When we consider the amount of time we spend at work, both paid and unpaid such as volunteering, then it should be noted that the search for meaning at work is–and should be—an important concern. In the quest to find and retain top talent, companies often try to match competitors’ offers, ensuring that their compensation schemes, health care benefits, training programs, and other talent-management practices are in line with the rest of the industry’s. While this strategy may be useful to bring potential talents to the door, it’s not the most effective way to usher the right people across the threshold—great employees who will be enthusiastic about their work and fiercely loyal to the organization and its mission.
What truly makes good companies great is their ability to attract and retain the right people—employees who are excited by what they’re doing and the environment they’re operating in. These people are more likely to be engaged in their work and less likely to chase after slightly better salaries or benefits. They can and will find ways to satisfy their own preferences and aspirations, while still meeting the organization’s need to come up with creative and productive solutions to business problems. Their commitment is contagious, infecting customers and prospective employees. Indeed, engaged employees are the antithesis of hired guns rotating in and out of critical roles—they’re productive for the long term.
So, how do we attract these people and make them stay? The answer, based on our 20+ years of experience, is to build meaning in your company culture.
Unfortunately, our research reveals that 46.5% of employees in Indonesia lack meaning and purpose in their work-life.
The root causes of this lack of meaning are varied. People may not know what they want in life, so they simply put in time at their jobs, taking their paycheck but not caring about the work, co-workers, or the organization. They may be suffering from exhaustion, dealing with issues in their own personal lives, such as divorce, excessive demands of childcare or caring for elders, or various health issues, leaving them with little energy to devote to and engage with their work.
Younger workers face their own lack of meaning in the workplace, often aggravated by the gap between their expectations and the reality they experience. They often suffer difficulties transitioning from school into the workplace and are overwhelmed by the demands that are suddenly thrust upon them. Working straight for eight hours is difficult for some who have limited attention spans given their upbringings and fast-paced environments. The youth of today are attracted to more flexible work arrangements that provide the freedom to complete the work in the way they find most appealing. Some shun the traditional hierarchy found in many organizations. They don’t want to work under the command and control rules that they feel are stifling and result in their loss of individualism.
Younger workers have also complained that they want more access to their leaders and are disappointed when their leaders don’t ask for or listen to their ideas. Older workers have complained to us that they resent the lack of respect they sense from others if they are not tech-savvy. They feel they don’t belong in the youth-oriented workplaces and miss the stability of the “way we used to do it around here.”
Many workers, both young and old, feel that the work is meaningless, lacking purpose. They felt there is too much focus on the financial status of the organization and not enough on the “human side of work.” Many are tired of the games, the conflict, and the bureaucracy. There is also a loss of meaning as the relationship between the organization and the worker becomes more tentative. Organizations, with the objective of lowering overhead costs and gaining more flexibility, are decreasing the number of full-time jobs and shifting the work to part-time or contract jobs, outsourcing jobs, or simply laying off workers and doing more with less. Workers, in response, have less loyalty to one organization, choosing to focus on short-term engagements and then move on. It’s not surprising that there are lower levels of worker engagement under these scenarios. If an organization is less committed to its workers, then workers will be less committed to the organization.
Many people also questioned why they should be committed to leaders when these leaders seemed to be so focused on getting as much as they can get from the organization. Workers are told that the organization’s stock price is skyrocketing but, unfortunately, they don’t own any. They see their leaders drive luxury cars into the company parking lot, reminding them of the inequality on a daily basis. Is it any wonder that some workers end up emulating their leader’s behavior, feeling like they deserve more and attempting to take as much as they can?
For the development of positive company culture, a strong company vision and mission should be carried out so that employees are excited, imbued with the ideology and culture of said company, to better implement the policies of supporting the organization. Leaders need to be more active in conveying the vision, mission, and operational goals of the organization to employees so that they have a more general view of the meaning of the work they are doing, and at the same time, which in turn would lead them to care more about their individual responsibilities as well other members of the organization and strive for the overall positive development of their organizations.
Companies that successfully create and communicate the meaning behind their vision and mission understand that different types of people will excel at different things and that not all workers want the same things. When employees are made to feel heard and appreciated, they will in turn internalize company values and create a more productive and positive work environment. This will also lead to a sense of belonging and loyalty to the organization, where they will commit to the positive development of the organization.
Some people falsely equate commitment with hours worked. But commitment is about quality, not quantity. This sowing of meaning will convey the company’s core values in an employee’s everyday tasks.
Other people want to be led by committed leaders, not those whose eyes are always on another project or who make it clear that other parts of their lives matter more to them. Meaning serves as signs of whether a person can be entrusted with major decisions or control over assets that require doing what needs to be done regardless of formal requirements. They show that the leader will take care of others and the organization.
ACT Consulting has been committed to helping businesses discover solutions to various challenges in the organization for over 15 years. ACT Consulting believes that deliberate initiatives are required to build, expand, and sustain an organization.
ACT Consulting International is committed to being your best partner in culture transformation by implementing a precise, quantifiable, and focused transformation on leadership & people, business, and culture.
- Erickson, T.J. & Gratton, L. 2007. What It Means to Work Here. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2007/03/what-it-means-to-work-here
- Kanter, R.M. 2010. Six Extras That Build Power and Leadership. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2010/10/six-extras-that-build-power-an
- NGUYEN, H. H., NGUYEN, T. T., & NGUYEN, P. T. (2020). Factors Affecting Employee Loyalty: A Case of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tra Vinh Province, Viet Nam. The Journal of Asian Finance, Economics, and Business, 7(1), 153–158. https://doi.org/10.13106/JAFEB.2020.VOL7.NO1.153
- Dundon, E. 2019. Causes of the Lack of Meaning at Work. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-search-meaning-after-age-50/201911/causes-the-lack-meaning-work