A lack of ‘meaning’ in the workplace is having a damaging effect on morale and staff retention rates, according to a new research report.
Roffey Park’s report ‘In Search of Meaning in the Workplace’ reveals that 70% of employees are looking for more ‘meaning’ in their work.
“The search for meaning appears to be part of a fundamental human need to feel important and to make a difference,” said the report author, Linda Holbeche. “It is evident in profound questions that people are increasingly asking, such as who am I?, what do I offer?, why am I doing what I’m doing? and what’s the point of it?”
“People need and want to belong to communities in which they can make meaningful contributions,” said Linda Holbeche. “Work, for many people, provides a source of identity. However in some organisations, downsizing and restructuring changes, and greater emphasis on the ‘dog-eat-dog’ work mentality, have made relationships more transactional and mistrustful. This has negated feelings of community within organisations, with detrimental effects.”
The research suggests that there are strong business reasons why organisations should seek to understand and address the issue of ‘meaning’ at work.
“People are turned off by work that is meaningless or unethical,” said Linda Holbeche. “Without meaning at work, morale suffers, change becomes more difficult to manage and people start to look for other jobs or consider self-employment.”
The research highlights that people want to work for organisations they admire, where there is a fit between their own personal values and those of the organisation. They want challenging jobs, with clear goals, through which they can experience personal growth and in which their contribution is noticed and respected. They want an open, democratic form of leadership and they also want to balance their work with other aspects of their lives.
“By addressing some of these issues, organisations can provide a more meaningful experience for people at work,” said Linda Holbeche. “It may be, morally, the right the thing to do and it can certainly have a bottom-line business impact as organisations can improve staff retention rates, enhance their ability to manage change and foster a more customer-focused culture.”
The research notes, however, that organisational initiatives to build more meaning in the workplace are relatively thin on the ground.
“One way of giving employees a greater sense of meaning at work is to encourage them to feel part of the whole,” said Linda Holbeche. “Teams should be brought together socially from time-to-time and opportunities should be created to enable employees to take part in cross-functional networks, to help them share their experiences.”
“Leaders need to demonstrate a visible commitment to the
organisation that goes beyond the rhetoric of values statements and corporate social responsibility policies,” said Linda Holbeche. “They need to lead by example and safeguard their credibility by ensuring they act in a manner consistent with their recommendations to others. This aspect of ‘walking the talk’ is essential if organisations are to build a basis for trust.”
The research indicates that perhaps the biggest challenge for organisations in trying to address the issue of meaning is that it requires a paradigm shift by senior managers.
“Much of the problem is trying to get over the jargon,” said Linda Holbeche. “Senior managers can be suspicious or even contemptuous if you try to talk to them about the ‘spiritual’ needs of employees. But part of managing people is about managing their feelings. If senior managers can be convinced of the need to do this, then steps can be taken to help the organisation reap the benefits of a more meaningful work community.”