What Employers Need to Know About the “Meaningful Work” Movement

Happy employees in the office


When you spend a good portion of your time at your job, it’s only natural for it to become part of who you are. That’s why the workforce has seen a rise in the quest for meaningful work, or work that aligns with your values. For many, it means knowing their work has a direct impact, feeling purpose in what they do, and being part of a community.


Why is this important? The Bates-Gallup study of purposeful work examined this and can sum it up in two key findings:

  • Individuals who utilize their strengths and enjoy what they are doing every day are twice as likely to succeed in other areas of their lives.
  • Individuals with a high sense of purpose in what they are doing for work are ten times more likely to experience overall well-being.

Those key findings paint a very clear picture: meaningful work is important for leading a fulfilling life.


The role of employers in the meaningful work movement

With individuals now craving more meaningful work experiences, employers need to take notice -- especially as some individuals are leaving their jobs and changing careers to do so.

By fully understanding their role in creating a meaningful work environment, employers can help their employees find purpose and fulfillment -- often while retaining their talent.


Here’s what employers need to know about the meaningful work movement:


Meaningful means something different to everyone.

This is a very important statement for both employees and employers to understand. Some people are under the impression that only “helping” professions (teaching, healthcare, social work, etc.) can be meaningful. However, meaningful can mean something entirely different to everyone.

A survey conducted by Jing Hu and Jacob Hirsh investigated just this. They asked respondents to name a job/career that would give them a sense of meaning and one that would not provide meaning. They found that 44% of the jobs that were listed as meaningful by some were listed as not meaningful by others. Similarly, they found that 55% of the jobs listed as not meaningful to someone were listed as meaningful to someone else.

Understanding this can help employers have honest conversations with employees about what that individual finds meaningful. Knowing that it doesn’t look the same for everyone is important to accept. Employers can also use this understanding to explain how existing roles within a company might be meaningful after all.


Your employees can find meaningful work without leaving your company

Some employers are hesitant to have conversations about meaningful work because they fear employees will leave their positions to take their careers in a different direction. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Once you have a conversation with employees about what purpose they are looking to serve, you can find ways to make that work without them having to leave your company.

Perhaps there’s a different position or department they could move into. For example, someone who works in sales might crave the ability to connect with people, so they would be better suited in a career in HR.


Meaningful doesn’t always mean satisfying -- sometimes, there’s more to it

Sometimes people are in a job that aligns with their values and purpose, yet they still don’t feel satisfied. Sometimes, meaningful work alone isn’t enough -- how the day-to-day job is performed matters too. Job functions that don’t align with someone’s personality or suit the way an individual works best are bound to leave people unsatisfied, sometimes even frustrated.

If that’s the case, see if there’s a middle ground that you can reach with individual employees or teams that allows them to not only do meaningful work, but do it in a way that suits them.


You can help your employees find meaning

Some employers might feel like they are the enemy in the meaningful work movement, but that doesn’t have to be the case. By creating an open and honest dialogue with your employees, you can create an environment where they feel comfortable speaking up about what would make their employment more meaningful. That way, you can retain your best employees and make their experience even better.