Here’s a grim stat: More than half of your staff is ready to leave the company, finds a recent Gallup poll. Vacancies impact the productivity and bottom line of your company, but a survey from Globoforce’s WorkHuman Research Institute uncovered a reason people stick around. When asked the question, “What makes you stay at your company?” the number-one answer, representing 32% of respondents, was, “My job–I find the work meaningful.”
“Having a personal sense of meaning in one’s work was even more important than compensation, which ranked as the third most important reason for staying,” says Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce, a talent engagement software provider.
The trick is that meaning means different things to different people, says Becky Frankiewicz, president of the staffing and talent management provider ManpowerGroup North America. “Our NextGen Work research found that Boomers value being appreciated and recognized, younger people look for purposeful work that contributes to society, while people of all generations desire work that allows them to improve their skills and balance work and home,” she says. “Taking the time to find out what motivates your people individually is the first step to helping them find meaning in what they do.”
Finding meaning begins with somebody really examining her own core values and beliefs, says Matt Bloom, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business where he leads the Wellbeing at Work Program. “If you’re not clear about what matters to you, you’ll never be able to find anything that’s meaningful,” he says.
While you can’t choose what matters to your employees, you can set the stage for employees to find meaning at work by tapping into core human needs, says Mosley. “Humans have a need for social connection, positive reinforcement, and self-actualization,” he says. “If you treat employees like human beings, you get more productive, happier and more content employees who are free to do their best work. When the workplace treat employees like robots or widgets that’s when things fall apart.”
Here are four things you can do to help employees find meaning at work:
1. Offer Frequent Validation
Employees want recognition that what they do day to day matters in the context of the greater goals of the organization, says Mosley. Of workers who were recognized in the last six months, 93% agree their work has meaning and purpose, while only 72% of workers who were not recognized say the same is true, according to the Globoforce study.
“When you’re recognized for good work you’ve done, you’re more prone to move on to do more good work,” says Mosley, adding that recognition doesn’t need to be formal. “That can get in the way,” he says. “Instead, enlist the help of the community and employee base. Recognition can be from manager to subordinate as well as peer to peer.”
2. Connect Jobs to a Greater Cause
Managers should articulate the vision, mission, strategy, and goals of the organization, while providing context into how the work that the employee does every day helps the organization achieve the greater “whole,” says Bill Donoghue, CEO of the training solution provider Skillsoft. “Every individual needs to feel a sense of ‘I matter,’ that showing up every day makes a difference,” he says. “They want to feel proud of the work their organizations do.”
Look to the purpose of your business and ask, “What challenge are you trying to solve for business and for society?” asks Frankiewicz. “Connecting how your business succeeds with how it contributes to society is an critical way to help people find meaning every day,” she says. “At ManpowerGroup, for example, we help people upskill and find sustainable work. I take great pride in the difference we make in people’s lives.”
3. Create a Strong Sense of Community
Fostering a well-rounded community of individuals is another way to create a meaningful workplace, says Maria Weaver, chief people officer at Funding Circle, a peer-to-peer small business loan platform. “This means giving people the opportunity to share who they are with their colleagues, and the chance to create the kind of place in which they personally want to work,” she says.
Encourage employee connections by starting groups or clubs. For example, Funding Circle employees can participate in community service programs as well as social soccer, running, and mindfulness groups.
Another way to create a sense of community is by instilling an open communication policy, says Mosley. “Managers are crossing the bridge from the old control-and-command style of leadership and are more like coaches and mentors,” he says. “This involves frequent ongoing conversations with employees.”
“It’s critical for leaders to build a culture of camaraderie where individuals genuinely like to work with each other,” adds Donoghue. “Most of us value collaboration. We also want to help one another out and build a sense of community. When times are tough, the feelings that employees have towards others on their teams can carry them through and provide motivation to stay at the company.”
4. Encourage and Sponsor Continuous Learning
Personal and career development opportunities are another way to help employees find more meaning at work. To remain sharp, people need to take on new responsibilities and learn and apply new skills, says Donoghue. “It’s so critical for managers to make training and development resources continuously available to employees,” he says. “Everyone should become a lifelong learner to develop and grow new skills and competencies.”
Eighty-seven percent of millennials and 69% of non-millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job, according to Gallup.
Another way to facilitate this is through peer-to-peer classes, adds Weaver, whose company launched an internal peer-to-peer learning network, with classes that range from programming to ping-pong. “Each course provides a learning opportunity, both for the attendees and for the instructors who get a chance to share their knowledge while practicing their presentation skills,” she says. “Learning opportunities extend the benefits of the job beyond just a paycheck.”