Meaningful work is something that we crave, whether we think about it and realize it on a daily basis or not.  According to a McKinsey and Company study, 31% of people would quit their job due to a lack of meaningful work. Another study showed that people were willing to give up an average of $20,000 in salary if it meant that they could have a true purpose and meaning in what they do. 

What is meaningful work anyway?


There can be the tendency to think of meaning and purpose in work and gravitate toward service roles such as healthcare where people are on the front lines literally saving lives every day. While those roles can certainly carry a lot of purposes, the reality is that true purpose and meaning varies greatly from person to person.

A study by KornFerry asked people about roles and jobs that found meaning in. 44% of jobs listed as meaningful were identified as meaningless by other people. On the other end of the spectrum, 55% of roles that were identified as meaningless, were identified as meaningful by someone else. 

Meaningful work really comes down to you, but it does often share some themes – A purpose larger than your own, alignment to things that you hold as important, and the empowerment to accomplish that work.  

Connecting to meaningful work impacts the employee and the business


Connecting to meaningful work doesn’t just impact the employee, it’s also profoundly important for the business as well. 

  • A sprinkle of extra effort – Those who identify themselves as having meaningful work, will work an extra hour a week. They are also more likely to take extra training and stretch assignments to broaden their horizon. 

  • They stay longer – People who connect with meaningful work are nearly 70% more likely to stay around in the next 6 months compared to those that aren’t. 

  • Less likely to hit burnout – Those with meaningful work also build a natural resistance towards burnout. Only 6% who are connected to meaningful work experienced burnout in the previous 6 months compared to 75% of their peers. 

  • A better employee experience – A study by IBM and Workhuman showed that a person’s connection to meaningful work had the highest impact on their employee experience.

How to connect people to meaningful work

Connect work to their values –  A lot has been said in our previous shows about the importance of true Values at your company that you speak about on a consistent basis, integrate into performance evaluations, and make a part of your daily work routine. While that practice is essential for a healthy organization, many people don’t share company values in exit interviews when there is a disconnect here. Instead, they’ll share how the company and work are disconnected from their personal values. The gap can often be summed up as the tension between efficiency (or profits) and quality. Ex. care of a patient vs. moving the patient on early to free up a bed. Be aware and help your team balance the tension between the quality of work and business goals. 

Keep things focused on the work they love – People hate busy work and tasks that don’t add much personal value. In health care, clinicians generally don’t enjoy doing all the administrative paperwork. It’s tedious and it takes time away from either serving more patients or being home with their families. I currently work in healthcare and we are constantly looking for ways to leverage technology to decrease the time a clinician is spending on a tablet as much as possible. People find meaning in their work when they know what they should be doing. Eliminate as many barriers as possible between your team and the work that they should be doing. 

Empower your people for success – People can either feel empowered or disempowered by the way you run your business and lead your team. When people feel like they aren’t being listened to, trusted with their expertise, or valued for their experience, they will feel a sense of disenfranchisement that leads to a feeling of meaningless work. Be open to feedback that they share around this topic and take it to heart. You hired that person for a reason, and you both want the same thing – to meet the goal that was set out ahead of them in an impactful way. 

Connect them to others – I was once assigned a project to help turn around the retention rate of a key clinical business position. After many feedback sessions and focus groups, the results were clear. It wasn’t the pay or education, but a sense of isolation and disconnection from the organization that led people to leave. It’s hard to sustain work-life on a proverbial island. Be intentional to connect your people to peers across geographical locations and help them build collaborative relationships and connections with others across teams and businesses. People will find more meaning in their work as they have opportunities to connect and lean on others for support and insight. 

Remember purpose is in the eye of the beholder. Help your team members connect the work that they do to their personal values and priorities. Your people will be more fulfilled, give you more effort, and will stay around longer. 

You can find more information on finding purpose in your work in episode 312 – Four Ways to find purpose in your work

Make a better tomorrow. 
-ZH