2 Critical Factors in Creating Meaningful Work

Regular readers know my passion about the confluence of employee engagement, meaningful work, and recognition.

Research proves meaningful work is a primary aspect employee motivation and engagement. But who’s responsible for ensuring work is meaningful? And what, exactly, is meaningful work anyway?

The answers lie in how we think about meaningful work and the culture in which meaningful work can flourish.

Factor 1: Personal attitude

We all have in individual, personal responsibility in determining our own attitude towards our work. A recent post in Switch & Shift blog clarified this – just as with employee engagement, we are all responsible for setting the stage for meaningful work through how we perceive the work we do.

Creating a culture where meaningful work occurs is a shared responsibility between managers and employees. Employees must be willing to see that the workplace can be a source of meaning to their lives. Additionally, employees must be willing to contribute to the possibility of meaningful work. However, it is the manager’s first move to create an environment where meaningful work can emerge if it is to take hold across a team.”

This reminds me of the (possibly apocryphal) story of the NASA janitor who was asked by a visiting dignitary what he was doing. Instead of replying with the obvious, “I’m sweeping the floor,” the janitor chose to see the meaning in his work and instead replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.

The last statement in the above quote sets the stage for the second factor.

Factor 2: Corporate Environment

We also have a corporate, communal responsibility as a group for creating a culture where meaningful work commonplace. From Business2Community comes the important lesson that the culture of the company itself determines how employees perceive their work and, critically, their desire to engage more deeply in delivering it well.

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For example, if your company culture has been affected by cutbacks and downsizing to the point that employees are treated as a number after a dollar sign, you’re asking them to engage in that belief. … If your company culture is resistant to hiring and promoting talent in the interest of saving the costs of recruitment and growing salaries, you are asking your employees to engage in either the belief that a) they are not talented, or b) their talent is not worth what it is.

It’s a tough thing to participate in your own depersonalization, discrimination, or undervaluing. Disengaging from this belief also means disengaging from the organization that perpetuates it – which means a loss of real human talent for the organization, and, in the last case, a lack of leaders and a succession pipeline.”

What you choose to recognize and honor in the workplace sends very clear messages to employees about what you value. What you value determines how employees choose to engage and deliver.

What kind of environment are you creating in your workplace? How would you define your company’s culture?

What attitude do your employees have towards their work? What’s your own attitude?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

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 company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


1 Comment on “2 Critical Factors in Creating Meaningful Work

  1. Excellent post and very well executed! Creating a culture that is warm, inspiring, and productive seems to be a difficult hurdle for organizations; yet often the simplest steps taken will overcome! “What you choose to recognize and honor in the workplace sends very clear messages to employees about what you value” stands out to me personally. Actions often do speak louder than words!

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