Finding Meaning in Your Job

Posted by Jessica Rohman on February 21 2014

jessicarohman By Jessica Rohman

Connecting people to something larger than themselves is one of the key components of a great workplace. I recently read this article: The #1 Feature of a Meaningless Job, and was interested to learn that “For decades, Americans have ranked purpose as their top priority—above promotions, income, job security, and hours.”

Believe it or not, “Inspiring” is one of the areas Great Place to Work examines in companies striving to make it onto the annual FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For list. This area is just as important to a company’s overall standing as a great place to work as the more commonly-known areas such as employee development, celebrations, benefits, and perks.

It’s this “Inspiring” piece that gives us insight into how all employees, regardless of role, regularly find meaning in their work. And while employees themselves ultimately determine whether or not they make an impact in the world, companies can take action to intentionally connect people to a deeper sense of purpose. 

You may be surprised to learn that companies in industries ranging from retail to technology to finance have managed to instill a deep sense of purpose in employees, regardless of the their role. Here are two lessons we can learn from companies who have done a great job in the “Inspiring” realm of great workplace activity:

1. Connect ALL employees to your company’s mission in action

  W.L. Gore Team Photo

Why does the company exist? What is the overall collective purpose? And, how does this manifest in the outside world? Employees such as financial advisors, nurses, or consultants may feel connected to an organization’s mission because they are on the front lines living it every day. But what about the folks in the “back of the house,” who may not have frequent exposure to the mission in action? 

Many Best Companies find creative ways to keep the company’s impact in front of all employees. At W.L. Gore, the manufacturing company that invented Gore-Tex, key customers are invited to the company’s town hall meetings to talk about their positive experiences for all to hear. And in their medical division, physicians and their patients have been invited to manufacturing plant meetings to share the impact of Gore products on patients' lives.

2. Give the gift of empowerment

Is the organization’s culture one of empowerment, or one that micromanages? At great workplaces, 88% of employees, on average, believe that “Management trusts people to do a good job without watching over their shoulders.” Ultimately, this sense of empowerment allows people to experience a strong connection between their own actions and the end result of their work.

Taking an example from the retail realm, long-time FORTUNE 100 Best Company Nordstrom empowers every salesperson to act as if they are entrepreneurs running their own small businesses. Salespeople are granted liberal decision-making power, are provided with the tools they need to effectively manage their books of business, and are equipped with Nordstrom’s famous “One Rule: Use good judgment in all situations.

As a result, employees have the regular experience of seeing the connection between their decisions and a healthy bottom line, as well as a sense of pride that may more closely approximate that of a small business owner than  a cog in the wheel of a 60,000+ employee retail behemoth.

If you’re looking for a job with meaning, how are employees connected to the purpose of the organization’s work? How are they empowered and given a sense of ownership over their daily responsibilities? Attending to these areas can help connect people across a company to a deeper sense of meaning when they come to work each day.

Jessica Rohman is Senior Content Producer at Great Place to Work.