Meaningful Work

April 17, 2011

New evidence for both employee empowerment and employee engagement shows that these concepts merit your consideration as you are given the privilege or otherwise find opportunities to be a leader at work. Both empowerment and engagement produce outcomes that you better be zealous about – job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and individual as well as team performance.

You must provide your employees meaningful work if you want to have any chance of getting them to feel either engaged or empowered. Given that you have designed significant jobs for all your employees, are you sure your employees clearly understand how what they do on a daily basis really matters to the success of the organization? How do you know that they know?

Make sure your employees understand and value the larger purpose in their workwhy what they do really matters. If as a leader you are not doing this for your folks, then I wonder if you really understand what it means to be a leader.

Meaningless work is a sure sign of meaningless leadership.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (20)

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  1. Mick Maguire says:

    Beware also of robbing an employee of the “meaningful” from their role by micromanagement. You can make it very clear how meaningful their role is but if you then dont let then have authority over the important, most meaningful parts of that role that’s worse than not making sure they understand the purpose and meaning of what they do. It will very quickly lead to disenfranchised, disempowered employees.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    STRONGLY concur, Mick. The meaning of my own work is currently under assault from paternal leadership. I neither need nor want a daddy at work, I want someone that will work along side and support me. If you make all the important decisions, I can’t grow. Thanks! Bret

  2. Mick Maguire says:

    I should have prefixed the above with “great advice as always!” – your blog is inspiring and packed with advice you can use. Thank you!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Thanks, Mick! Bret

  3. Bret, I couldn’t agree with you more about finding meaning at work. Working in retail, most consider it to be boring “sweater folding.” As their leader I communicate the importance of the metrics that they positively affect with their superior customer focus, which turns their everyday jobs into something important to me and the business.
    Thanks for bringing up the topic! Miriam

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Great point, Miriam. It is so important to understand that even difficult and sometimes routine work can be meaningful. And just because a job is white collar does not make it meaningful by default. Thanks! bret

  4. Hi Bret

    agree and would like to suggest two points;

    for leaders to provide their employees with meaningful work requires leaders to have first figured out their own purpose i.e. what is meaningful to them personally.

    Its difficult to provide meaningful work for employees if you don’t know what is personally meaningful to them as individuals…so encourage them to tell you. And listen

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, John. You make two excellent points and I strongly concur. Thanks! Bret

  5. Amber Little says:

    Bret, great post. When management simply assigns tasks and does not ask for opinions or involvement from employees, it takes out the meaning. Everyone wants to feel involved and important…good advice!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Talented folks want to be involved. They won’t stand for being marginalized. Thanks, Amber.

  6. Scott Moreno says:

    Bret what a great thought and post! So often, employees are led by poor leaders and simply come to work to do their job and go home. Each person needs to know that their job is important and leads to the success of the whole. If you want employees to like what they do and strive for good performance, then they need to believe that what they do matters no matter how small.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I’m surprised how many managers don’t know this simple formula. It is a big missing piece in training and developing mangers. Thanks, Scott

  7. davidburkus says:

    I certainly see that as possible for knowledge work. But what about the jobs that ARE just plain crappy? Should we try to “spin” garbage collection as meaningful? I think that might be easy to see through. Perhaps instead of placing meaning in these jobs we should find ways to allow people to experience flow in them…which may or may not have meaning but can be engaging.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Just because a job is tough does not mean it has to be crappy. Many times the most meaningful tasks are the most difficult. Thanks, David.

    davidburkus Reply:

    Some jobs are easy but still crappy. Then again, I think it’s probably a better idea to use our mental energy to design robots to do those jobs.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    And even well designed jobs can become crappy if we are forced to work with and for folks that don’t share our values. Thanks, David. Bret

    Miriam Gomberg Reply:

    Thank you Bret for pointing out that “crappy” jobs are relative. If you believe that your job as trash collector makes a difference in the lives of those you serve, it is not crappy at all! Miriam

    john schonegevel Reply:

    Right on – its about connecting what you to to your purpose…and great leaders (at whatever) are those who help employees make the connection between personal purpose and organisational purpose.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I think purpose is the missing ingredient in so many workplaces, John. But talk to people about purpose and their eyes gloss over. They are more comfortable with the familiar buzz words like mission, which they have learned over time they can really ignore. Thanks, Bret

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Great point, and I really believe that even trash collecting is purposeful. what if that function were not performed, or performed well? It would have a huge impact on our lives. it does not have to be glamorous or high paying to really matter. Thanks! Bret