Improve employee engagement by bringing more meaning to the workplace

Improve employee engagement by bringing more meaning to the workplace

Business Guru Jim Collins once said, “It is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.” His words ring even more true today, with a growing amount of research indicating employees at all levels require meaning in their career to thrive. As this Harvard Business Review article details, a new study shows that nine out of 10 employees are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work.

That’s great and personally, I feel the same. But from a leadership perspective, how do you handle that inherent employee need for meaning if your company’s purpose isn’t curing cancer, ending hunger, protecting the environment or another noble cause? Here are four ways for any organization to add more meaning into their workplace:

1. Communicate the meaning behind your mission.

According to a 2016 Gallup poll, a 10% improvement in employees’ connection with the mission or purpose of their organization would result in a 12.7% reduction in safety incidents, an 8.1% decrease in turnover, and a 4.4% increase in profitability.  The key word in that sentence is “connection.” While most companies have a mission statement that appears within their website and employee handbooks, it’s often as dry as day-old toast once passing legal compliance and executive review. The most effective way to bring your mission to life with employees is to tell the compelling, human story behind it. For example, National DCP, the company I work for, is the $2 billion supply chain management company serving the franchisees of Dunkin’ Donuts. We started giving this meaning internally by building off of Dunkin’s long-running advertising tagline – “If America Runs on Dunkin’, Dunkin’ Runs on NDCP.” Because it does. And each of our team members is a hero in this process, from the strategic sourcing department that has saved franchisees more than $500 million cumulatively to the hundreds of truck drivers who navigate challenging weather and road conditions over 30 million miles to make 650,0000 deliveries each year. Again, focus on that meaning and individual impact at the heart of the business.

2. Make it personal.

Form deeper connections with employees by getting to know people beyond their daily jobs. If they have family photos in their work area, ask about their kids and significant others. Get to know their hobbies and interests.  Say hello to people you pass in the hallways. Not sure how to open the door to these kinds of conversations? Use universal topics like asking about their July 4th holiday or if they watched the local sports team in the playoffs as a starting point. These connection points enhance belongingness and culture, creating healthier, happier places to work.

3. Embrace community outreach.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the on-going commitment a business makes to contribute to the quality of life of its workforce, the community and society overall. As former Pepsico CEO Indra K. Nooyi noted, when an organization keeps this as a focus they achieve sustained value and financial returns. No wonder as many as 90% of Fortune 500 companies have explicit CSR initiatives. Community outreach programs that give back to charitable organizations and give team members paid time off to volunteer with worthy causes close to their hearts help create a sense of meaning. And they are becoming a must-have for many employees.  According to research from Horizon Media, 81% of millennials expect companies to publicly pledge to be good corporate citizens.

4. Practice gratitude.

Actively recognize and thank employees for their contributions. People want to be seen. Giving that acknowledgement, whether it’s in an email, handwritten note or a company Town Hall forum, reinforces the meaningfulness of their contribution. Another beneficiary of practicing gratitude is the goodness it brings to your life. Harvard Medical School reports that giving thanks can make you happier. They cite a University of Pennsylvania positive psychology study that noted a huge increase in happiness scores when participants wrote and delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked in the past.

How do you find meaningfulness in your work? What does your organization do to add more meaning to the workplace?

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