5 Research-backed Ways Recognition Leads to Meaningfulness

By Derek Irvine

Path up mountainRecognize This! – Companies can create cultures that encourage meaningfulness through the impact that social recognition can have.

One of the more powerful ways to make the workplace more human is through establishing meaning and purpose. For many HR and business leaders, that task can seem abstract and challenging to achieve. On one hand, we all know meaningfulness when we see (or experience) it, but scaling meaningfulness across an entire organization is another thing entirely.

A good place to start, however, is with an understanding of what makes work experiences meaningful, and alternatively, what factors can easily sap meaning away. Research just published in MIT’s Sloan Management Review addresses precisely these questions, to help organizations better understand the dynamics of meaningfulness in the office.

Reading through the findings, many of the qualities that define meaningful work speak directly to the impact that social recognition can have in creating a positive culture focused on scaling meaningfulness more broadly.

Below is a brief summary of the 5 qualities that define meaningfulness, alongside how recognition can amplify those qualities across employees and the organization as a whole:

1. Meaning occurs when work impacts others more than just the individual worker. Recognition is the opportunity to see how your work has positively contributed to others in the organization, as well as to express your gratitude to colleagues where their work has impacted you.

2. Meaning is frequently associated with rich experiences of achievement and perseverance, not merely happiness or euphoria. Individuals can be recognized for the hard work and effort put into overcoming challenges or dealing with complex problems, as well as the results that stem from that work.

3. Meaning occurs through discrete, memorable moments rather than in a more sustained manner. Recognition that is timely, frequent, and specific can be directly tied to these types of moments, reinforcing their memorability and impact.

4. Meaning requires a level of thoughtful retrospection, when connections can be drawn between completed work and its wider value. Recognition provides a moment of pause for giving and receiving alike, to step out of the stream of everyday work and call attention to the positive impact that work has accomplished.

5. Meaning touches upon a person’s whole self, both within and outside of their professional identities. Central to the WorkHuman movement, recognition signals an appreciation of each and every employee’s full set of strengths as humans, connecting work and personal lives.

As the research suggests, meaningfulness at work is about the larger culture and environment that supports these qualities and empowers employees to find meaning for themselves. A social recognition solution is an incredibly powerful tool in helping to build that culture and ultimately, make work more human.

How have you found meaning in your own work?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

One Response

  1. Derek, thanks for the insights on how to connect through meaning & recognition. We’ve also found that it is not only important on WHAT is communicated (the content) but also the HOW (the method). From responses of over 80,000 employees, we found only 45% primarily value verbal messages (and less than 10% want gifts). Getting time with their supervisor and colleagues, and assistance on tasks also communicate they are valued.

    Paul White, Ph.D. co-author, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, http://www.appreciationatwork.com

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