Why Meaningful Work Matters

Do you find the work you do meaningful, or is it just a means to an end for you? Unfortunately, for most people, work is just a series of tasks that they have to perform in order to feed their families or to afford the lifestyle that they want. Even though we spend most of our waking hours at work, for too many of us, it doesnt hold much meaning. Its merely something that has to be endured because the alternative is hunger and poverty. This is a sad state of affairs, and it needs to change. The good news is that its within the capability of managers and employers to make work more meaningful for their employees.

People can have enriching work lives if they believe that their work holds meaning, that they are making a real difference in other peoples lives and in the world. If theres that sense of meaning in what your employees are doing, not only will it enable them to love their job more, but it will also give your business some much needed competitive advantage.

You may ask, why is it important for people to feel as though their work truly matters? Well, thats just basic human nature. As social beings, we are wired to contribute our time and talents towards common goals, and we feel a sense of fulfilment if our actions result in something tangible that benefits someone. If the work we do is meaningful, we feel a sense of community and ownership, and therefore a sense of personal fulfilment. That makes us more motivated, engaged and committed to our duties and responsibilities at work, which in turn makes us more productive.

The unfortunate thing is that many managers and leaders dont feel that its their responsibility to make their employees’ work more meaningful. Lots of business executives assume that the pay check they provide is enough motivation for their employees, but that is a big miscalculation. Money as a motivator can only go so far. True motivation is intrinsic, not extrinsic. People who only have money to motivate them tend to do the bare minimum instead of digging deep and harnessing their creativity.

How to make work more meaningful for your employees

Lets start with the premise that most jobs are actually meaningful to some extent, and the feeling that work isnt meaningful often stems from a misguided perception, which can be corrected. As long as there is a little meaning to the work, you as an employer can try to magnify that meaning and make it more apparent to your employees. It helps to think of “meaning” as three rings of concentric circles. The innermost ring represents motivations that are personal, like sustaining ones family. The second ring represents motivations that are a little broader, like helping ones community. The outermost ring represents motivations that are very broad, like being a force for good in the world. Your workers need to find some meaning within each of these three levels, and its your job to point it out to them.

If you want to help your employees discover the meaning in their work, start with a mission statement that inspires them. Your mission statement shouldnt stress your objective to generate profits. Instead, it should focus on the kind of difference that you want to make, and how your business will make that difference.

But what if your core business function isnt something that would be primarily be considered a service to the community? Wouldnt you seem deceitful if you crafted a mission statement which claimed that you were making a difference? Well, you have to remember that every business has the capacity to do some good. You can always find ways for your business to make a real contribution to society, including by trying to be sustainable, by reducing your environmental impact, and by taking up social causes that make a real difference in peoples lives.

After you have your mission statement nailed down, you should strive to live and work by it every day, and you should encourage your employees to do the same. As a leader, its up to you to set the example for everyone else.