How meaningful work is key to employee engagement

Paul Burrin
Published on 28th July 2017
2 min read

Having a sense of meaning from work is one of the top three most important factors cited by employees when it comes to job satisfaction and engagement [1].

When people have a sense of meaning in their work, they become more committed to the organisation they work for and have a greater drive for producing results.

What makes a job ‘meaningful’ will vary from person to person, but businesses can play a key role in delivering great employee experiences, which enable and foster meaningful work across their business.

Measuring meaning

There are three questions that measure whether work is meaningful for an individual, according to Michael Steger, Associate Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University [2]:

  • Does the work have significance and purpose?
  • Does it contribute to finding a broader meaning in life?
  • Does it make a positive contribution to the greater good?

However, meaningful work doesn’t imply that only careers in the charity sector or at social impact companies can provide meaning for individuals. Meaning can be found in any job according to Steger. Any employer can create meaning within their workplace for their employees.

Meaning-creators in practice

So what are companies doing already to add meaning to their employees’ work?

At Gilead Sciences, 91% of employees report having high job meaning [5]. The work they do is focused on creating new medicines to help people with life-threatening illnesses such as HIV/AIDs, cancer and hepatitis C. This focus on transforming peoples’ lives contributes to Gilead employees finding purpose in their work. More widely, the company also offers staff tuition reimbursement, backup childcare options and the ability to buy company stock, to show recognition of the work their people do.

eBay encourages its staff to go beyond the work they do in the office and make an impact globally. This includes a ‘Green Team’ in which employees and eBay sellers work together to improve eBay’s sustainability, as well as each eBay location being empowered to form an employee group – called a GIVE team – that assesses local community needs and recommends non-profit organizations that eBay should support through its grants.

At Biogen, not only do employees feel like they’re making a difference as the biotechnology firm develops therapies for neurological and autoimmune diseases, but staff are encouraged to give back to their communities. Every year the company holds a ‘Care Deeply Volunteer Day’ where thousands of employees participate in local community-service projects.

It’s not just adding to the greater good

Many workplaces consider how employees want to ‘give back’ at their work – either through the work that their business does, or through their corporate approach to giving and volunteering. However, this is just one part of creating meaningful work for employees.

Gen X and Gen Y believe that applying personal passions in one’s career is meaningful, with 55% of them changing career paths to integrate their work and personal life [3].

Meanwhile, a two-year study carried out by Deloitte found that allowing time for slack, having small empowered teams, selecting the right person for the job, and giving people the tools and autonomy to succeed, all contributed to meaningful work [4].

At Sage People, we believe things like these are just as important for employees in finding meaning in their work. Companies which recognize this, build great experiences for their workforce.

Humans are by nature meaning-makers. Work plays a pivotal role in shaping how we define ourselves so it is inevitable that people will look to their jobs as a source of meaningfulness. The question is: how do you help workers to find fulfilment from their work?


[1] SHRM’s 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report

[2] Michael F. Steger: Laboratory for the Study of Meaning and Quality of Life

[3] Philips Work Life Survey 2016

[4] Deloitte Employee Engagement Strategies

[5] The 50 Best Companies to work for in America

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