Life and the Job: It’s About Leadership Trust and Meaningful Work

Our lives at work and outside of work are not easily separated. I don’t know very many people who can truly “leave work at work.”

To some extent, what happens at work affects our home lives as well. Recent CIPD research showed the link between employee engagement at work and overall well-being.

The index asked subjective questions relating to life satisfaction and how worthwhile people feel their lives are, on which engaged employees scored more highly, while they also reported lower scores when asked how anxious they felt, compared to employees with neutral engagement or those who are disengaged.

“In addition, the report found there to be a strong link between the extent to which employees trust the senior management team in their company and their well-being. It said: ‘There is a particularly strong link between employees who strongly agree they trust their senior managers and lower than average levels of anxiety.’

“The extent to which employees agree they are consulted by senior managers on important decisions was also found to have a strong correlation with well-being scores.”

How far trust in leadership has fallen

Engagement, trust and knowing your opinions matter – these are fundamental to believing that what you do at work every day has greater meaning and purpose.

U.S.-based research from DecisionWise showed just how low employee trust in senior leadership has fallen. Based on analysis of more than 9.2 million employee engagement survey responses across industries, job levels and more, the research revealed:

Less than half of all U.S. employees respond favorably when rating their degree of confidence in their company executives. This finding… paints a less-than-favorable picture of the perception most employees have of those leading both large and small organizations.”

Employees want “meaningful” work

At the core of this is knowing my work is meaningful. If I don’t trust my senior leader, then I likely don’t’ trust the validity and importance of what I do every day. Dow Scott, co-author of a recent study on retention of key talent, had this to say on the importance of meaningful work:

The main way to keep employees interested is simple. At the end of the day, they want meaningful work, ‘Meaningful’, to me, has a notion of purpose: We have a contribution to make, and it’s not just to the bottom line and making money for stockholders. It’s about contributing to society, the community.

The big thing is, communicate that to employees. How does the company contribute, and how does that person contribute to the overall value?”

Value through social recognition

One of the most positive and effective ways to communicate to employees that their efforts and have value is through strategic, social recognition. Simply telling employees, very specifically, how their efforts made a difference in achieving corporate goals is a powerful communication mechanism.

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More important is to link that effort to the greater company mission as well as core values so employees know their efforts are not only necessary to achieve results but also that they way in which those results are achieved is equally important. Doing so helps to build trust in both leaders and the organization.

How do you (or your organization) help employees see the meaningfulness of their work and build trust in leadership?

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


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