How to … create meaning in the workplace

by 25 Jun 2007

Research by talent management consultancy YSC of more than 10,000 workers over the past five years shows that successful organisations are tapping into what people want by finding out what inspires and motivates employees to create meaning in the workplace.

Organisations that help create a sense of meaning for their staff can expect far higher levels of engagement, improved business performance and greater job satisfaction. Creating meaning is also crucial to developing your competitive edge in relationships with customers and other stakeholders, as well as promoting and protecting your corporate reputation.

Make it matter

So how do you achieve this? Gurnek Bains, chief executive of YSC, explains that meaning in the workplace is created when people can connect their own and their company’s activities to things that matter to them.

Examples of meaningful activity could include bringing luxury products to the masses by making them more affordable, being part of a company that makes the best burgers in the world, or providing products that help eradicate disease.

At a time when ‘green’ issues have come to the fore, you could help demonstrate your company’s concern for the wider impact of its business activities on the environment and wider society.

To do this, for example, you could introduce a recycling programme at work, or look around at what is needed in the local community and set up projects to address those needs.

You could also review your rewards and benefits to tailor them according to individual needs.

Time well spent

People spend up to one-third of their waking lives in the workplace, so asking yourself what you personally get out of your time at work is important.

In addition to contributing to the organisational health of your company and being successful in driving business forward, the best reason for creating meaning is the impact it has on your own wellbeing.

To create meaning successfully, respond to your own needs by playing to your individual strengths and enable yourself to contribute to the organisation in ways that are personally meaningful to you.

Dutch courage

While you may want your organisation to help you grow, you no longer want to be told exactly how you should be or behave. Bains says that a growing number of employees, particularly younger workers, resent being asked to accept and use corporate-speak or to embrace, without question, the values or competency frameworks developed by senior managers.

“Sometimes you may not want to get up close and personal with your colleagues,” says Bains. “You may just want to be left alone to do your job and then go home. If you find yourself in this situation then you need the courage to articulate your needs so that you can create your own meaning at work.”

Communicate your goals

Creating meaning is a challenge, regardless of the level at which you operate in your organisation, and the role of leadership is critical.

As a leader you need to help people understand why you are trying to achieve that goal, as well as show your support, which might include putting the right resources and funding behind a community project or explaining how the activity connects with your own values and sense of purpose

Second opinion on creating meaning in the workplace

Gurnek Bains, chief executive, YSC

Why is meaning important in business?

You may have noticed a sharp shift in what drives employees. They no longer just want to work in a business that is successful they want to feel they are engaged in something worthwhile, where they can make a difference.Initiatives such as organisational restructuring, process re-engineering and aggressive performance-related pay policies have created a growing feeling of chaos and cynicism, ultimately eroding people’s sense of meaning. In light of such policies, the benefits of meaning for you and your organisation should be abundantly clear.

How can you create meaning?

Regardless of what level you operate at in your organisation, it can be a challenge to create meaning. However, if you have a particular strength in motivating others or being creative, it is going to be meaningful to you to be in a role which allows you to exercise those strengths in a way that helps the organisation achieve its goals.

What are the negative results of not finding meaning?

If you are prevented from finding meaning, you are not being creative enough about learning and development, and are failing to provide yourself with fresh challenges that will increase your enjoyment of work.

For more information

Meaning Inc: The blueprint for business success in the 21st century, Gurnek Bains, Profile Books, ISBN 1861978839

Mavericks at Work: Why the most original minds in business win, byWilliam Taylor and Polly LaBarre, Harper, ISBN 0007244061

By Scott Beagrie, courtesy of Personnel Today magazine.