Meaningful Work May Be the Bigger Picture Answer to Fostering Employee Well-Being
Employers are constantly trying to discover new ways to increase focus, performance, and well-being in their employees. Common tactics include providing more perks such as better benefits and more vacation days, or opting for formal workplace wellness programs. But perhaps there is something else – something less tangible – that can have a significant impact on the wellness of an organization’s workers. Past research has demonstrated that helping people to feel more meaning in their work can increase their overall sense of well-being.
Meaning is comprised of coherence, purpose, and significance. Coherence is the ability to make sense of one’s life. Purpose is characterized by having goals and direction in life, and significance entails having value and a life worth living (Martela & Steger, 2016). An example of meaningful work might be Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, which is a project dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of wounded veterans through fishing education and excursions. By facilitating programs and leading excursions, employees and volunteers are able to help program participants build camaraderie and find a new enjoyable activity in the aftermath of their experiences in combat. Those who work for this organization might experience all three elements of meaning. The sense of coherence comes from finding a career they are passionate about that fits inside of their value system – in other words, their role in the world makes sense to them. Workers might experience purpose because their goals of serving something larger than themselves have been achieved. Finally, they may experience significance because they believe they are making a difference for others. Meaningful work has been shown to improve engagement, job satisfaction, and well-being in employees (Martela & Steger, 2016). Therefore, increasing meaning seems to be the bigger picture answer. But how can managers do this?
Past research has demonstrated the ability to increase job meaning through enhancing task significance. Task significance is the perception that one’s job has a positive impact on other people. Grant (2008) conducted a study that looked into task significance and the potential benefits. Participants who were in the task significance condition asked for donations for their organization and explained how that money would benefit other people, rather than themselves. This type of task helped employees improve their belief that they were assisting others and their job was worth performing. The participants who were in this condition experienced higher ratings from their supervisors for helping behavior, increased perceptions of social impact and social worth, and increased job dedication. Task significance can be increased by improving employees’ perceived social impact and social worth - in other words, by increasing their belief that they are helping others and their job is valuable to society. Task significance can be fostered by addressing the following topics:
1. What aspects of your job do you find the most joy in?
2. What is the larger impact of your job on the organization and on the community?
3. Are there any aspects of your job that help other people?
4. What specific talents do you possess that you can apply on the job, and how might using these talents impact others in a positive way?
When workers feel as if their job is high in task significance they experience their work as more meaningful. Therefore, by increasing task significance, organizational leaders can increase meaning in the lives of their workers, and in turn increase their overall sense of well-being.
Grant, A. M. (2008). The significance of task significance: Job
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Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 108-124.
Martela, F., & Steger, M. F. (2016). The three meanings of meaning in
life: Distinguishing coherence, purpose, and significance. Journal of Positive Psychology, 11, 531-545.