you’re adhering to the old-fashioned annual appraisal, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Companies large and small have begun to incorporate agile performance management and have reaped the rewards. Agile performance management involves the inclusion of regular check-ins between manager and employee to discuss ongoing performance, any pressing issues and opportunities for training, to name just a few. When you consider that managers account for 70% variance in employee engagement, you can begin to see how a meaningful relationship with a manager can result in an increased sense of meaning overall.