Crossing a marathon finish line puts a runner’s hard work in perspective. All those grueling trainings, tough miles and social sacrifices take on meaning. As their purpose falls into place, the experience becomes an opportunity for discovery and reflection.
If work projects evoked this type of self-reflection and earned pride, employees would feel less like drones and more like change makers. And that can happen when leaders show team members that their work has value and scope far beyond just one exercise.
Getting workers to connect their tasks with the bigger picture has become a much-ballyhooed topic of conversation and research — and for good reason. Connected personnel tend to stick around and produce more, even without the most competitive wages. Wrike research found that 58 percent of surveyed full-timers have chosen to work for less because a position made them happier. “Doing meaningful work” ranked as the top happiness factor in the study.
Another study, conducted by researchers from the Netherlands, examined the relationship between meaningful work and performance. Its findings suggest that feeling a sense of personal attachment to an overarching objective spurs workers to give more. This dovetails with the experiences of Joanne McInnerney, vice president of HR at Novelis, who saw a change at her company when a new CEO made “delighting customers” the goal of frontline employees. “We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves,” she says, “so if you feel able to speak up and are given control, you’re going to automatically like coming to work.”
Where does a superlative level of employee happiness and empowerment begin? The root is the corporate mission: one that resonates with personal values, giving workers a rallying cry. Think of JetBlue’s lofty goal to “inspire humanity” on land and in the air or Microsoft’s aim to help every person and entity on earth to “achieve more.” These simple, brilliantly crafted messages articulate the “why” behind every extra hour worked.
Of course, even the strongest mission statement or value proposition means nothing without backing from leadership. That’s why executives at Patagonia live their mottos, like when they chose to put a $10 million tax cut toward environmental causes. Such moves speak volumes and encourage similar commitment from employees.
Aside from a rock-solid mission, five other strategies can help you get mass buy-in and involvement from employees to increase output, improve morale and reduce turnover. Implement these ideas to show employees that their work has value and meaning:
Kevin O’Neill, managing partner and co-founder at executive search firm Acertitude, sees hiring as a chance to nourish the core of a business. “Find people aligned with your mission,” he asserts. “This will make you and your team members more successful. There is a clear link between purpose and positive change.” His points are supported by a Harvard Business Review report showing that 84 percent of executivesbelieve organizational transformation begins with purpose. Employees who get the purpose will do the work wholeheartedly.
Circling back to Patagonia, the company makes no bones about building teams made up of individuals who live its lifestyle. An NPR interview with founder Yvon Chouinard revealed the businessman’s philosophy: “When the surf comes up, you drop work and you go surfing.” Patagonia’s workers understand, and tend to share, the passion of their leaders.
After finding the right people, explain what you expect. Ideally, you should give them freedom within communicated parameters to increase their likelihood of hitting targets. Regular check-ins should be scheduled upfront to avoid either confusion or a feeling of being micromanaged.
Ask employees what they need from you; it shows empathy and character. Research published in Harvard Business Review found that delegation can be perceived as empowering, but only if an employee trusts that a boss isn’t trying to avoid his or her own work. It’s especially important that the person believes these assignments aren’t merely busywork. Employees have to know your expectations, and you theirs, to really identify whether they’re doing work that’s valuable to the company.
Your employees are internal stakeholders who deserve to know why what they do matters. Go on a PR campaign to help them see how their day-to-day efforts affect other stakeholders. For instance, gather customer stories to share through video or written content. You may even want to bring thrilled clients in for Q&A meetings.
Another way to underscore the connection is by asking employees to go on sales visits or customer field trips. Being able to see their part within the whole can inspire workers to visualize their impact. Plus, they’ll probably share what they learned with colleagues. When employees believe their work has meaning, they’re inspired to do their best.
Empower your people to say what’s on their mind. A Salesforce report revealed that employees who are given the opportunity to speak up are 4.6 times more apt to work at their A-game level.
Never presume that you’re already providing avenues for all workers to be heard. As diversity and inclusion specialists agree, some hires from underrepresented groups may be reluctant to express their thoughts until they feel safe. Create a culture where opinions matter and are taken seriously. Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint, suggests that purpose and participation have a reciprocal relationship: “When people genuinely care about what they do, they’ll find a way to be heard.”
Every employee brings unique skills to the table. The sooner you identify your team members’ strong points, the more valuable and confident they’ll feel. Gallup research found that 61 percent of employees who are encouraged to work within their strengths felt engaged.
Don’t simply assume that new hires know what they’re best suited to do. Many have never taken a formal strengths evaluation such as a CliftonStrengths assessment or TotalSDI (Strengths Deployment Inventory). As part of onboarding, consider having employees undergo such testing. Then, provide them with resources and responsibilities to build capabilities around their natural affinities.Make it your mission to help employees connect with their work. Your organization will hum at higher levels when everyone hits his or her own stride.