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Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 23 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke and our cat, Poirot. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for employment, contract work, consulting, coaching and training virtually and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at for more information. 

  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Arnott, SPHR

How to Make All Work Meaningful Work

Meaningful work. It's one of the things that employees want. It's what keeps them at an organization, gives them motivation to go above and beyond, and gives them satisfaction with their job. This study has tons of great information in it about how meaningful work correlates to performance and engagement - you should read it! In this post, I'm going to talk about how an employer can make work - any work - meaningful.

"Meaningful work" doesn't mean that the actual task changes lives and alters the universe. "Meaningful work" means that the employee perceives that their work is important, is integral to the operation of an organization. It means that what they are doing matters. How a company frames a person's job and the work that they perform is a huge part of how the employee perceives their work.

Let's consider a janitor's work. Cleaning toilets, vacuuming and emptying trash are all mundane tasks and don't require a lot of knowledge or skills. But those mundane tasks make it possible for the company to have a professional atmosphere. They make it possible for other employees to come in and focus on their work, instead of spending time cleaning up.

Do the executives acknowledge the janitor and say thank you when they see them? Do you pay them a wage that represents the importance of keeping an office clean and professional? Do you include them in the profit-sharing structure? Do company leaders interact with the janitor and treat them as an important person? Do you include them in employee spotlights and encourage everyone to get to know them and know what they do?

The meaning isn't going to be found in the tasks themselves. It's going to be found in how the company values the person and the work they are performing. If the employee knows that their work is meaningful to the company, and they are appreciated as a person who performs meaningful work, they will perceive their work as being meaningful, no matter what the work is.

It can also work the other way. Work that on it's face seems meaningful, but is treated as unimportant and trivial to the organization, can be devoid of meaning and purpose.

Let's consider a teacher's work. Teaching requires a lot of skill and training, It can change the lives of their students. On it's face, it's important and meaningful work! But what if the school district doesn't pay the teacher what they are worth. They don't provide resources for the teacher to be successful. They complain about teachers and portray teachers to the school board and the public as being whiny, ineffective and greedy. They blame the teachers when test scores are low, but don't provide professional development to improve. Do you think a teacher in that situation is going to get up each morning, motivated by meaningful work? Probably not.

Regardless of the task, an employer can make all work meaningful with some effort and intention. Here are four things you can do to make all work meaningful for your employees:

1. Be consistent about appreciating your employees' work. I don't mean awards and prizes, although those are nice to have. I mean saying thank you for their contributions to the organization. When they stay late, acknowledge the extra effort they are making. When work product is exceptional, let them know how the quality of their work positively affected a client or a process.

2. Pay them what they are worth. It's not hard to pay someone at market rate. Make sure that you are paying them appropriately, so they aren't going to want to go get another job for $2 more per hour. Give cost of living increases every year.

3. Include everyone at all levels in profit-sharing, bonus and rewards programs and benefits. Don't exclude certain groups of employees from monetary rewards or benefits. Treat all employees as if they are making a significant contribution - because they are! They are spending more time at work than with their families at home. That's significant.

4. Solicit feedback and input from all employees regarding the work they are doing and act on it. What works best? What isn't working? What can the organization do to make it better? The employees are the ones doing the work. Most of the time, they are going to have ideas about how to improve processes. Listen to them! Act on their feedback.

What ways have you made work meaningful in your organization? I'd love to hear about it!

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