Want Employees to Stick Like Glue? Attract Them With Meaning

Today's talent has such an aversion to simply putting in time that workers will sacrifice money for meaning.
Want Employees to Stick Like Glue? Attract Them With Meaning
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Guest Writer
Co-founder of SchoolSafe
5 min read
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Do your workers feel as if they're living the lines of a 1979 rock opera? If they connect with Pink Floyd’s lament of being “just another brick in the wall,” you have a problem on your hands.

Employees have never wanted to be treated like drones. But today’s talent has such an aversion to simply putting in time that workers will sacrifice money for meaning. As a recent Wrike study found, 58 percent of workers would undergo a sizable income cut to chase happiness at a different company. BetterUp Labs research identified the meaning-over-money pay reduction as 23 percent of future earnings, or around $21,000 yearly in the U.S. -- all for the opportunity to hold a job that's more than a means to an end.

Finding meaning in the daily grind

What is meaningful employment? For most workers, its roots lie in understanding the purpose and vision behind the tasks they carry out. This helps them feel good about coming to work and keeps them loyal to the brand’s cause. When their personal vision aligns with the one promoted by the organization, they feel a stronger connection and more loyalty toward the big picture.

Work-life balance can also fall under the umbrella of meaningful labor. Every day becomes an opportunity to give their best when employees have the freedom to choose when to take a breather and refresh. For some workers, it’s tapping into strengths that creates meaning: A job that fuels the mind, rather than saps energy, allows employees to naturally recharge.

Related: This is the Truth Behind Employees and Meaningful Work

Sound a little too nirvana-like? To be sure, providing team members with legitimately meaningful employment isn't an exact science. Every person wants a little something different to boost his or her happiness and career satisfaction. Nevertheless, leaders need to take the topic seriously. In a buyer’s job market, unhappy people will leave uninspired roles behind in a heartbeat, leaving the high cost of turnover and lowered productivity in their wake.

Are your employees happy? Does the work they do mean anything to them? Take these measures to help them find meaning in even the most mundane tasks.

1. Connect the dots.

Your talented players may not understand the 30,000-feet view of what they do. Even if your vision and mission statement are literally plastered on the wall, you still need to show your people how their every move plays a pivotal big-picture role.

Loriana Sekarski, founder and president of leadership consulting company Bonsai, suggests that executives constantly talk about strategy in order to yield positive results. She points out that workers “likely joined your company because they want to make a difference and be part of an exciting journey, so lead with your company vision when communicating with employees.” Be forewarned: You cannot substitute data for passion-filled discussions. Even Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page follows this directive. He recommends placing emphasis on “really big goals” to keep employees’ eyes on the prize.

Related: Employee Happiness Should be Top Priority of Organizations

2. Visibly demonstrate your corporate values.

Employees have no impetus to consider and carry out their employers’ corporate values until they see them lived out. Take a page from REI’s book, and illustrate what your brand stands for. The company’s motto, “A life outdoors is a life well lived,” sparked the company’s #OptOutside program. Its message was clear: Yes, it's Black Friday. No, we're not participating. In fact, employees had the biggest sales day of the year off so they could play in nature.

More than a marketing ploy, REI’s #OptOutside campaign set the stage for a different way of thinking about productivity and profit. Instead of concentrating on financial capital, REI placed a premium on its human capital. It also set itself apart as a company in search of meaning, not merely money.

Related: 4 Ways to Bring Your Organizational Values to Life

3. Snuff out burnout.

Even happy workers who come in early and stay late can be sidelined and burdened by stress. As Sylvia Melena, author of “Supportive Accountability,” explains, “Meaningful work is such a powerful motivator that it can drive people to work beyond reasonable capacity.”

Abate burnout by looking for signs of its presence in your employees. These can include exhaustion, lowered productivity, heightened mistakes, emotional swings and memory issues. When you suspect that certain workers are moving beyond a reasonable capacity, remind them to pursue outside interests. Support them by offering time off for personal pursuits, and make sure not to bug them with work questions when they’re off the clock.

Meaningful work can inspire in so many ways -- and keep employees from checking Glassdoor and Indeed for better gigs. Instead of losing good people who feel like replaceable cogs in a wheel, remind your people of their purpose. Not only will they be happier with how things are going, but you will be, too.

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