Provide Your Employees with Meaningful Work

Do you consider it your responsibility as an employer to provide your employees with meaningful work? It’s general knowledge that the more employees are engaged in their work, the more loyal and productive they’ll be. In a candidate’s market, that’s pretty important.

But it’s also been said that you can’t hand someone meaning with a title, role, or activity. The person has to choose to ascribe meaning to his or her work. So who is responsible for your employees attaining meaningful work?

Consider the true story of a manufacturing company that produced medical devices. All the employees enjoyed working there because they felt they were participating in saving lives. It was a very purposeful company culture. Eventually, however, the pressure to please shareholders mounted, and the company became concerned primarily with its stock price. As the focus shifted from saving lives to making money, workers started jumping ship and interviewing elsewhere to find meaningful work.

Apparently, that manufacturing company missed out on some important research, according to Vic Strecher, a behavioral scientist, professor, and Director of Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. Strecher shares results of long-term research from a book, Firms of Endearment. Over a period of 15 years, researchers compared profit-driven companies from Standard & Poor’s 500 and companies selected from the Good to Great book by Jim Collins to purpose-driven companies such as Trader Joe’s, REI, Costco, and 3M. These firms all had a purpose that transcended producing revenue.

“By 2013, over the fifteen-year period, the Good to Great companies returned 263 percent of investment, completely swamping the 118 percent return from the S&P 500. But hold on to your stock portfolio: by 2013, the Firms of Endearment ended up returning 1,681 percent of investment!”

Obviously, people are more engaged and productive when you provide your employees with a great reason to come to work! Even though each person must ascribe meaning to his or her work, your organization can create a vision, mission, and culture that cultivate a sense of purpose, teamwork, and belonging in your employees. You need to sell a purpose that your workers can buy.

Strecher is passionate about helping people live and work with purpose. Here are his 6 Quick Steps for Finding Your Company’s Authentic Purpose:

  • Step 1: Consider the top three-to-five core values of the company. What are the things the company cares about the most? What’s non-negotiable?
  • Step 2: Consider other companies you admire and would want to emulate (not imitate).
  • Step 3: This is a tough one. Assume your company went out of business. In retrospect, what would you want it to be known for? What legacy would you’d like the company to leave?
  • Step 4: Now that you’ve primed the pump, it’s time to ask, “What are the goals of your company that matter most?” These goals naturally emerge from what you value the most.
  • Step 5: Assemble these valued goals into an overall company purpose. This is where you stop and ask yourself, “Does this purpose transcend revenue?” Make sure the suit fits – your purpose can be aspirational but it must be authentic.
  • Step 6: Wear the suit. Make sure everyone in the organization understands the purpose. If the purpose doesn’t fit, change it until it does.

It’s hard not to focus on profit alone when the pressure is on. But the research shows that you’ll be more profitable when you provide your employees with meaningful work. And in a candidate’s market, employee retention is another key to profitability. So take your eyes off the money, shift to finding your company’s purpose, and prepare to be happily surprised!

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