Keeping employees engaged isn’t always easy, but it is always necessary. But with so many different types of workers within one workplace, what’s the simplest way to keep your employees motivated — and, by extension, engaged?

I’m extremely passionate about creating collaborative work environments with highly engaged employees. A huge part of this undertaking is investing in your people. One of my key responsibilities is managing and growing recruiting and onboarding programs, but focusing on new talent doesn’t mean putting your existing employees on the back burner. It is imperative that you continue to invest in your talent, ensuring people feel satisfied in their roles and want to stay with your organization. Creating a meaningful culture is one of the most critical ways you can invest in your employees and drive their motivation.

Emplify’s quarterly report on meaning at work dives into the importance of meaning-driven cultures and how they can significantly  impact your organization and employees. Using research gathered from more than 12,000 employees through Emplify Insights, this report aims to provide executives with a better understanding of how meaning is derived across generations, industries, and work types.

The report hinges on the discovery that meaning is emerging as a critical benchmark in the modern workforce, and employees who find meaning at work are more effective and higher-performing than those who don’t. A lot goes into the making of a meaningful workplace culture, but one overarching takeaway does stand out in this report — one that could be the make-or-break factor for your workforce’s meaning:

Give Your Employees Greater Autonomy to Encourage Meaning

“Meaning” here means a belief that being immersed in work gives employees value, whether through a sense of purpose, compensation, status, or influence. Personalized definitions of meaning may evolve over time, and meaning can be different from one person to another or from one generation to another.

For example, Emplify’s survey found that baby boomers felt that how they were being utilized at work was appropriate, and they were comfortable with the amount of meaning they received from their tasks. In comparison, Generation Z respondents were not comfortable with the ways they were being utilized, scoring 27 percent lower than baby boomers on that measure. Generation Z also falls behind millennials by 16 percent when it comes to utilization.

Interestingly, at companies where less than 20 percent of the workforce is millennial-aged or younger, employees averaged higher scores in meaning and utilization, compared with companies where more than 20 percent of the workforce consisted of these age groups.

How Does Greater Autonomy Improve Meaning?

One explanation, according to Yale Professor of Organizational Behavior Amy Wrzesniewski, is that a person’s inherent sense of meaningfulness is killed when a job becomes too fast-paced to be done well, or when a manager micromanages to the point that an employee no longer feels a sense of ownership.

FrisbeeGiving your employees greater autonomy means giving them the freedom to bring personal meaning to their work. People want to feel like they matter, and that their role and their job functions matter, too. When you allow your employees to feel this way, you empower them to create meaning in their jobs. You also help create a generally meaningful workplace built on encouragement and recognition.

All types of workers need meaning, not just those behind desks. In fact, companies employing primarily field workers report 4 percent higher levels of meaning than companies employing primarily non-field workers. Emplify also discovered that companies employing primarily knowledge workers scored 5 percent lower in meaning than companies with employees primarily in project-based, skilled roles.

Sometimes meaning gets pushed aside by other priorities, but it shouldn’t. Every manager and leader in the company, including the CEO, has a responsibility to ensure that employees are able to find meaning in their work.

Why? Because employees who derive meaning from their work are at least three times more likely to stay in their current roles than those who don’t.

Creating Autonomy by Practicing Radical Candor

A great way to start cultivating meaning is by creating a company culture where feedback is both given and received on a frequent basis. This is something that should be encouraged and implemented from the top down. Addressing employees on a personal level shows them that their managers are invested in their individual success in addition to the success of the team.

When a company regularly provides employees with candid, constructive feedback, this can help create a safe, open, and honest environment. There are multiple ways to practice radical candor. Start by celebrating wins, publicly recognizing employee contributions, and sharing customer success stories.

When your employees are fulfilled, they perform better at their jobs. Creating space for your employees to experience greater autonomy in their jobs helps ensure that they can find personal meaning in the work they do. Even more than that, it encourages a culture of recognition that employees will value moving forward.

Theresa Koch is director of strategic talent development at Emplify.

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