Meaningful work

The meaning of meaningful work

Tim Sackett Employee experience, Engagement 3 Comments

There is this widely held belief by a great number of HR pros that to have true employee engagement, your employees must feel like they have meaningful work. I don’t necessarily disagree with that thought process.

The problem is, well-meaning HR pros have taken this concept and started to cram social platforms down their employees’ throats. They misinterpret ‘meaningful’ as meaning ‘as an employer we must support social causes so our employees see we are giving back’.

What about those companies that put big money and volunteer hours towards things like Habitat for Humanity?  Great cause, right?  I worked for a company that did this. It was nice. But I grew up volunteering for Special Olympics and supporting this organization. The company I was working for wouldn’t support my cause, because they already did so much for Habitat.

What about my ‘meaningful work’?

So what is meaningful work?

Meaningful work isn’t about supporting causes.  It means your people feel that what they do every day is important to your organization’s success.  For most organizations this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with supporting causes.

Employees need to know that when they show up in the morning, the effort they give helps the organization reach its goals.

The problem in believing meaningful work is tied to causes is that everyone has their own personal causes they want to support. If you believe helping the homeless is your organization’s cause, that’s wonderful! But, now you need to find talent that also believes this is their cause as well, to make work meaningful for everyone in your organization.

In HR we try and make this concept of meaningful work too difficult.  We need to help our leaders better communicate how each individual’s effort contributes to the greater good of our organizations.  How they, individually and collectively, make an impact to their function and to the business.

Meaningful work isn’t saving puppies. Meaningful work is using your talents to help your organization be successful.

Originally published on

Comments 3

  1. It does seem ever so often like companies are using unrelated, meaningful activities (like saving puppies or volunteering to clean up a nearby beach) as a sort of band-aid to compensate for a lack of inherent meaning in the workplace. And mind you, not every business model that is profitable and sustainable is automatically meaningful.

    1. Dominik –

      I don’t disagree. I think many of the businesses we run don’t necessarily offer meaningful work. I ran recruiting for a large restaurant chain. It was all about cold beer, hot fries, and great burgers. Is that really meaningful work? No. That means the individual worker has to find meaning in why they go to work. Maybe it’s to ensure their family lives well, or to pay your way through school, or maybe you work because it gives you an opportunity to do volunteer work you love. I don’t believe we, as employers, need to offer meaningful work. That is a set up for failure. But, we need to help connect the dots for our employees to understand why their work is meaningful to them, personally.

      Thanks for the comment!


      1. As a German, I think virtually everything connected to cold beer is inherently meaningful, Tim. 🙂

        On a more serious note: I think you are absolutely on to something with your argument that it’s not the employer’s duty to create meaningful work, but that is IS their duty to aid the individual along their way of ‘creating meaning’ as they go. Nicely put.

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