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Why Meaningful Work Is Essential for Employee Engagement

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Why Meaningful Work Is Essential for Employee Engagement

Meaningful Work Part 2​ – The Connection Between Meaningful Work and Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is known to drive quality and quantity of work, and is an excellent predictor of outcomes at work, but how does it relate to meaning at work?

Through our research, we discovered that meaningful work contributes to employee engagement, both directly and indirectly, in a number of ways.

So the more meaningful someone finds their work, the better their engagement, which drives positive work outcomes.

Learn more about the relationship between meaning at work and engagement.

The relationship between meaningful work and engagement

Watch the video to understand the connections between meaningful work and staff engagement, and the resultant impact on business outcomes.

Watch the next video in the series here:

Part 3 – Which Types of People Naturally Find Work Meaningful?

and the previous video here:

Part 1 – What Is Meaningful Work & Why Does It Matter in the Workplace?

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Meaningful work and engagement

Welcome to video two in our series on meaningful work.

Video one was about meaning in life and meaning in work.

But this video is going to be about meaningful work and work engagement.

And then we’ll go on to the characteristics of people who find work meaningful.

We’re going to show you some really interesting data about which types of people find work more meaningful across different sectors and salary levels and those sorts of things.

And finally, we’re going to wrap up, in video five, about how to make work more meaningful.

The three characteristics of work engagement

But first, let me tell you a little bit about a thing called work engagement.

Firstly, a definition of work engagement. It has three characteristics.

The first is that people are highly engaged in their work when they’re energetic at work. They bring a sense of energy, a sense of drive to their work.

Secondly, they’re engaged in their work when they’re committed, dedicated to their work. They believe the work is important and they’re enthusiastic about their work.

And the third characteristic is where they have a sense of what’s called flow at work. In other words, they get immersed in their work and time flies as they do their work.

So they come to work, they join their team, time flies and they find this very satisfying.

So that flow experience, what’s called absorption in the Bakker and Demerouti perspective is really important because if you’re lucky enough to have that, what it means is that that’s the third component of engagement, and engagement as we’re going to show you, is a great predictor of things like productivity, happiness at work, and also quality and quantity of work.

Job demands and resources

So this is a thing called the job demands and resources model of engagement (refer to the video).

And just to explain the components here, what we’re saying is that people will tend to have high levels of engagement at their work when they have the personal resources that are necessary.

Personal resources at work

Now, what do we mean by personal resources?

Personal resources are things like the degree to which a person has the right personality, the right cognitive ability for the work, that they’re doing, the right values and also the right skills.

In other words, they’ve been trained up to have high levels of engagement and commitment with their work.

People, when they don’t know how to do their work, they are vastly less engaged.

And one of the things that you have to be careful of in change management is that as you change the requirements of a job, you may well leave the employees behind in terms of the levels of confidence that they have.

When that happens, their levels of engagement are going to decline.

So personal resources are the things that the person brings with them into the workplace. But it’s also what we build into them by coaching and guidance and development.

The four types of job resources

Then we have job resources and job resources are not so much things like equipment, but that will have a slight effect.

But what they are is that they’re really what we would call the psychosocial resources that people have at work.

The job that they do, the leader that they report to, their colleagues and the organisation that they belong to.

Those four things are typically job resources, but it’s also things like the way that they’re lead.

So if I have role clarity, that’s a job resource. If I have good, clear supervision and I’m being developed at work, that’s a job resource.

And the reason we call them resources is because they tend to increase people’s levels of work engagement – they’re resources that cause work engagement.

Good and bad stressors (AKA job demands)

Then there’s job demands.

And this is what you might call stress, and it comes in two forms – good stress, which is all about the degree to which I am challenged by my work, and bad stress, which is things like role ambiguity, it’s things like people fighting around me, it’s things like a sense of being drawn in different directions by different people.

Those are all negative stressors. And they all contribute to work engagement.

The effect of engagement on job crafting

And work engagement has been shown to drive job performance, and job performance has been shown to drive a thing called job crafting.

Now, job performance both in terms of quantity and quality of work.

But job crafting is where people will spontaneously make things better in their work.

And what I mean by that is that rather than just putting up with the way things are, they will seek to make things easier for employees or customers.

They will seek to improve things in terms of, let’s say, the cost of what we’re doing or the quality of the outcome.

It’s where people are spontaneously changing in order to make things better.

And what you see in the diagram (refer to the video) is where people are involved in job crafting that contributes to personal resources because people learn from it.

But it also contributes to job resources because people will then build stronger relationships and they will get greater role clarity, those kinds of things.

So work engagement can be shown to be an excellent predictor of outcomes at work.

