The work we do has a direct impact on how we feel about ourselves. But employees don’t have to be saving lives or the planet in order to get satisfaction and feel a sense of purpose. As a manager, you are in a unique position to help employees discover and maintain meaningful work experiences. Be aware of what your team is doing and what makes them tick. Allow for growth and independence. Reward those efforts.
Employees who feel that their work is meaningful are more satisfied. They are more committed to the organizations they work for, are more intrinsically motivated, and perform well on teams.
Finding that meaning is the responsibility of each individual employee, says Professor Michael Steger, Colorado State University. But don’t underestimate the power your actions (or inactions) as a manager or leader have.
People constantly evaluate what they do and where they work. Our brains receive new data every day and connect it to what already exists: The boss noticed your outstanding results on that last project and complimented you (+). He or she “forgot” to review your suggestions for a change in procedures (-). Even though you’re the resident expert, no one asked for your thoughts when a crisis occurred (-). Your brain is keeping tabs of your work balance sheet.
A nurse I know worked for the same hospital for 12 years. (There’s always meaning in an occupation where you’re helping people/saving lives, you might be thinking.) But nurses, doctors, and teachers quit jobs just like the rest of the work force. This particular nurse was mostly satisfied with her job, but she had been struggling to balance work and family. She was also quickly becoming one of the more “veteran” nurses on the team and feeling a little left out. Eventually the balance tipped — the meaning and money she was getting from the job were outweighed by her internal struggle with family and co-workers.
- Boomers — a lack of promotion opportunities; lack of support and appreciation for contributions
- Gen Xers — a lack of routes for career progress; work life isn’t compatible with family life
- Millennials — company sustainability doesn’t align with sustainability values of individuals; want a more fun work environment
How can you as a manager help?
- Provide autonomy where possible. Let employees make their own decisions when appropriate. Demonstrate your trust by giving flexibility with work hours or work-from-home options. Encourage workers to get more involved in adjacent areas at work to broaden their skills.
- Create opportunities for growth and complexity. Mastering new skills gives people a sense of satisfaction. Consider ways to increase the scope of a job — from more challenging assignments to opportunities for work with a variety of people. Ambitious goals and stretch opportunities enable employees to look back and map their progress. Support these opportunities with training.
- Create direct connections between effort and reward so your team can see the payoff —whether financial, spiritual or other —of their work, suggests Ryan Robinson for bufferoppen blog. Help track efforts to easily see the daily, weekly, and monthly returns for what they’re doing. Give timely feedback and encouragement.
Help employees discover strengths by allowing them to try new things. Stay involved and ever aware of their progress toward goals. Appreciate their effort and success.