Meaningful work: The key to employee engagement

Employee engagement has been getting a lot of attention in the business community for the past few years as researchers consistently find that organizations with engaged employees — employees who put forth more effort than required — are far more productive and profitable, have better quality products and services, enjoy greater customer loyalty and have fewer problems with absenteeism and turnover than organizations with disengaged employees.

It’s no wonder that nearly every organization wants engaged employees. So what must an organization do to get engaged employees? An abundance of research, including research conducted by University of Kentucky’s Institute for Workplace Innovation (iwin), finds that meaningful work is the key. The employee engagement surveys that iwin conducts for some of Kentucky’s top companies consistently find that meaningful work is the biggest predictor of employee engagement, not pay, not benefits, not coworkers or bosses. It’s meaningful work, every time.

People have strong motivation to seek meaning in their work. Employees want to feel worthwhile, useful, valuable and as though they make a difference.

According to researchers at Boston University and George Washington University, meaningfulness is influenced by several


• The work role — Is it challenging and does it allow for creativity, variety, learning, and autonomy?

• Sense of self — Do employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work and fully integrate themselves into their work?

• Work interactions — are relationships with coworkers and clients rewarding and based on respect and appreciation?

According to Bill Kahn of Boston University’s School of Management, there must be a balance between the employee’s work requirements and their own personal purpose, values and interests. The more employees draw upon their true selves to perform their roles, the better their performances and the more content they are with their roles. Disengagement occurs when the employee does not have a personal connection to their work role, which leads to poor performance.

Although meaningful work may be perceived as an individual employee issue, there are many things that managers can do to promote it:

• Use realistic job previews in the interviewing process to ensure job candidates know exactly what tasks the job entails and can assess whether they will get satisfaction from them.

• Learn about employees’ goals and determine which roles would enable them to express themselves best.

• Give employees autonomy and allow them to make decisions pertaining to their work and solve their own work-related problems. This enables employees to use their creativity and allows them to be innovative.

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