A Key to Better Employee Engagement: Finding Meaning and Value in Work

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Aug 9, 2011

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that employee engagement continues to suffer, especially as talk of a potential double-dip recession picks up. Employees translate that to mean hiring will remain stagnant, their work load will remain high, and productivity demands will only increase.

Teresa Amabile, professor of business administration and a director of research at the  Harvard Business School, reported on research she recently conducted that found what actually contributes the most to employee engagement:

We found that the most important indicators on employee engagement [were] not things that most managers think about. The most important event that happened was simply ‘making progress in meaningful work.’ That’s not what we expected. … [Meaningful work is] work where the person is contributing something of real value, something they care about. If they could find meaning to the work — even contributing value to the team or the organization — this would make a difference.”

Seeing meaning and value, even during tough times

Meaningful work and a sense of value within the organization are indeed powerful elements of employee engagement. All work is meaningful and valuable (otherwise, why would you be paying people to do it). The trick is for management to help employees see that meaningfulness and personal value, especially during this tough economy and often stressful workplace environment.

This reminds me of the time I visited an aged relative in the hospital.

My cousin questioned why I thanked the janitor as deeply as I did the doctor. In my eyes, the janitor keeps my relative’s hospital room as clean and germ free as possible, which is critical to her speedy recovery. How is that any less meaningful or worthy of appreciation than the efforts of the doctor?Any heroic efforts by the doctor to save my relative’s life would be wasted if she had caught an infection in a dirty recovery room.

Think about this in terms of your workplace. Who are the people that make it possible or easier for you to get your work done? Who are the “mighty middle” employees – those in the vast majority of middle-tier employees in terms of performance – who make it possible for your stars to shine?

What are you doing to celebrate those employees, their contributions and their achievements? How are you helping them see the meaningfulness of their work?

Tell me – what’s meaningful about your work that others may not recognize or appreciate?

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