How to help employees find meaning in their work

November 8, 2017 Richard Justenhoven

image finding meaning in work

Meaningfulness drives performance

When we find our work meaningful and worthwhile, we’re likely to be more productive, feel greater commitment to and engagement with our employers and generally feel more satisfied overall with our jobs.

No wonder then that businesses want to know how to foster this sense of meaningfulness at work.

It seems that believing that the work you do has benefit to others – or ‘task significance’ – has a correlational link to finding work ‘meaningful’. But of course this correlational link doesn’t mean that task significance – or perceiving it is of benefit to others – causes the feelings of meaningfulness. That said, a new longitudinal study suggests if we see from the outset that our work has benefits to others, this leads us to viewing our work as increasingly meaningful.

In his research, Blake Allan asked university alumni to complete a survey about their job at three time points (initial benchmark, three months later, six months later). At each point, the participants were asked to rate their agreement with four statements about the ‘task significance’ of their work (ie it having benefit to others) – and also their agreement with six statements about how ‘meaningful’ they find their work to be.

The results

Allan found that:

  • A greater belief in task significance at an earlier time point is followed by increasing ratings of work meaningfulness three months later – regardless of previous meaningfulness levels, and participants’ age, gender or social class.
  • But he also found that finding work to be more meaningful at an earlier time point was not associated with seeing it as more beneficial to others at later survey points.

There are clearly some limitations in this study; the participant group was made up predominantly of white people of higher social class but nonetheless it gives food for thought.

What does this mean for employers?

It’s clear that if, as employers, we help employees to see the benefit of their work and its impact on others from the get-go, it follows that they will over time find their work more meaningful. This, in turn, brings its own benefits to both the individual and the organisation.

There are many ways in which the direct link between a person’s work and its impact on others can be made. Let’s start getting creative – and making these links and encouraging direct contact between employees.

Reference:

Allan, B. A. (2017). Task significance and meaningful work: A longitudinal study. Journal of Vocational Behavior.  Volume 102, October 2017, Pages 174-182.

 

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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