Making The Case For Creating Meaningful Work

Creating meaningful work

If there’s one ailment most of us can agree on that’s found in today’s workplaces it’s a lack of engagement between employees and their work. Specifically, a lack of connection between what we do and what matters to us – both professionally and personally. Now, thanks to the recent study “Philips Work/Life Survey” conducted by Philips North America, we have additional insights into why organizations and their leaders need to address the issue of creating meaningful work in today’s workplaces.

As part of my collaboration with Philips North America for this new study, I was able to review the raw data that was collected from a national sample of 1 000 US workers, and I found some interesting patterns on how employees view their relationship between their work, their career goals and what they derive a sense of satisfaction from in their lives.

These findings – which I’ll discuss below – can help leaders to understand what they’ll need to do in the months and years ahead to ensure their organization not only survives, but thrives in this new era of work.

1. How gender impacts work/life balance and meaningful work
While the Philips study found that men are slightly more satisfied with their jobs than women (47% of men compared to 40% of women), the more interesting finding is how men are more driven to find a connection between their passions and work than women.

When asked how often they’re able to pursue their personal interests and passions through their work, nearly half of the men (47%) responded all or most of the time, while only 30% of women reported the same. Men were also more willing to take a pay cut if that would allow them to do work that was connected to their passions and interests (75% of male respondants compared to only 57% of female respondants).

These two findings reveal how men are more likely to make career decisions based mostly on their ability to do work that provides a sense of meaning, compared to women who tend to take into consideration personal/family responsibilities when making decisions about their career path.

In this light, it’s not surprising that only 13% of women feel their organization’s top priority is talent development – compared to 21% of men – as the type of development opportunities organizations provide often fails to take into consideration employee commitments outside of the workplace.

What these findings serve to reinforce is the differences in how men and women approach the workplace and their careers – where men are clearly willing to pursue meaningful work to the point of switching to a lower paying job, while women continue to struggle to find a balance between being able to do meaningful work while respecting their personal obligations outside of the workplace.

It also serves as an important reminder to leaders to make sure that they appreciate these differences not just in terms of how they develop their employees, but also the need to ensure that all employees have a realistic opportunity to do meaningful work.

2. Employees need our help to identify and connect with what matters
One of the study’s more revealing findings is an apparent double-standard in what we recommend our family and friends use to assess a new job opportunity, and what we do ourselves when faced with a similar decision. When study participants were asked if they would recommend that a family member or friend accept a job offer “without fully considering how it adds meaning to his/her life”, over 60% of respondants said no.

Ironically, 60% of these same respondants admitted that they have taken a job “without fully considering how the job adds meaning” to their lives, which no doubt explains why more than half of the study’s participants said that their work brought little or no meaning to their lives.

The practical implications of this contradictionary behaviour can been seen in the responses the study’s participants gave about the impact the ability to do meaningful work would have on their performance.

When asked what differences would there be in their performance from being able to connect their passions and personal interests with their work, over 90% of the study’s participants said that it would motivate them to work harder, that they would care more about their work, that it would reduce their stress levels regardless of their workload, and that it would make them feel more successful.

This disconnect between how employees view the importance of meaningful work and their accepting jobs without considering whether it is meaningful reveals a lack of clarity many employees have about how to connect what they do with what matters to them; of how to identify work that would provide them with a sense of meaning and purpose.

Although employees are certain of the value, importance, and positive impact doing meaningful work would have on their career and personal lives, most of them haven’t yet discovered what they should be doing to derive that sense of purpose.

Leaders often admit that one of the big challenges they face is how to provide the kind of talent development that will ensure employees remain invested in their organization’s shared purpose. This study’s finding reveals a fertile opportunity for leaders to help their employees gain greater clarity about what matters to them, and how it can be tied to what they do as members of your organization.

3. Be prepared for the salary motivation bubble
For a study on the importance of meaningful work, one of the seemingly unexpected findings is how 60% of respondants listed salary as the most important factor for job satisfaction, with meaningful work coming in second place with 34%.

Of course, in light of the prevailing economic uncertainties seen in most countries, it’s not surprising that salary would rank so high, which also means that we need to recognize that we’re on borrowed time when it comes to using salary to keep our employees satisfied.

Indeed, this study’s findings reveal that salary bubble is already looming – almost 70% of respondants said they would be willing to take a pay cut in order to do work that allowed them to carry over their interests and passions from their personal life into the workplace. Additionally, more than one third of respondants stated that if every job in the world paid the same salary, they wouldn’t stay with their current position.

What’s more, Millennial employees were the most willingly to take a big pay cut in order to do work that connects with their personal passions and interests – 43% of this generation of workers said they would take a pay cut of 25% or more in order to do meaningful work.

This last finding is particularly noteworthy, not just because the Millennials represent the largest generation of workers to enter the workplace in the last few decades, but also because of their willingness to take such a significant pay cut even though they are at the low-end of the pay scale.

In light of these findings, it’s easy to understand why employee mobility is currently rather low, but it also serves as a warning for organizations to not rely on salary offerings to prevent an exodus of employees – especially the key talent within their organization – when economic conditions improve.

In reviewing the various findings and data from this study, there’s no question that there’s a clear need and interest among employees in all age groups and career stages to have the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful and purpose-driven fashion.

Perhaps equally important is how these findings reinforce the relationship-based nature of today’s work – where employees need to collaborate with leaders to not only identify where they can provide the greatest contribution, but to also identify and facilitate the kind of work environment and opportunities they need to succeed and grow.

Such an approach will serve not only employees, but the organizations they work for by ensuring their collective ability to evolve and thrive in the years ahead.

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Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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