The case for employee engagement

So here’s the business case for engagement.

We know that productivity increases and decreases with engagement. Internal measures such as job satisfaction, absenteeism attraction, retention. They vary with engagement.

It’s also a good predictor of external things like client satisfaction, stakeholder satisfaction, they vary with engagement and 50% to 60% causation.

Which is to say, if you are looked after by a highly engaged employee, you are 50% to 60% more likely to be happy with your interaction with that company if the person is highly engaged. So it’s a big driver of customer satisfaction.

It’s also a big driver of sales volume. Highly engaged sales teams tend to sell much more than disengaged sales teams.

We also know that OH&S is affected by engagement, so safer workplaces tend to be more highly engaged workplaces.

Profit varies with engagement, and this is one of the reasons why, around the world, commercial organisations are into engagement, not just for entirely philanthropic reasons, but also for commercial reasons.

Profit tends to be higher, and certainly revenue growth tends to be higher when a workforce is well engaged.

So it turns out to be an excellent predictor of outcomes at work.

How meaningful work drives positive outcomes

Now, one of the things that we know is that meaningfulness in work has an important characteristic in driving positive work outcomes.

So those positive work outcomes could be things like profit, revenue, customer satisfaction. If you’re in the care sector, quality of care.

All those things can be driven by job resources. And the job resources are the things that I mentioned before.

The job characteristics, the team characteristics, the leader characteristics, the organisation characteristics.

But we know that meaningfulness as part of a trio of meaningfulness, responsibility and gaining feedback, those can cause the job resources to be more effective in driving positive work outcomes.

So if you have highly meaningful work, the job resources that you have at your disposal are much more likely to cause positive work outcomes.

So that’s an important thing to understand.

The myth of corporate culture

I want to talk a little bit about what causes wellbeing at work.

I’m sometimes quoted for saying corporate culture is almost a myth.

It’s almost a myth because in fact, the biggest variation in culture is not between organisation and organisation, it’s between teams within the one organisation.

So culture, in a sense, is local. Here’s a diagram that explains this (refer to the video).

People live, employees live in four worlds. A gentleman by the name of Mark Griffin first coined this idea going back a couple of decades ago.

They live in the world of the job, the team, the leader and the organisation.

Cotton and Hart were able to demonstrate in 2011 that about 80% of people’s wellbeing comes from their immediate job, team and leader.

And you see on this side (refer to the video), proximal versus distal. Proximal is things that are close to me, distal is things that are far away from me.

I mean, let’s be honest. For most people, the organisation is a concept. It’s a philosophical thing.

What they really think about and what affects them on a day to day basis is the team that they belong to, the colleagues that they work with, the job that they do.

Those three things account for 80% of wellbeing.

Now, the reason I think that this is important, is that if you’re seeking to make work meaningful, you don’t do it at the corporate level. You do it at the local team level.

So local leadership, which is trained up to cause people to be able to find their work meaningful, that’s what’s likely to have a big effect on people’s perception of meaning at work.

The effect of meaning on engagement

Here’s a diagram (refer to the video) that describes the findings of a piece of research that SACS undertook in partnership with Deacon University and Simon Albrecht was the lead author on the paper that was published here.

And what we did is that we measured meaningful work using an internationally validated measure of meaningful work.

We measured employee engagement using a thing called the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, which is an internationally validated measure of engagement.

Then we measured these five characteristics – job variety, supervisor support, development opportunities, autonomy, and feedback – all of which were measured with validated instruments.

And we measured all of these things with about 2500 employees across mainly Australia and New Zealand.

And what we discovered is that there were direct paths to engagement. So these things with the direct arrows contributed directly to employee engagement (refer to the video).

But what we also found is that there were some things which contributed to meaningful work, but meaningful work also contributed directly to employee engagement.

So you might call this an indirect path. Now, I think the finding here is that without meaningful work, you would have lower levels of employee engagement.

And so meaningful work is a very important contributor to employee engagement.

And so, in effect, the more meaningful people find their work to be, the more likely it is that they’re going to be highly engaged in their work and workplace.

So those are the key points that we wanted to make about meaningful work and its relationship to engagement in this video.

Join us for the next video, which is video number three, and that video will be about the types of people who are more naturally likely to find work meaningful.

Watch the next video to find out more about meaning at work:

Part 3 – Which Types of People Naturally Find Work Meaningful?

Or watch the previous video about meaningful work:

Part 1 – What Is Meaningful Work & Why Does It Matter in the Workplace?

And if you’d like some help creating more meaningful work for your employees, contact us to discuss our Workforce Planning services.

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