How to Help Employees Find More Meaning at Work

How to Help Employees Find More Meaning at Work
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Engaging and Retaining Top Talent Is an Ongoing Battle
As companies struggle to maintain their competitive edge, each year more employees who take our best places to work employee engagement survey report feeling adrift because they have lost the sense of meaning in their work.  How can leaders help employees find more meaning at work?

The Role of Meaning at Work
While “more meaningful work” sounds like another fluffy HR-feel-good idea, employees need more than a paycheck and good benefits to stay engaged at work.  In fact, over 500,000 employees per year consistently rank pay and benefits as having the lowest correlation to employee engagement and retention.  And when asked, “What makes you stay at your company?” the number-one answer, according to a study by the WorkHuman Research Institute, was, “I find the work meaningful.”

We know that employees who feel their work has purpose are more fully engaged and more productive.  They work harder, are more collaborative, and put forth their best ideas and effort.  Many leaders try to cascade the company’s strategy and fundamental purpose to their employees.  But when we assess organizational culture, we find that the message is not getting through.

  • Less than half of employees clearly understand their organization’s strategy and purpose
  • Almost three-quarters of employees are not enthusiastic about their work
  • Over one-third of leadership teams are not aligned on their own strategic priorities

What’s the Missing Link?
How can leaders be more effective in communicating the corporate strategy and purpose to their employees?  We believe the missing link between workers and the broader meaning of their work is simple.  Workers do not find more meaning at work because they do not feel personally connected.

When the line of sight at work is weak, employee connection is weak.

Four Steps to Help Employees Find More Meaning at Work

  1. Focus on Customers
    Who we work with and how we work with them is as important as what we do. The more you can reduce the distance between your employees and your customers, the more connected your employees will feel.  Encourage your employees to develop close relationships with customers, meet customers in person as often as they can, and to become deeply invested in their success.

    Customer centric cultures provide employees with meaning by providing the freedom to know their customers’ personally and professionally, anticipate their emerging needs, and include their feedback in the continuous improvement process.  The more freedom employees feel to inject their work with personal meaning, the more engaged they become.

  2. Make the Impact on Customers Visible
    Give employees the opportunity to experience first-hand the impact their contributions at work have on customers, their team, and the company. First, give employees the chance to understand who benefits from their work and specifically why it matters to their customers.  Secondly, whenever possible, connect that work and impact to a greater cause.

    You will know that you are on the right path when people feel that showing up every day makes a difference.

    One client had great success by instituting on-site customer visits for all employees.  Not only did employees appreciate how what they did benefited others, but they also better appreciated different company roles and had more suggestions for improvement and cross-functional collaboration.

  1. Recognize Great Work
    Our engagement research also found a direct correlation between recognition and meaning. Workers who received recent recognition reported almost 30% higher levels of meaning at work compared to those who were not recognized.  When employees are noticed and appreciated, their work simply becomes more meaningful.

    Be aware however that extrinsic motivation has a shelf life.  The key to consistently higher performance goes deeper — it’s intrinsic.  Meaningful work creates the intrinsic motivation that drives employees to perform because they want to, not because they have to.

  2. Reinforce the Organization’s Higher Purpose
    More leaders are beginning to recognize the importance of a higher purpose at work, but few truly use purpose and meaning to define how work gets done and how decisions get made. The most impactful way to connect employees to the company’s grander vision is to actively involve employees in defining the organization’s “raison d’etre.”  When they believe that what they are doing matters, they will be more motivated and committed to the enterprise.

    While higher meaning is easy to deduce for biotech companies, nonprofits, and healthcare organizations, it is not easy for many others.  But imagine a company that makes cars whose purpose is to help people to get to where they want to be. Or a company that makes watches that helps people to better balance their lives.  Or a company like Patagonia that aspires to deliver the best product without creating unnecessary harm to the environment.

The Bottom Line
Meaning and performance tend to go together.  Employees want their work to have meaning.  Leaders want their employees to make an impact.  While you can’t choose what matters most to each individual employee, you can certainly create the right environment for employees find more meaning at work.

To learn more about how to help employees find more meaning at work, download Employee Engagement Mistakes: Are You Aimlessly Engaging Your Employees?

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