Providing meaningful work needs to be a priority for leaders in any workplace.
Meaningful work accomplishes two things. It accomplishes the goals of your team and organisation and keeps your team members engaged.
During my career, I’ve never seen a more consistent motivator than when people feel that they are doing meaningful work, that makes a difference.
People Need a Purpose
People who have a purpose have been shown to be more resilient and able to cope with life’s challenges.
This was highlighted by Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, when he wrote:
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how’.”
The beauty of purpose is that it is different for everybody. Finding meaning for one person can feel completely meaningless for another.
The importance of purpose is evident throughout Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why”. I highly recommend this book – it contains a great deal of helpful content for leaders! You can purchase “Start With Why” here.
Note: This is an affiliate link, so I receive a small commission for any purchases. I only do this for products I have used and strongly recommend. You can read the full affiliate disclaimer here.
I certainly don’t expect everybody in my teams to see work as their primary purpose in life. People have many and varied passions and if everyone just loved working, the world would be a dreary place.
However, when people are at work, leaders should be attempting to provide them with interesting and meaningful work wherever possible. This way, we have the greatest chance at motivating our people, keeping them engaged and contributing fully to the success of the workplace and the team.
And the best part is, if our people are doing meaningful work, they’ll be doing it because they want to, not because you’re forcing them to.
How to Give Meaningful Work to Your Team
Talking about meaningful work is all well and good. But as usual, I want to give you some practical ways to apply this to your team. To do that, below are the aspects that I believe create the most meaningful work for our teams.
Take a look at the work your team is doing and see if you can make any improvements to motivate your team members just that little bit more.
1. Make Sure People Are Doing Important Tasks, that People Need
Have you ever done work which was never used? Somebody tells you “thanks” but then they move onto whatever else they were doing.
Or perhaps you’ve worked hard to hit a deadline and feel a sense of relief and accomplishment. But then, the product that you produced sits unused for weeks.
It sounds obvious, but your team members need to be doing work that somebody values.
I’ve seen team members spend hours creating documents that nobody reads, or working to deadlines that aren’t real.
Sometimes, people work on projects and hand the results to their manager, who makes so many changes that the work is no longer recognisable.
Some other examples I’ve observed happen when leaders ask their teams to spend hours developing material “just in case”. Or perhaps they perform pointless analysis when their manager already has what they need to make a decision.
If you see tasks in your team that are “optional”, start to think hard about whether you need them at all!
All of these examples spell disaster for motivation and any sense of accomplishment and purpose in your team.
In short, make sure the work matters, and that someone needs it in the near future.
2. Meaningful Work Means Linking to the Purpose of Your Team and Organisation
A large part of motivation comes from knowing the significance of the work we are doing. One of the key drivers of this is the degree to which the work contributes to the team and organisation as a whole.
For example, if you are working on a key project which directly helps to achieving the strategy of your company, you’re likely to feel more invested in delivering it.
You’ll feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than just yourself, which is what purpose is all about.
Make sure that your team members can see how their work contributes to the bigger picture.
When your team members have visibility of their key customers or stakeholders and how their work plays a part in their success, work becomes a whole lot more meaningful.
3. Help Your Team Members Take Ownership
Motivation also increases when team members can “own” their work.
This includes the degree to which people can work on a complete piece of work from beginning to end, also referred to as task identity.
When your team members work on a tiny piece of the puzzle instead of putting together the whole picture, they feel far less satisfied because the work they are doing seems insignificant.
In this situation, they are more likely to feel like a tiny “cog in the machine”.
On the other hand, enabling team members to take accountability and own a bigger piece of work will help them see the degree to which they are making a difference.
This can also have the benefit of providing autonomy. This approach gives people flexibility to manage their own workload to deliver all parts of their own mini-project.
This can become a trade-off between motivation and efficiency. It might be more efficient for each team member to specialise in one small part of a process, but this may also become quite boring.
Look for opportunities to give your team members scope to contribute to different activities and take ownership of a complete piece of work. When your people know you are relying on them to deliver, they’ll step up and feel invested to go the extra mile.
4. Ensure Your Team Members Are Using Their Skills and Experience
When people gain qualifications and skills, it’s important that they actually use them.
Being able to exercise a broad range of the skills and experiences in your team helps to make work feel more meaningful. Team members will realise that all the effort they put in to develop their skills was worth it!
I’ve seen many examples of talented team members being assigned to boring, menial tasks because that’s part of their role. However, if you have team members with extra skills, why not use them?
This provides much needed variety for your team members and makes them feel valuable. Of course, there are limits to what you can do here, because your team members have a specific role to play in your team.
However, workplaces often have a need for people to contribute to different projects and initiatives outside of the normal day job. Try to use these opportunities to exercise the skills and experiences of your team members.
5. To Give Meaningful Work, Don’t Make Things Too Easy!
Have you ever successfully delivered some work that was quite hard to accomplish? What about work that was really easy that you’ve done 100 times before?
I bet the feeling of accomplishment was far greater with the hard work!
It’s the same for your team. If you can provide opportunities for team members to stretch and challenge themselves, they’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment when they succeed.
And of course, you’ll be there to support them along the way, to reduce the risk of failure.
Now, there are good reasons to be wary of stretch goals. However, it’s important that your team feel challenged.
Too challenging, and you could demotivate your team, or really stress them out. Not challenging enough and people get bored. The best bet is to find a middle ground and I find this works best by finding work that is just a slight stretch for your people.
A good way to achieve this is to get your people working on projects that allow them to use their current skills, but which also require them to learn new things and expand their experience.
This slight stretch encourages team members to strive hard, because they can see success is within their grasp, but know it will take a little effort.
Meaningful work is the driving force for every team member. Finding meaning is different for everyone, but if you can achieve it in your team, you’ll see greater commitment and enthusiasm from your team members.
After all, it’s much easier to lead a team who feel driven to do the work, without you having to push them all the time!
How do you provide meaningful work to your team? Let me know in the comments below or in the Thoughtful Leader forum!