Being Meaningful: It’s the Key to Better Engaging Your Employees

First in a series

The workplace is in crisis.

Workers are not engaged. Productivity is down. Morale is low. Many employees obviously don’t see the point of what they, or their employer, are doing.

How can a business turn the tide of employee dissonance?

How can it become fit for a future that’s bound to be more competitive, complex, and commoditized?

How can it connect with people who are no longer blindly accepting corporate propaganda — people who are more “we” than “me” focused? People who are more discerning about the ideas, products, and brands they buy into, the businesses they buy from, and the companies for whom they work?

Tomorrow’s most successful businesses will have shifted their workplace to a more meaningful employee engagement platform. Using meaning as a springboard, these winners will have built places in which people want to work, are proud to work, and excel at their work.

What makes something meaningful

In the course of a day, our senses open us up to millions of stimuli, each of which presents itself and demands our attention. To cope with the avalanche of input, our system quickly decides which stimuli are significant enough to be acknowledged, and which are so significant that they must be remembered.

In other words, our system decides what matters — and what doesn’t.

Article Continues Below

The stimuli we remember can be significant in two ways. On a primal level, some of our memories help us survive against danger. On a higher-order level, some of our memories are cherished because they are relevant and emotionally important to us. These memories are meaningful because they directly connect us to what we hold to be important: our needs, beliefs, interests, and aspirations.

When something remembered is meaningful to us, it resides with one foot in our brain and one in our heart. When a situation provokes us, we rapidly bring the memory to mind as a thought wrapped in emotion.

Being meaningful – the key to engaged employees

The resulting feeling often spurs us to action and re-engagement with the source of the memory. Assuming the second experience is in the same vein as the first, there is a compounding effect that makes the memory even more meaningful.

For a business looking to better engage its employees, being meaningful by doing things that matter is the key to being cared about enough to be remembered and cherished.

Creating a meaningful workplace is about establishing a high-order connection with employees and benefiting from the compounding effect that comes from a constant stream of meaningful experiences tied directly to the needs, beliefs, interests, and aspirations of employees.

This series is excerpted from a white paper titled The Meaningful Workplace that was first published at Emotive Brand.

Jerry Holtaway is Director of Meaningful Insights at Emotive Brand. Prior to Emotive Brand, and for the past 30 years, he has served as a creative and brand strategist for a number of world-class brands including American Express, IBM, Lego, Ballard Spahr, Hanson Bridgett, Symantec, Zynga, VMware, and Nokia. Contact him at


5 Comments on “Being Meaningful: It’s the Key to Better Engaging Your Employees

  1. The challenge is that many organisations currently make negative and disengaging meaning out of everyday scenarios for their employees.  You have to get meaning down to the individual level, making positive meaning in the daily interaction between an employee, their manager and their peers.

  2. Taking the time to listen to individuals all their thoughts and ideas to be heard, and start incorporating what your employees are saying. Creating an environment where ideas and innovation is welcomed with open arms could create a lot more engagement. 

  3. Thanks Jo. You are absolutely right. The job is to matter to people in a way that matters on a personal level. In other words, enterprises need to create a new balance in the “give and take” between what their business wants (increased growth, competitive differentiation, etc) and what employees need (work that matters, for an employer that does well, by doing good).

  4. Jerry – What you are describing is called ‘conscious capitalism’, where companies build their vision, mission and strategy around a set of principles that transcend typical corporate objectives: revenue, profit, market share, etc., and instead focus upon the impact being made on their workforce, customers, community and the environment.  It requires a significant paradigm shift and a firm, long term commitment.  It also takes a leap of faith, which for some will be harder than for others.  Enlightened organizations who’ve gone there have enjoyed measurable success in excess of a variety of indices.  Something to think about . . . . 

    1. With you completely John. We call it “purpose beyond profit”. It makes so much sense, but it is so hard to sell to entrenched executives who are being forced to think and act quarter-by-quarter. As you say, enlightened companies that embrace the principles of conscious capitalism win on every score. We have a several papers available on the challenges enterprises face in the thought leadership section of .

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *