The concept of meaningful work is dynamic and changes over time.
Businesses that provide meaningful work enjoy the benefits of higher engagement levels, lower withdrawal intentions and rates of absenteeism, and increased employee commitment to the organization.
It has also been found to significantly increase measurable organizational performance, even so far as to strengthen and protect its performance during downturns and downsizing.
Nevertheless, providing meaningful work for your team is challenging because it is unique to each individual, difficult to measure and always evolving.
What the research tells us
Our world-first research into meaningful work, initiated in 2019 and now comprising data from more than 5,000 individuals, revealed some intriguing insights.
The academic research review we conducted revealed that prior studies exclusively concentrated on the current state of meaningful work for individuals, failing to consider an ideal state or desired future state.
It is crucial to understand the ways in which your staff will want meaning.
Yet, when we think about meaningful work, we all intrinsically know that it changes over time. If you’re doubting that, let me ask this question: What was your first ever paid job? Did you find it meaningful, and if so, why? Or conversely, why not?
Thinking about these questions helps you to understand how meaningful work can change over time. This is also true for your organization.
There are four factors to meaningful work:
- Individual: Interests, abilities, goals, motivations and so on
- Job: Quality and quantity of work, as well as how much it is modified to make it meaningful
- Organization: Leadership, culture, policies and practices and so on
- Societal: Access to work and how much it aligns with cultural norms
While your core purpose may remain stable, the individuals you have in your teams, the way you structure the roles in your organization, and the leaders, culture, policies and practices will change over time. This will change the ways in which you are able to provide meaningful work.
Applying the theory to your organization
To provide meaningful work, consider three strategic actions:
Personalize for the individual
It is crucial to understand the ways in which your staff will want meaning. They will vary uniquely among individuals. The more you tailor the experience of work for your team the better; something that is perhaps easier for smaller organizations than larger ones.
Adapting roles to leverage individual strengths, identifying sources of motivation and offering pathways to explore those motivations all contribute to high organizational levels of meaningful work.
Address the popular factors
Review how you provide the most popular factors of meaningful work. Our 2023 ‘Meaningful Work Insights’ Report showed that there was a shift in the top three factors people were seeking to create meaning post-pandemic:
- Safety (emotional, physical, mental)
- Team connectedness
There’s a wealth of resources available online to help guide improvements in these areas, with substantial potential benefit to your team.
Highlight the organization’s unique proposition
Recognize the individual nature of meaningful work, identify the distinctive ways in which your organization provides meaningful work over and above other companies, and incorporate these elements into your attraction and retention strategies.
The good news is that you are not obligated to fulfill all factors of meaningful work at all times, instead focus on those that will resonate with your audience.
The good news is that you are not obligated to fulfill all factors of meaningful work at all times, instead focus on those that will resonate with your audience. This insight can be derived from observation, internal discussion or external expert advice.
Once you have a baseline of meaningful work established across your organization, you’ll have a clear understanding of your current state and desired objectives.
When hiring new people you’ll have a structured framework to see if they meet or improve your standards around meaningful work.
In reviewing job design, policies, technology and practices, you can assess these decisions through a meaningful work lens, allowing you the simultaneous benefits of enhancing how you provide meaningful work and staying abreast of the evolving nature of it within your organization.
As a result, your business will increasingly outshine industry benchmarks in engagement levels, staff turnover, absenteeism and employee commitment – ultimately resulting in heightened overall performance.
Nina Mapson Bone, author of Meaningful Work: Unlock your Unique Path to Career Fulfilment, is a highly sought after speaker on the subjects of meaningful work and talent attraction, retention and development. For more information visit: www.ninamapsonbone.com.au.