Meaning is a powerful contributor to engagement at work. Its’ power is derived because it comes from within – it’s self – concordant not introjected. Meaning in our work occurs because our work has a purpose that reaches beyond the day to day work itself.
Employees may well feel satisfied at work and indeed temporarily experience happiness, if certain hygiene factors are met, e.g. table tennis tables, bonuses, days off in lieu, Friday drinks and training. If these are taken away they may result in a decline in engagement. However, these hygiene factors are transactional elements that underpin more powerful levers for engagement.
Meaning is about finding purpose in work beyond just the job or the task itself. For example, the job function of a technician assembling a hearing aid in a laboratory may be to assemble a medical device. However, if the technician has meaning they might say they know what function the hearing aid serves andin addition, the hearing aid restores hearing and in so doing enhances well – being and prolongs quality of life for recipients. When that connection is made then discretionary effort increases.
Inherent meaning occurs when there’s a correlation between the work being done and the benefits that occur for the end receiver of the goods or services offered by the employees’ organisation to its’ customers.
Associated meaning occurs because the individual employee understands the relationship between the things they personally find meaningful outside of their employment. A person may think – “because of my flexible work schedule, I’m able to enjoy picking up my kids from school” or on occasion “I’m able to go compete in a sailing race during normal business hours”.
Line Manager as facilitator of Meaning;
Yes, working adults have experienced a full life, so meaning is something that everyone carries into work every day. Even if desired, a line manager can’t or won’t be able to get their team members to change their mind on those factors that are really important to them.
However, managers can facilitate meaning. Consider asking: Why do you want to or why do you work here?If the answer is related to any kind of hygiene factor, e.g. “you pay more than our competitor”, or “I like the office location” then it’s unlikely these satisfaction elements are going to be anything more than transitory. However, if the answer is something like “I want to be part of the team that is doing something bigger than any of us, enhancing well – being and the quality of life for our customers” then there’s a wonderful alignment and shared purpose that is going to be perennial.
Secondly as a Line Manager you can highlight core value and purpose or mission of the organisation and help team members to identify where’s there’s alignment with yours, significant others, peers and their own core values. As a manager your values are manifest in the decisions made, actions, reactions and responses to circumstances at work. Team members will determine if indeed these values align with theirs.
Employee as facilitator of Meaning;
As an employee you may find greater meaning in your work by considering asking yourself; “How can I help other people to achieve what they need to do well”. By elevating the needs of other’s, you may find greater meaning at work, and in life.
It goes without saying that undertaking a values assessment will help to illuminate what really matters to you. This is not about what you want to achieve or even avoid. Rather values are about what underpins behavior and actions, that inspire you to do things you really like or love to do. Living a values – based life gives meaning to life. Meaning comes from the things that you like or love to do and if there’s an incongruity with company values then it’s unlikely you’ll be engaged and in fact you may be unhappy at work.
Whether you’re a manager as coach or team member, you can help build awareness and clarity on meaning and in so doing tap into a powerful reservoir for higher discretionary effort and engagement in work and life. After all, you spend a significant amount of your time at work, so why not make it count?