Finding Meaning at Work

Does Your Job Have Meaning Beyond the Work Itself?


When was the last time you felt that the work you were doing had meaning or was about more than just making money? Have you ever done something that filled you so completely that you could work nonstop for hours without realizing it?


If you have, then you know what we mean by “MEANING.” Meaning is how we go from job, to career, to calling. It’s when you know that your work makes a difference that you care about personally. Meaning is why we work beyond the obvious reason of getting a paycheck. It’s also critical because it’s the factor that sustains us during times of difficulty, stress, or challenge. It helps us see past issues and focus on reasons we’re working in the first place. It’s where the heart really kicks in.


DecisionWise Employee Engagement MeaningZookeepers are an interesting example.

Researchersstudying zookeepers found that they are uniquely engaged in their work (something any four-year-old could have told you.). The most interesting part of the research centered on why the zookeepers were so engaged in what is by any standard a demanding occupation. The researchers discovered that while much of the work is decidedly unglamorous (cleaning up animal poop) and some is downright dangerous (working with injured or agitated animals), the zookeepers also felt their work had a greater purpose: caring for every aspect of their jobs was engaging, their jobs as a whole engaged them deeply. They not only brought their hearts and spirits to their work, they did something significant with their minds and hands because of their feelings. They created their own engagement.


Finding Meaning at Work

So many things create meaning for employees and help them become engaged in their jobs. While nowhere near complete, here is a small list of ways we’ve seen employees find meaning in their jobs and become engaged.

    • Mentoring younger employees
    • Earning enough money to pay for their kids to be the first in their family to attend college
    • Helping create products that clean the environment
    • Preventing crime or abuse
    • Improving people’s health
    • Giving people a voice
    • Assembling an awesome product
    • Designing beautiful things
    • Keeping people safe
    • Rescuing or caring for wildlife or environment

How do you find meaning at work? What other ways can you add to this list?


More insight along these lines can be found in our book, MAGIC, Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement.



1J.Stuart Bunderson and Jeffery A. Thompson, “Measuring the Meaning of Meaningful Work: Development and Validation of the Comprehensive Meaningful Work Scale” (CMWS), Group & Organization Management 37, (October 1, 2012): 655-85.


Does Paying to Freeze Eggs Increase Employee Engagement?

Last year, I wrote a blog post regarding the “perks arms race” happening in Silicon Valley. The latest weapon in this race was announced last month by Apple and Facebook – egg freezing for female employees. This move just took perks to a whole new level of personal. Not only can you take care of all your grooming needs at work via onsite hairstyling and dental care, but now you can include family planning in that ever-increasing list of benefits.


This is a prime example of the Adaptation Principle at work.


Employees of these types of companies now expect certain perks, like free food in the cafeteria, bringing their dogs to work, and impressive stock grants. It’s no longer a bonus, but rather the cost of employment. In order to offer what feels like a perk these days, companies have to be increasingly creative.


The question now is the effectiveness of offering such creative perks. Will egg freezing attract and retain top female (and male) talent? And, more importantly, will egg freezing actually increase employee engagement, or will it simply be yet another form of golden handcuffs? Based on the effectiveness of perks in the past, my suspicion lies heavily in the handcuffs option. If an employee isn’t truly engaged in her work (offering heart, hands, mind, and spirit), she may still choose to stay at the company because it’s paying for her potential future children to be put on hold. And that’s not the reason you want an employee to stay. You want an employee to stay because she is enthusiastic about the work she does, willing to go above and beyond to find creative solutions and provide value. No perk, however creative, can inspire those feelings in an employee.


Want to find creative ways to attract, retain, and engage employees? Consider the meaning in their daily work. How are they changing lives? What opportunities are available for growth and learning? Who are the people they can connect with? A company that can provide meaningful work with opportunities for growth and people with whom I can connect – now THAT’S a company I want to work for, regardless of the perks they do or don’t offer.


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Employee Satisfaction is a Prerequisite to Employee Engagement

Frederick Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory states job satisfaction is influenced by two factors: motivation factors and basic “hygiene factors.” Motivation factors include challenging work, recognition, and responsibility. Hygiene factors consist of pay and benefits, supervision, working conditions, and job security (among others). Herzberg suggests that while the presence of hygiene factors does not create motivation, the lack of them creates demotivation. If hygiene factors aren’t met this can breed dissatisfaction and cause employees to look for greener pastures elsewhere.
For example, a large automobile manufacturer contacted us with a concern that had tremendous impact on their levels of employee morale. Several employees had reported being robbed in the parking lot while leaving the assembly plant at night. The final straw prompting the call was that an employee was assaulted, leaving the employee bruised and in poor shape. The company needed to reach out to us in order to restore levels of confidence in employee safety and well-being.


For these employees, and employees anywhere, safety was not something that motivated them or got them excited to come to work. It was a hygiene factor. Being safe did not cause satisfaction, but losing a sense of safety quickly caused employees to be demotivated and dissatisfied in their jobs. Even though safety isn’t a perk, it illustrates an important reality: Constantly introducing bigger and better hygiene factors doesn’t increase job satisfaction or performance, but the lack of these factors could cause huge declines in satisfaction.


So, while employee satisfaction is a prerequisite to employee engagement, satisfaction factors don’t lead to engagement. Satisfaction is simply the price of admission.


Download Whitepaper MAGIC