Harness The Magic of Meaning to Drive Engagement, Productivity & Well-Being
By Alison Klein | August 28, 2015
If you run a B Corp, social enterprise or other for-benefit business, your employees should be heading to the office every day (okay, most days) with a spring in their step. Galvanized by their sense of purpose, they should be excited by their work, engaged in what they’re doing and happier in general. Are they?
If the above doesn’t ring true, it could be because you haven’t helped your workers link their personal duties with the fulfillment of your company’s larger purpose.
Below are a few examples of meaning’s remarkable power to energize a workforce. If you’re in a leadership position, these findings should convince you to actively help your employees understand the larger significance of their work.
**Download The Magic of Meaning to learn more about using meaning to energize employees. At the end, there’s a bonus list of resources to help you get started!
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Meaning & Engagement
Gallup measures employee engagement with a twelve-question survey called the Q12 Survey and one question asks respondents to indicate whether they agree with the statement “The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.”
The inclusion of this question suggests that companies with an explicit mission to do good have a head start on employee engagement because their work clearly addresses pressing issues.
Whether they’re promoting sustainable farming, providing employment opportunities to the world’s poorest citizens or increasing literacy, for-benefit businesses shouldn’t have a hard time convincing their workers that their contribution is important.
If for-benefit companies can make sure each employee understands her contribution to the larger mission, they will reap major rewards in terms of engagement. One study analyzed 12,000 work-related diary entries from 238 individuals and found that
“Of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important – by far – is simply making progress in meaningful work”
The conclusion continued: “whether the goals are lofty or modest, as long as they are meaningful to the worker and it is clear how his or her efforts contribute to them, progress toward them can galvanize inner work life.” This study proves that helping your employees find meaning will help them become more engaged in their duties. This is especially helpful on Fridays. And Mondays.
Meaning & Performance
Studies investigating purpose and productivity have demonstrated that employees bring more value to their organizations when they believe their work contributes toward a positive impact for others.
In one 2007 study, researchers arranged for a group of call center workers soliciting donations to meet briefly with the scholarship recipients the donations would support. Analysis a month later found that the callers who met a scholarship student spent more than two times as many minutes on the phone and brought in vastly more money. Their weekly average increased from $185.94 to $503.22.
Researchers concluded that “Employees who know how their work has a meaningful, positive impact on others are not just happier than those who don’t; they are vastly more productive.” This information should be especially compelling to those watching the bottom line.
I’m not suggesting that you do away with extrinsic rewards, but you should pay attention to the context in which you’re offering them to avoid undermining intrinsic motivation. Learn more in this TED talk by Daniel Pink, a well-known proponent of allowing intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery and purpose to work their magic:
Meaning & Well-Being
In case helping employees be happier and more energetic isn’t motivation enough, science has also proven that that those with a meaningful purpose in life stay healthier and live longer.
In one study, researchers analyzed responses from more than 6,000 individuals and found that “purposeful individuals lived longer than their counterparts did during the 14 years after the baseline assessment.” Happily, that also gives them extra time to serve their purpose.
Other studies show that those with a purpose have stronger immune systems, a lower risk of developing heart disease or cancer and an increased resistance to diseases like Alzheimer’s. If you want healthy workers in it for the long haul, make sure they know how their work serves a larger purpose.
The Deeper Meaning
By helping people stay healthier, maintain interest in their work and perform better, meaning can play a big role in making businesses’ operations more sustainable and more profitable. It also serves the “people” part of the triple bottom line in a deeper and more holistic way than random teambuilding sessions where everyone walks around blindfolded.
Every employee should understand the significance of their contribution to their company’s goals, but that goes doubly for organizations determined to do good. The missions of for-benefit businesses have the power to inspire employees and that power shouldn’t be wasted!
To learn more about using meaning to energize employees, download The Magic of Meaning resource.
How do you help your employees connect their contributions to your company’s mission? I’d love to hear your advice in the comment below.