Only 36% of employees report feeling engaged with their work and workplace.1 Pair this with the recent trend of “quiet quitting,” and this statistic should cause some alarm for managers, leaders and business owners, as engagement has a considerable impact on morale, productivity and retention. Awareness of the problem is an important first step to ultimately taking steps to help employees find meaning at work to improve engagement and satisfaction.
William & Mary Raymond A. Mason School of Business Associate Professor David Long teaches courses on management and organizational behavior. Long says that knowing what your employees are looking for in work is an important aspect of leadership, which is what he teaches his students in the Online MBA program. Long notes that lots of employees are questioning what they do, so it will be up to employers to address meaning at work and to take steps to increase employee satisfaction.
Let’s explore why employee empowerment matters, and tactical ways that employers can help.
Why Does Creating a Meaningful Work Environment Really Matter?
Employee engagement and satisfaction directly tie into employee retention and overall productivity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of quits, which the bureau considers as a measure of an employee’s willingness to voluntarily leave their job, came in at 4.1 million.2 Compare this to the pre-pandemic level of 3.5 million quits in November of 2019.3 These higher rates of employee turnover cause real issues for companies.
When employees voluntarily leave a position, companies can suffer operational inefficiencies, which in turn can have a negative impact on customers. Employees who stay on can experience lower morale and higher burnout due to lack of staffing resources. To fill the positions left open, companies will suffer the cost of recruitment, onboarding and training. These are just some examples of the domino effect that low engagement and morale can have.
Spending the time to learn more about the strategies that help employees feel valued and engaged can have a major positive impact on retention, and in turn, productivity and the overall bottom line.
The Five Elements of Work Satisfaction
Research on what makes jobs meaningful and satisfying points to five elements that can lead employees to greater engagement with what they do.
When employees have more variety in their day-to-day work, they report feeling more satisfied. Employers can switch up work assignments or roles periodically to give employees the chance to build new skills.
2. Task Identity
Employees who see the final product are better able to identify with their work. This is easier for some roles than others. Employers can increase satisfaction by ensuring employees see the final product or result of their work.
Making a positive impact on the lives of others leads to greater job satisfaction. For some roles, the impact is more obvious. Employers can ensure their employees feel valued by helping them see the impact of their work.
The freedom to decide how to do the work is important to job satisfaction. Employers can foster autonomy by outlining specific projects and tasks, but leaving it up to the employee to decide how to get the work done. This is the opposite of micromanagement.
Employers may be surprised to learn that feedback from a work satisfaction standpoint comes from the work itself, and not from 1:1 meetings of annual reviews. Feedback comes from the final product and helps employees determine if they did a good job.
Employers and leaders do not have to worry about championing all five elements right off the bat. Start by looking at one or two elements that the company does well, and lean into those. Long offers the example of a workplace that values autonomy and incorporates it as part of their brand and culture. In this scenario, when someone outside the organization asks what it’s like to work there, employees will praise the freedom they have and note how nobody’s looking over their shoulders. This leads to positive feelings amongst the employees and goes beyond the company to those who might be looking for future employment.
Next, employers should look at what elements they are weakest in and find ways to make improvements. Do employees lack variety in their work? Asking employees for input is key here. Would they like to maybe switch roles? Is there something that the employer can cross train an employee on so they can learn a new skill? These are important questions to ask employees in order to show them that they have a seat at the table and that their input matters.
More Ways to Promote Employee Empowerment
Let’s explore some additional ways to help build a positive workplace culture that will help employees feel like a part of the overall company mission, and that will help them feel like what they do for the company truly matters.
Clear Communication and Expectations
Communication from the top impacts every level of an organization. When employees understand what is expected of them in their day-to-day work and have a firm grasp of what the goals and mission of the company are, they will have a better idea of how their work makes a difference. Employees who are in the dark on goals and outcomes for the company cannot connect overall outcomes back to their own work.
Professional Development and Growth Opportunities
This relates back to “variety” in the elements of work satisfaction listed above. Providing professional development opportunities is a great way to help employees learn and grow in their current role. There are a number of ways employers can offer these growth opportunities, including training programs, mentorships or tuition reimbursement.
Supporting Health and Wellbeing
Work-life balance is essential to preventing employee burnout and boosting morale. Much of the quiet quitting trend relates back to Gen Z finding their own sense of work-life balance as they adjust to being part of the workforce for the first time. Promoting health via mental health resources, mindfulness and relaxation practices, wellness programs and encouraging proper use of time off can all have a positive impact.
Learn More to Help Create Meaningful Work
Go deeper on job satisfaction by watching the video, “Five Strategies to Drive Employee Engagement and Boost Morale.” Hear from Associate Professor David Long as he goes in depth on the importance of creating a more engaged team, extrinsic and intrinsic motivators, the five elements of job satisfaction and building a culture of engagement.
- Retrieved January 11, 2023, from gallup.com/workplace/352949/employee-engagement-holds-steady-first-half-2021.aspx
- Retrieved January 16, 2023, from www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/jolts.pdf
- Retrieved January 16, 2023, from www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/jolts_01172020.pdf