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Blog Post

Doing Work That Means Something – Contribution and Employee Engagement

Amanda Sollman


This post is the sixth in a series about Tony Robbins' 6 Human Needs. The concept of the 6 Human Needs is one of our "4 Cornerstones" and is taught in every training+coaching program, including The Thriving Leader, Millennial Mastermind and Agribusiness Relationship Mastery Experience. You can learn more about those programs here.

"I want to do something I'm passionate about."

This phrase and others like it have become so overused that they're almost cliche, especially when talking about Millennials and their relationship with work. Do a simple Google search for "How do I find a job I'm passionate about?" and you'll be inundated with blog posts and articles guiding the reader to a career that lights them up for the long haul.

Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't be passionate about the work you do – after all, I think MJST is a prime example of how you can turn what you're passionate about into a full-time job. But I do think we need to look deeper than just superficial "passion" and a momentary flicker of inspiration. What are employees saying when they're talking about their passion?

I believe that, in part, they're looking to contribute – to their team, their organization and society as a whole.

Contribution as a basic human need

A refresher if you're new to this blog series: Renowned personal development expert Tony Robbins writes about six human needs that – after reliable access to food, water, warmth and rest – are critical if we are to feel a sense of personal fulfillment and accomplishment. Those needs include:

  1. Certainty
  2. Variety
  3. Significance
  4. Love and Connection
  5. Growth
  6. Contribution

And we've finally made it to the last one!

Robbins describes Contribution as "the need to give, to help others and to make a difference." Now, Millennials often get dinged by older generations for wanting to do work they're "passionate" about or for wanting their work to "mean something." But the reality is – this is something we all want.

Contribution and employee engagement

If you were to do a quick run around the Internet, you may not find a lot under "contribution and employee engagement." What you will find, however, is a ton of research and opinion about meaningful work – and the impact it has on engagement, retention and work satisfaction.

One organization that took at look at meaningful work is Deloitte Insights, as part of their Talent2020 report. This report focused on "the employee perspective on the talent paradox" following the recession of the late 00s. Based on employee surveys and an analysis of the talent market, Deloitte identified three key challenges, of which one was "Engage employees with meaningful work...or watch them walk out the door."

Now, "meaningful" can be defined in many ways. For Deloitte's purposes, they looked at whether survey respondants felt their companies leverage employee skills effectively, creating a path for progress or allowing for personal challenge. There are other ways to look at it, though, too. For example, as part of the 2017 State of the American Workplace report, Gallup lists "The mission and purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important" as one of the 12 Elements of Engagement. And in our work with Strengthscope, we find that employees who are able to optimize their strengths feel as though they contribute to their organizations in a way that is effective and personallly fulfilling*. 

helping employees Feel Like They're Contributing

So what is your organization doing to help employees feel as though their work is meaningful? Here's a few ideas to get you started:

  • Create opportunities for leadership to vision-cast and communicate the "why" of what you do. Many organizations focus solely on the "how" or "what" of their business. It is the "why," however, that helps your team see the meaning in their role.

  • Ask your employees what their "why" is – in their role and outside of it. Why do they do what they do? What do they care about? What is it about their career path that feels important? Listen and then look for ways to incorporate more activities that trigger those feelings.

  • Check in regularly and ask how effectively each employee feels their skillset is being used. You may uncover new approaches, systems or projects that would make that person feel more useful and fulfilled.

  • Consider taking on corporate initiatives focused on giving or volunteering. Even though the business may be focused on the bottom line, seeing that the company gives back to its community can help employees feel as though they're contributing to something bigger.

  • Listen to your employees' ideas and look for ways to implement them or take them into account when making a decision. There's nothing worse than feeling as though the ideas you share never get used. When your brainchild comes to life, though, it makes you feel as though you matter. 

Having work you find meaningful and feeling as if you're contributing to something bigger than yourself can play a critical role in improving employee engagement. It often starts with leadership, but when a sense of larger meaning trickles through an organization? That's where true magic happens.

Have other suggestions for helping your employees feel a sense of meaning in their work? Leave them in the comments!

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*Mark Jewell Speaking & Training is a Strengthscope Affiliate.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

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