The Power of Meaningful Work

According to the Edelman 2021 Trust Barometer Special Report on the Belief-Driven Employee, 59 percent of employees want their work to be more personally fulfilling and to work in an environment where they feel more valued. At the same time, companies with high employee engagement are 23 percent more profitable. It also improves the morale in the workplace and reduces absenteeism by as much as 41 percent, according to another Gallup study.

However, a recent academic article found that only 50 percent of employees find meaning in their work today and that only 50 percent of millennials say they have work that is “meaningful and significant.” (Source: Harvard Business Review) 

Meaning is defined as “the purposeful, intentional, or significant nature of something.” 

In Task significance and meaningful work: A longitudinal study by Blake A.Allan it was suggested 

“a growing body of research suggesting that perceiving one’s work as improving the welfare of others leads to experiencing one’s work as meaningful.”

How can your business make changes that provide the best chance of employee engagement through meaningful work? 

What is meaningful work? 

Meaningful work is defined as “work that is personally fulfilling and makes a positive impact on the world.” It’s the kind of work that makes you feel like you’re making a difference, whether it’s in your company, your community, or the world. In one study, employees who found their work meaningful were more engaged, had higher job satisfaction, and were less likely to leave their jobs.

The problem with meaningful work is that it’s often hard to find. In our fast-paced, constantly changing world, it can be difficult to feel like you’re making a difference when you’re just one person in a large company. And with the rise of automation and artificial intelligence, many jobs that used to be considered meaningful are disappearing.

Some stats show that AI will eliminate 25 percent of all jobs in the next 20 years, and a two-year study from McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2030, intelligent agents and robots could replace as much as 30 percent of the world’s current human labor. That’s dispiriting for many employees. 

So how can you create meaningful work for your employees? 

There is a theory that pursuing meaningful work is often thought of as a luxury that is only relevant to the socioeconomically privileged (Brief & Nord, 1990).

Yet leaders can help create meaning. 

“Neither money nor ambi­tion nor serendipity is good enough as a work/life principle. We have to find a better answer to the question: Why do I do what I do? . . . The answer matters. We have only one life.”

That’s not a quote from a philosopher – but Stephen Green, in the UK. Lord Green is former chairman and CEO of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), a global finan­cial services institution with $80 billion USD in annual revenue.

This is another great quote. 

“As an executive, you are in a better position than anyone to identify and articulate the higher purpose of what people do within your organization. Make that purpose real, support its achievement through consistent everyday actions, and you will create the meaning that motivates people toward greatness.” (Amabile and Kramer, 2012).

Here are a few ideas:

-Encourage employees to use their skills and talents to make a difference in the world.

-Create opportunities for employees to work on projects that are important to them.

-Allow employees to take time off for volunteer work or to pursue other causes they’re passionate about.

-Make sure your company’s mission and values align with your employees’ personal values.

When you create meaningful work for your employees, you’re not only doing good for the world, you’re also doing good for your business. 

Finding meaning in our work can be difficult, but it’s important to try. After all, we spend a big portion of our lives working. And if we’re not fulfilled by our work, it can have a negative impact on our mental and physical health.