If You Want To Engage Your People Make Their Work Meaningful

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Business owners often raise with us the difference between, and the importance of, engaging their people, the climate in their organisation, and their culture. Company culture, climate, and people engagement are intertwined; engagement is an individual measure of the extent to which people have a positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, fellow team members, and their organisation. Climate is the collective attitudes and feelings held by people about what is going on now and how they are feeling, in other words how they experience the current culture. Engagement and climate are lead indicators while culture and its outcomes are lag indicators.

While all three are essential to company success, the importance of individual engagement as an enabler remains a point of discussion.

What promotes engagement?

In our work with companies and their people the most common reasons people cite for them being engaged are:

  • The opportunity to contribute to something of substance
  • A reasonable level of autonomy in determining how they approach and do their work
  • Opportunities to learn; to deepen and broaden skills and experience
  • Sound leadership – which many people describe as the leader’s ability to stay out of the road
  • The tasks undertaken are significant, meaningful and make a difference

It is these last two points to which Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden[1] have added some further dimension. In their research they have found five factors that make work meaningful for people and eight “deadly sins” that will make work meaningless.

What makes work meaningful for people is when:

  • The value of their work means more to others
  • Delivering the outputs often involved solutions that were challenging to develop and implement, stretching and pushing people outside their comfort zone; dare we say at time painful
  • The work was episodic i.e. meaningful work is not constant, there are peaks and it is these peaks that are highly memorable and recounted often
  • People have time to reflect on what they have contributed and achieved. Meaningful work is rarely recognised in the moment
  • The work does not just relate to the task at hand, rather it has a wider context adding to their personal life experiences

Bailey and Madden also provide seven very clear pointers to leaders that will undermine the sense of meaning people derive from their work, they are:

  • Disconnect people from their values and those of the company
  • Take people for granted
  • Give people work that has no point to it or for which they have no frame or context for why the work is needed
  • Treat people unfairly
  • Disempower people by not allowing them to determine how their work is to be done
  • Disconnected from supportive relationships by their leader, whether intentional or not
  • Exposing people to unnecessary physical and emotional risk

Our experience garnered from continuing coaching conversations with leaders is that a key is to provide leaders with tools which enable them to recognise and maintain the delicate balance between being overly prescriptive and directive versus providing people with the freedom, challenging as that may be, to work out for themselves how they will undertake their work to the standards required.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes


[1] What Makes Work Meaningful – Or Meaningless: MIT Sloane Management Review: Summer 2106