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Posted by on Jul 3, 2012 in Business, Leadership, Talent | 0 comments

3 Ways Managers Can Make Work Meaningful

We continue sharing some of our favorite posts that appeared on other blogs or on our former individual blogs. Shawn wrote this post for the great people at

With dismal news of widespread employee dissatisfaction and disengagement, and uncertainty in the American and global economies forcing CEOs/CFOs continued conservatism, managers are faced with a difficult reality: How to make work meaningful despite unhappy employees in unsatisfying work environments?

The question and tone of optimism in the question is purposeful. Managers have a choice in how they respond and lead their employees in the face of crappy news. The choice is either to let the sign-of-the times damper the mood or so something about it.

Before we look at what managers can do despite the news, it’s important to look at the reality.

• World at Work recently reported that employee loyalty is taking a beating. 32% of employees are seriously considering leaving their employer.

• 30% of employees ages 26-40 plan to leave their employer within the next five years; 50% of employees 60+ plan to leave in the same timeframe.

• According to Manpower, 27% of HR executives surveyed felt they had the staff necessary to meet business goals.

• Researcher and author Teresa Amabile found 95% of managers in her study failed to recognize the higher importance employees placed on progress in meaningful work over total compensation.

The confluence of internal and external influences on the work environment with changing expectations from employees of their employers makes for a dynamic time to be a manager.

There is good news.

I go back to the question in the opening of this post: despite unhappy employees and unsatisfying work environments, how can managers make work meaningful?

1. Assign work that plays into employees’ talents, strengths. Human nature is that we want to make a difference. We want to contribute, be part of something. As a manager tap into these basic human needs. You have significant influence over the assignments given to your team. Make time to uncover their talents and allocate them to work where their strengths can be used.

The alternative to this is to allow the dismal mood to diminish productivity, quality, satisfaction, and engagement. I hear too often from managers, supervisors, “I don’t have time for this.” I suspect they have time for hiring, onboarding, training? The tradeoff in time seems a no brainer.

2. Consistent Feedback. Gallup’s Work Environment index was down six consecutive months with lowest recorded scores in the history of the index. One component measured in the index is relationship with boss. To have a healthy relationship with employees, managers must provide feedback to employees – good and corrective.

Feedback, albeit not popular, signals to employees that they are valued. It signals you place importance on their growth and success. Employees who believe they are valued and can use and grow their talents based on feedback are more likely to stay with a company. Managers cannot afford to NOT give feedback.

3. Treat employees as people. We spend a ⅓ of our life working. With this reality in mind, savvy managers, and HR departments, help employees achieve overall well-being in life. Understanding life aspirations and personal struggles helps managers’ to understand what influences their employees’ performance. The outdated notion that our personal lives are checked at the proverbial door only weakens the relationship between managers and employees. With so much time spent with one another plus the dominance and permanence of social technology, our personal and professional lives are merged.

Yes, the hurdles managers face to lead employees to contribute their best can be daunting. Yet, “local” action by managers is vital to make the workplace satisfying again and help employees pull meaning from their work. We don’t have time to wait for senior management to initiate a project to address satisfaction and engagement problems.

Managers who give employees reasons to stay and believe that their work does matter can create a competitive advantage. Managers are positioned to make the workplace satisfying again. It’s a matter of choice. What will you choose?


Graphic by Shawn Murphy

Shawn Murphy

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of ExchangeGain. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

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