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Engage Employees by Helping Them See Meaning in Their Work

Recognize This! -Meaningful work is a vastly powerful – but frequently overlooked – contributor to employee engagement.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that employee engagement continues to suffer, especially as talk of a potential double-dip recession picks up. Employees translate that to mean hiring will remain stagnant, their work load will remain high, and productivity demands will only increase.

Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration and a director of research at Harvard Business School out of Harvard Business School, reported on research she recently conducted that found what actually contributes the most to employee engagement:

“We found that the most important indicators on employee engagement [were] not things that most managers think about. The most important event that happened was simply ‘making progress in meaningful work.’ That’s not what we expected. … [Meaningful work is] work where the person is contributing something of real value, something they care about. If they could find meaning to the work — even contributing value to the team or the organization — this would make a difference.”

Meaningful work and a sense of value within the organization are indeed powerful elements of employee engagement. All work is meaningful and valuable (otherwise, why would you be paying people to do it). The trick is for management to help employees see that meaningfulness and personal value, especially during this tough economy and often stressful workplace environment.

This reminds me of the time I visited an aged relative in hospital. My cousin questioned why I thanked the janitor as deeply as I did the doctor. In my eyes, the janitor keeps my relative’s hospital room as clean and germ free as possible, which is critical to her speedy recovery. How is that any less meaningful or worthy of appreciation than the efforts of the doctor?Any heroic efforts by the doctor to save my relative’s life would be wasted if she had caught an infection in a dirty recovery room.

Think about this in terms of your workplace. Who are the people that make it possible or easier for you to get your work done? Who are the “mighty middle” employees – those in the vast majority of middle-tier employees in terms of performance – who make it possible for your stars to shine? What are you doing to celebrate those employees, their contributions and their achievements? How are you helping them see the meaningfulness of their work?

Tell me – what’s meaningful about your work that others may not recognize or appreciate?

 

18 Responses

  1. [...] idea of “purpose” is quite important – and quite different from meaningful work. Any employee – at any level – can help another employee understand the greater value [...]

  2. Wally Bock says:

    Nicely done, Derek. A lucid post about an important, but often unmentioned, source of intrinsic reward. I liked it so much, I selected it as a top post this week.

    http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2011/08/10/81011-a-midweek-look-at-the-independent-business-blogs.aspx

    • Derek Irvine says:

      Thanks, Wally. It’s something I’m quite passionate about. In fact, just this past Monday (8th August), I wrote more on the difference between purpose and meaningful work. All employees can help each other see the meaningfulness of their work. But the CEO is the only one who can clearly convey purpose.

  3. [...] Creating room for “down time” is another one of those “obvious” points. No person can work at peak performance constantly. With the after-effects of the recession continuing to linger in low job creation rates, fewer employees continue to do the work of multiple positions. Leadership must acknowledge the stress and tension created in such an environment by praising and recognizing employees for their expanded roles and contributions. Research out of the UK found the bottom-line value in addressing employee tension with efforts to improve employee engagement: [...]

  4. [...] Research out of the UK found the bottom-line value in addressing employee tension with efforts to improve employee engagement: Less than one in five bosses take specific measures to boost the motivation of staff who are [...]

  5. [...] Meaningful work in a climate of trust and respect is clearly a powerful indicator of a culture of recognition in which employees would not only want to engage but also stay for the long-term. Considering the high cost of replacing key employees and the difficulty in finding them (even in this economy), organization leadership should be doing all they can to create such an engaging culture. [...]

  6. [...] an employee is recognized and appreciated at work such that he/she knows they are valued and are meaningful contributors to something important, that attitude comes home, too. Think of the flip side of the positive influence this could bring [...]

  7. [...] in the Financial Times article “Tiny Bursts of Joy Pave the Way to BHAGs.” Discussing Teresa Amabile’s research on the importance of honoring progress,  the article points [...]

  8. [...] Meaningful work. They don’t expect that every moment of every day at work will change the world, but they do want to know that what they do every day contributes to something bigger. [...]

  9. [...] Meaningful work – They don’t expect that every moment of every day at work will change the world, but they do want to know that what they do every day contributes to something bigger. [...]

  10. [...] Meaningful work – They don’t expect that every moment of every day at work will change the world, but they do want to know that what they do every day contributes to something bigger. [...]

  11. [...] of progress – Recently identified through rigorous research as the primary factor of employee engagement, progress is essential to motivation. Otherwise [...]

  12. [...] of progress– Recently identified through rigorous researchas the primary factor of employee engagement, progress is essential to motivation. Otherwise [...]

  13. [...] your work is meaningful – needed and valued by others – is a key contributor to employee engagement and a [...]

  14. [...] your work is meaningful – needed and valued by others – is a key contributor to employee engagement and a [...]

  15. [...] Motivate High Performance – Done correctly – meaning timely, specifically and frequently – recognition reinforces for employees why and how their efforts are meaningful and necessary in helping to achieve a bigger vision or strategic objective. Multiple research sources show this is the most motivating factor for employees to continue to achieve at high level – making progress in meaningful work. [...]

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