What makes work meaningful?

by | Aug 1, 2023

According to current research and HR experts, employees want:

  • Flexibility
  • Well-being (including well-being benefits) and work/life balance
  • Alignment of their values and purpose with that of the organization they choose to work for
  • DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives and real efforts in these areas
  • Professional development and training
  • Skills-based work
  • Hybrid and remote-based work
  • Technology and social platforms – Millennials and GenZers live in a technology-based world more than any other generation
  • Effective communication – in terms of feedback, acknowledgement, and functionality between coworkers
  • Emotional intelligence from peers and leaders

(Yes, I’ve shared this list before, but these needs are not going away. Plus, there’s a lot to unpack here!)

Today, I’m going to focus on Meaningful Work, which is a combination of alignment of values, purpose, and skills-based work.

People don’t want to just go to work and then come home to live their lives (or leave their home office nook and THEN live their lives). They want their work to mean something.

So what does it signify for one’s work to be meaningful?

  • Use one’s gifts and strengths. I can do the work of a monkey and pick oolong leaves for tea, but I’d much rather bring my best self to the tasks at hand. We all want to feel competent and relevant, and using our unique set of skills reinforces our competency and relevancy.
  • On that note, better yet, when we have the opportunity to work in our Zone of Genius, we actually get energy from the work we do, as opposed to using up energy units in order to complete a task. When we operate in our Zone of Genius, we’re in the “zone,” so to speak, time flies by, and we’re jazzed by being able to contribute powerfully.
  • Understand how our work fits into the whole mechanism. In every organization and in almost every role, there are things we have to do that may not jazz us. However, if we understand WHY it’s necessary to run that report or track time or reconcile the accounts, we are more likely to engage in the process, as opposed to resisting it.
  • Know the organization’s mission and trajectory. The biggest mistake leaders can make is not sharing their vision and mission of the vision with the entire organization. In addition, updating staff on progress gives everyone a sense of “we’re all in this together.” When we feel part of a community (and an organization is another form of a community), we’re more likely to collaborate, communicate effectively, celebrate others, and work toward shared, common goals.
  • Receive regular feedback. Believe it or not, most people want feedback. The problem is a lot of people aren’t great at giving it. We want to know how we’re doing, what we’re doing well, and what we can improve. As a matter of fact, 98% of employees will fail to be engaged when managers give little or no feedback.
  • Acknowledgement. This is separate from feedback. There are many forms of acknowledgement. Acknowledgement of communications (“Yes, I hear your concern”). Acknowledgement of ideas (“Thank you for sharing a possible solution”). Acknowledgement of effort (“I appreciate all the work you put into this project”). Remember, people want to feel relevant and competent. Simply acknowledging them goes a long way.
  • Being included in a way that makes them feel they belong. In the DEI world, some organizations are adding a “B” for belonging. As I’ve heard it explained: “Included is being allowed to come to the dance. Belonging is being asked to come out to dance on the dance floor.” Most of us can relate to not feeling as if we belong. What can your organization do to foster a sense of belonging among your employees?
  • Encouragement to bring one’s full, authentic self to work. I have an eight-foot stuffed dragon in my office, and he shows up in my background on Zoom calls. I’ve pondered whether I should remove Eddie as perhaps it’s not professional. As dragons are a big part of my personality (I have a LOT of dragons in my house!), I’ve decided to leave Eddie in my office as a reminder to me and to others that employees are humans. As such, they come with their own unique personalities and, dare I say, quirks. People don’t want to have to hide who they are, whether it’s their gender preference, marital status, or love of dragons.

Remember that your organization is made up of people – humans – and that also extends to vendors and suppliers.

And they want their work to be meaningful.

What steps are you going to take to make your own work meaningful or to create a culture of meaningful work in your organization?


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