Creating Meaning in the Workplace

For many people, work occupies most of their waking hours throughout adult life. Our careers are one of the focal points for bringing meaning and identity to our lives. According to a YouGov poll, only 50% of people with a…


Blog19th Dec 2019

For many people, work occupies most of their waking hours throughout adult life. Our careers are one of the focal points for bringing meaning and identity to our lives. According to a YouGov poll, only 50% of people with a full-time job in the UK were ‘entirely sure’ that their job made any sort of meaningful contribution to the world. 37% of people, however, were quite sure it did not. They felt that if their job suddenly didn’t exist, no-one would notice. To feel that a job is meaningless and has no societal value is both destructive to our sense of self and hugely wasteful.

Our Senior HR Consultant, Amy Gardiner, recently attended a thought-provoking seminar run by SRG about how companies can create meaning or purpose within the workplace for employees who value different things. The importance of not only motivating employees to gain discretionary effort, but also motivating them to provide a sense of fulfilment. Amy shares her insights and takeaways from the event.

Meaning increases motivation, drives productivity and improves employee engagement. But what can a business do in practical terms to make work more meaningful for its people?

Greater involvement in decisions for staff

Micromanagement is a meaning-killer. Including your employees in decisions and allowing them space to get the job done helps them feel like valuable contributors.

Recognition and reward

Pay alone does not motivate people. Words of praise, recognition, thanks and acknowledgement are much greater motivators and work becomes more meaningful as a result.

Understanding the impact of roles on customers

Show employees why their work matters to the end-user or customer to help them understand their purpose and how and why they fit in.


Secrecy decreases morale and leads to distrust. Share knowledge and information with employees across the organisation and practice open, transparent communication.

Linking roles to the bigger mission and purpose

Employees need to know that they matter to believe that their work matters. Trust them with the long-term vision and how they fit in. We all want to be part of the bigger picture and for work to be truly meaningful, it needs to tie in to a greater purpose.

A great example of this is the janitor who worked at NASA in the early 1960s. When President John F. Kennedy was touring the site, he stopped and asked the janitor what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I am helping put a man on the moon”. His contribution may have been minimal, but the meaning and the purpose of his role was tied to the biggest plan of all. Every role can be linked to an organisation’s values.

Different employees value different things therefore companies must convey their message and purpose in different contexts. A key takeaway of the seminar for me was the importance for businesses to not only talk about business growth and profit, but to communicate their story, success and vision through four different lenses; to enable their employees to link their personal values with those of the company. These four lenses being:

  1. The wider society – making a better society, building the community or stewarding resources.
  2. The customer – making life easier and providing a superior service or product for the end-user.
  3. The team – creating a sense of belonging, a caring environment, or working together efficiently and effectively.
  4. The individual – personal development, a higher salary or bonus, and a sense of personal empowerment.

Meaning comes from our deep-rooted desire to be needed, to have an impact, to create genuine change both at work and on a wider scale.

Meaningless work has a cost to both employer and employee. It results in reduced productivity, higher staff turnover and more sick days.

Work should have a purpose and it is an employer’s responsibility to understand people’s desire for meaning and take positive steps to improve the way they interact and communicate with their staff. It’s not only about improving businesses, but making the working world a meaningful and purposeful place for everyone.

AAB People are exceptionally proud to be part of the first cohort of 20 values led, socially impactful businesses accepted onto the Unlocking Ambition Scottish Enterprise-backed programme for high growth, purpose driven organisations. Our purpose is in helping our clients create diverse and inclusive workplaces to support the attraction, retention and development of their people.

Get in touch to find out more about how we can support you in developing an inclusive, diverse and purpose-driven workplace to enable your team and business to thrive and grow.

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