What Does “Meaningful Work” Mean in 2018?

Image: What Does “Meaningful Work” Mean in 2018?

Happy New Year!  I hope that you are looking forward to an exciting year, filled with new experiences, growth, learning and more meaningful work.  I certainly am. At the beginning of the year, I enjoy thinking about what I want to focus on this year and how I can feel more fulfilled.

More Meaningful Work Means More Engaged Teams

Everyone wants meaningful work. While this goal is most commonly associated with Millennials and other younger employees, it’s true for all generational cohorts. While a competitive salary and good benefits are certainly important, most people want their workplaces to be interesting, their work to have a purpose, and their organization to do something good in the world.

But what does it mean to have ‘meaningful work’?

Like with so many aspects of a career, this depends on the organization and the team you are a part of. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all approach that will work all of the time, for all employees;  but there are ways to improve the work experience that can help employees find meaningfulness in their roles.

Finding Meaning at Work

The vast majority of employees want the opportunity to utilize their skills. They also want to make an impact on the lives of others, while being able to live the quality of life they desire. Finding all three of these aspects in one role can sometimes be difficult, but organizations that strive to provide challenging work that has an impact, while still supporting employees’ personal needs, will create more meaningfulness for their team members.

Leaders can help teams find meaning in their work by helping them understand how their roles fit into the organization’s mission and big picture goals, and how the organization’s mission and goals benefit society. This won’t just make it easier for team members to see the positive impact their roles have, but it will also motivate them by directly tying their actions to the larger goals of the organization, thus connecting their efforts to the overall success of the team and organization.

On a more personal level, leaders should find out what their team members value by giving them opportunities to discuss their personal goals and express what they desire to get out of their work. Open communication and working with team members to set personal goals can help leaders understand their teams better and help them find meaning in the work they do. It can also provide great insight into new projects or tasks that an employee may benefit from or be motivated to work on.

Generational Considerations

Remember that different generations will have different definitions of what ‘meaningful work’ means. For example, a Baby Boomer may find work more meaningful if their organization helps them achieve their personal goals. However, a Gen Xer might be more interested in a job that allows for greater work-life balance, and a Millennial might be looking for opportunities to bond with other team members and to have a positive affect on their community. All generations are looking for work that has meaning, but each has a unique perspective on what this actually means.

It’s also important to always remember that “meaning” doesn’t just differ across generations, but that it can also change throughout an employee’s life stages. Someone who is younger and just starting out in their career will likely be most interested in proving themselves and finding a place in the organization where they can thrive. A younger person may also be looking for more opportunities to socialize with colleagues. However, someone in their mid-career might want a role that allows them to spend more time with their young children, for example, while still achieving their career goals. A more experienced employee, on the other hand, might be interested in creating a professional legacy, and may also require time to care for an older relative.

The goal is to find commonality across the generations and life stages so that employees’ roles can best meet the needs of the organization and their personal needs. For example, regardless of why a person is looking for more flexibility in their schedule (to maintain an active social life, take care of children, help elderly parents, etc.) the common aspect is that they are looking for a flexible work schedule. If you can provide this, you are demonstrating to your team that you understand their needs and that the organization wants to work with them to create a win-win relationship.

“Meaning” doesn’t just refer to the actual work that takes place. It also refers to the experiences that an employee has with their employer and whether or not they believe the organization gives them an opportunity to fulfill their desired work-life balance, integration or fluidity, with their career goals.

All team members are more engaged and motivated when their work has meaning and they are allowed to maximize their skills for the greater good and contribute to a positive impact. By taking the time to help your team members find meaning in their roles, you are helping the organization succeed through increased engagement, commitment and motivation.

Wishing you a successful and meaningful 2018!

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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