Help Your Employees Find – and Maintain – Meaning in Their Work
How to find meaningful work
With winter settling in around the United States, the stress of the pandemic holding steady, and a million other things filling up never-ending to-do lists, the daily routine of working remotely can feel more like just another obligation instead of a meaningful and rewarding experience.
This is especially true for people who are either new to telecommuting or thrive on the energy of being around co-workers and clients. Working in a new environment without the external motivation you’d get in an office can make it hard to feel connected to your work. Finding meaning in daily work, though, is important to a lot of people, even in normal times.
According to Gallup research on employee exit programs, “Over half of exiting employees (51%) say that in the three months before they left, neither their manager nor any other leader spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization.” Furthermore, over half of the exiting employees in the study also said their company “could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job.”
Managers and other people in leadership roles have a lot to oversee. But they can’t afford to lose good employees due to lack of engagement, especially when it’s largely preventable. That’s why it’s necessary to design a system that honors your employees’ value, highlights their strengths, and encourages their professional growth, regardless of where they’re working.
Start by learning what motivates your team
You can’t instill a sense of purpose in your team without knowing what motivates them in the first place. There are several ways to gather this information.
Schedule regular 1:1 meetings. We’ve all been in group meetings where we just don’t feel like participating, or we hope someone else will bring up that one thing that really bothers us. Basically, a group setting doesn’t always uncover all the truths you’re looking for. Meeting with everyone individually gives each person more time to speak, and both parties can ask questions in more detail if there’s a lack of understanding.
These meetings will be particularly important if you notice that one or two specific employees are falling off in terms of their typical levels of engagement or productivity since beginning to work remotely. In these situations, Becky Kane at Doist suggests approaching the conversation with honesty and a solution-oriented mindset. “Don’t give an ultimatum—improve performance or else. Work together to find a path forward,” Kane says.
Conduct anonymous surveys. Surveys are an effective way to get a lot of information without taking up too much of anyone’s time or putting people on the spot. Develop questions that gauge your team’s satisfaction with their job and the company, and include places where they can write in their own suggestions and concerns.
If you opt for the survey route, transparency with your team is crucial. Alex Samur at Slack says that being upfront with your goals for the survey will give hesitant team members more confidence to offer feedback. Specifically, Samur writes, “Advance preparation will help reassure skeptical employees who fear that honest feedback—even in the form of an anonymous survey—will land them in trouble.”
Check in with yourself. You work for this company, too, so ask yourself: why do you like the work you do? Where do you find meaning in daily tasks? What is it about the company and its mission that motivates you? If you’ve held different positions at the company, reflect on how you felt at each phase of your career and what kept you going.
Concrete ways to create meaning at work
After assessing the feedback with empathy and an open mind, you’re ready to empower your team to take personal ownership of their work.
Adopt flexible work schedules (if you haven’t already). Every industry operates differently, and within those industries each company has its own distinct workflow. So, to the extent that it’s possible for your business, consider allowing your team to schedule their own work hours. Maybe that’s only once or twice a week, but even that can be enough to take advantage of the benefits remote work can offer; namely, doing focused work at the time best suited for you.
Share helpful tips as a team. Keep a Slack channel open for sharing ways you’ve been able to make the workday easier or happier. You could even create separate threads for work solutions and personal health/happiness. For example, your copywriter might have a great book recommendation for the content manager, or maybe you found a yoga class on YouTube that helps you destress after work. People like to be helpful, and creating this kind of sharing environment lets them do more of that.
Encourage continuous learning and skill mastery. If your employees feel like they’re going nowhere in your company, chances are they’ll start looking for jobs elsewhere. That doesn’t mean people should be promoted if they exhibit signs of boredom, just for the sake of keeping them on staff. A workplace that values its employees should want them to learn new skills, as well as inform them of ways to advance within the company.
On the Prezi blog, they explain that good leaders, “Encourage programs that will help with internal mobility, whether the person’s seeking a promotion or a change in responsibilities. And, give your team easy access to online learning resources and classes so they can keep learning new skills to thrive in the workplace.”
Help each other set personal and professional goals. It can be easy to get caught up in maintaining pace for work projects, but there should be time for fun, too. Ask your team if they have any side projects they want to pursue or any fun ideas related to what they normally work on. From there, you can set goals to check in on both the everyday projects of work and the smaller, fun goals of individual side projects. Some of the best ideas come out with more relaxed sessions and having that kind of mental break can bring new energy to everyday tasks as well.
Empower the team with a sense of ownership. People are more engaged in work when they feel their input is valued and their creative vision is respected. Once a week, take a 15-minute brainstorm to get new ideas out there and see how they can contribute to the team or add a new element to the way things are done in your department. You can do this easily on a shareable Vibe board or a video conference.
Even with the adjustment to working remotely, checking in with employees and keeping tabs on their professional growth can’t fall by the wayside. Create a system that encourages employees to seek success, offer positive validation on a regular basis, and you’ll be leading a team who recognizes their worth. As Jacob Morgan noted for Inc., “The greatest sense of purpose comes when both the organization is able to connect what the employee does to the impact they are having and when the employee shows up with an open mind, ready to contribute and give it their all.”
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