C-level executives who have deployed meaningful-workplace campaigns say it's OK to make mistakes along the way, but any successful outcome largely depends on mastering four key meaningful-workplace characteristics.
That's the opinion of Jim Haudan, co-founder and chairman of Root Inc., a Sylvania, Ohio-based management consulting firm that partners with senior teams at companies to build creative ways to execute company strategies.
In Haudan's experience over the last 25 years, meaningful work has come from four distinct initiatives:
Make it purpose-driven. "Employees want to be part of something bigger than themselves," Haudan says. "Rather than adhering to the shopworn advice that people need to find themselves in their work, helping people become a part of something bigger captures the reality that the most fulfilled people tend to lose themselves in a cause that they believe in. That could be solving a problem that has defied a solution or building an organization that's in a strong pursuit to find a better way to serve another human being."
Create a sense of belonging. When employees are engaged in meaningful work, they believe that their individual contributions are important and that their input helps make other ideas and innovations better, he says. "This sense of belonging immediately creates a sense of ownership and personal investment that turns work into a personal passion instead of a team or individual obligation."
Make it an experience. Meaningful work is often not an objective or a metric but a story-rich adventure. "There's a sense of pioneering that's best described as creating something that doesn't exist, and that people are willing to endure personal sacrifice to bring it to life," Haudan says. "It tests individual skills and boundaries and is a crystal-clear opportunity to see how good we can be. It's a story of building, exploring, testing boundaries and creating something new."
Show the impact on people. For work to be meaningful, there must be a clear connection between the work employees are doing and the beneficiaries of that work. "It's a constant effort of managers and leaders to help their people see how what they do impacts the lives of another human being," Haudan says. "Work often changes in meaning and importance when it goes beyond being a project, an initiative, a task or a job and is actually experienced by people at the end of a process and [when] the loop of impact—positive or negative—is brought back to the individual creator of that work."
To read more about meaningful work, see The Search for Meaning from SHRM's All Things Work newsletter.
Brian O’Connell is a Bucks County, Pa.-based freelance business writer.