Money and prestige might seem like compelling reasons for employees to work hard for you. But those aren’t what drive most people.
Employees want meaningful work. It makes them healthier, engaged, resilient and fulfilled. As a leader, you want to help them find meaning and thrive off it.
“Money may lure people into jobs,” say researchers Lewis Garrad and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in the Harvard Business Review, “but purpose, meaning and the prospect of interesting and valuable work determines both their tenure and how hard they will work while they are on the job.”
Here are four research-proven ways women in leadership can help make employees’ jobs (and even yours) more meaningful.
1. Be curious
Employees tend to experience more meaning in their work when they feel they’re part of creating something new or innovative. Even better, they thrive more when they feel empowered to explore options and connect with other people and possibilities.
For you: Ask more questions and engage employees more often about ideas for the future of areas they can influence, such as their careers, department, or even the company’s goals. Give them a wider range of possibilities on how to get things done. Invite them to come up with better ways to accomplish the everyday work and larger team goals.
2. Be relentless
Employees – and leaders – thrive off success. But success is sometimes followed by periods of stagnation and anticipation of the next step or project. In other circumstances, employees can wallow in defeat after a failure. In both situations employees can lose sight of meaning. That’s when leaders like you need to remain relentless with optimism and ambition.
For you: It’s important to congratulate employees in success and show some dissatisfaction when employees fall short. Pushing people to recognize failure and why they need to do better, plus identifying the next steps toward success, instills a deeper sense of purpose. Create opportunities for employees to progress, reinvent and grow toward another goal.
3. Trust your people
One of the fastest ways to kill meaning at work is to micromanage employees. Employees will struggle to connect their work and its impact on personal, team and company outcomes if everything they do is controlled by the boss. In contrast, employees who feel they have autonomy find more meaning in their work. When they choose how to accomplish goals (or at least have a strong opinion in how it’s done), they’re more likely to reach those goals and see the positive impact they’ve made.
For you: Where possible, work with employees at “job-crafting” – customizing their jobs so they’re doing more of what they love and excel at and less of what kills meaning. Then show you trust them by checking on progress, and encouraging them toward the goal, without dictating how they get there.
4. Hire well
Employees are more likely to find meaning in work that fits their values. And you’ll likely give employees meaningful work if they fit into your culture. That doesn’t mean you want to hire clones to build or maintain an established culture. In fact, you don’t want to do that at all. You want varying personalities, skills and opinions to fill your team. But you want to make sure employees’ core needs, motives and goals are aligned with your company’s.
For you: Researchers say leaders are usually better off skipping the best candidate for someone who is less qualified but is a good fit. “Values function like an inner compass or lens through which we assign meaning to the world,” Garrad and Chamorro-Premuzic say. If you pay attention to how a candidate’s values align with your company’s, you will more likely hire people who find it easier to connect with colleagues and the overall goals.
Researchers note that the four behaviors need to balance each other. A boss who is relentless and doesn’t trust can hurt morale. Meanwhile, a boss who’s curious and trusting, but not relentless, might seem like a pushover.
Making work meaningful will be a balancing act for women in leadership. So you’ll want to balance each behavior so employees thrive within your environment.