As a transformational leader, it’s important that you focus on employee engagement; the people who work for you must feel like they are part of a team. What you don’t want is for them to feel like they’re just cogs in a machine, or like the human equivalent of drones.
That may sound like a fine distinction, but I believe it’s a critical one. While you want your employees to see themselves in the big picture, you also want them to see how their individual role impacts the people around them. You want them to feel invested in something meaningful, and to know that they’re not just carrying out orders and doing busywork each day, but actually making a difference.
I think this is arguably the key component in employee engagement. I talk to a lot of employees who tell me they left their last job because they just got bored of going through the motions each day, never really feeling like their work amounted to anything. What these employees want is meaning—and the employers who offer meaning are the ones who will see the highest levels of employee engagement.
What Does Meaning Look Like?
Now maybe we should back up and discuss what meaning really looks like; that is, what meaning means! A lot of people are going to hear that word and assume that I’m talking about social responsibility, or of positioning your business alongside a moral, ethical, or political cause. But your company doesn’t have to be a non-profit, a charity, or an overly political organization to give employees meaning.
All you really need for meaning is a sense of mission—a clear and concise understanding of what you’re trying to do in the world. That may be as simple as furnishing customers with a product that brings them some happiness, makes their lives easier, or addresses a problem they’ve experienced. And, you need to show employees how their job—how their individual contribution makes that mission viable.
Transformational leaders have to invest every job in the company with real meaning—from the sales team to the logistics folks to the call center. Each of these employees should have a common sense of purpose, and an individual understanding of their part in the big picture.
Other Ways to Add Meaning
So we’ve touched on mission; I really think that’s the key to creating a meaningful work environment. But what else can employers do to give their team members this sense of purposefulness? Here are some additional bullet points to consider:
- Give people challenges. One way you can help your employees see their work as meaningful is to challenge them; stretch them; force them to think critically. If everyone’s carrying out the same ole’ tedious busywork each day, never really having to exercise critical thinking skills or develop new abilities, then work will quickly start to feel rote and pointless. Too many employers are afraid that a challenge will scare employees away. Actually, I think it helps improve employee engagement!
- Know everyone’s gifts. Something else that creates meaning is allowing employees to feel like they are really using their natural gifts. If you have someone who’s really good at X, Y, or Z, it’s critical to look for ways to let them tap into those gifts as often as possible.
- Promote balance. Meaning and choice go hand in hand—and if your employees feel like they have plenty of choices about when they work vs. when they stop for a mental health break, I think that helps them view their work life as more meaningful.
Remember: Meaningfulness isn’t just about having a cause. It’s about having a purpose behind which your team can rally.
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