Wisdom//

3 Ways to Help Employees Find Meaning and Purpose at Work

Simple ways to boost your team’s morale — and productivity.

Erhui1979/ Getty Images
Erhui1979/ Getty Images

When people feel a sense of purpose in their jobs, silver linings start to appear everywhere. For instance, work may seem less stressful, and the joy factor — even when doing mundane tasks — shoots up. Often, however, the conversation about “uncovering meaning” centers around what individuals can do to cultivate purpose independently. But research shows that it makes good business sense for managers to take an active role in helping their teams tap into purpose. 

In new research reported in Harvard Business Review, a team of experts studied leaders across 28 companies, and found that when managers put purpose at the core of their business strategy, both the company and its employees benefited significantly. In fact, these companies were able to use purpose to “generate sustained profitable growth, stay relevant in a rapidly changing world, and deepen ties with their stakeholders,” the researchers write.

Ultimately, if companies want to cultivate the best workforce and stay on a high-growth track, infusing their teams with a sense of purpose needs to be a priority — not an afterthought. These smart tips for managers can help.

Play to employees’ strengths

Many managers are used to doling out assignments based simply on what needs to get done within an organization. But when it comes to helping employees tap into purpose, a better strategy is to delegate tasks among team members according to individual strengths, Tim Lomas, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, tells Thrive. When people feel they are using their unique gifts to accomplish tasks, they’re more likely to find meaning in their work and perform at their best. 

Focus on the positive

Team members are more apt to feel that their work is meaningful if they truly believe their contributions are valued, notes Lomas. And that’s where the “appreciative inquiry” method comes in. Appreciative inquiry is all about pointing out what’s working well before suggesting a change, explains Lomas. For example, when asking someone to go deeper on a research project, you might phrase the request like this: “It was so helpful when you dug up all of those stats earlier; I’d love to have you take the same thorough approach with this project.” Adds Lomas: “Rather than complaining about peoples’ faults or weaknesses, the idea is to encourage behavior by highlighting what people do well.”

Connect to the big picture

In order for employees to feel their work is meaningful, they need to see how their day-to-day contributions fit into the larger goals of the organization. Managers can help by making sure to articulate — often and in person — the company mission and agenda, while providing clear context into how the work of their direct report helps the business move closer to that vision, says Lomas. This simple strategy can create a culture where people show up every day knowing they’re making a difference.

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