Meaningful work can help retain good employees

olive garden server

GAVIN AVERILL/AJC SPECIAL

HR Roundtable panelist Michael Haberman discusses the benefits of meaningful work when it comes to retaining good employees:

Despite the large number of people that have been laid-off in the last 6 months or so there are companies that are still concerned about employee commitment. Not all employers think they have a captive group because of the economy. Talented people still leave jobs and find new ones. And in many cases companies are relying even more heavily on these talented people for the continued success of the company. So they search for ways to retain this talent.

Consultant and blogger Cathy Missildine-Martin asked, in a blog post at Profitability Through Human Capital, the following question: “What do our employees commit to at work?” She answered the question with the following:

1) They can commit to the organization.
2) They can commit to the team they are on.
3) They can make commitments to co-workers and bosses.
4) They can be committed to all, some or none of the above.

I think a fifth option can be added. I think employees commit to their work, IF (and this is a big IF) they see their work as being meaningful. In a recent article on the Olive Garden in Fast Company Magazine, David Pickens, the president of Olive Garden, talked about meaningful work. He said, “It’s very difficult for the experience of the guests to exceed the experience of the staff. We put the two together.” The article further stated, “Employees need to believe that serving meals and cleaning tables and cooking pasta in a hot kitchen is meaningful.”

The literature on Employee Involvement talks about various job designs that are used to encourage employee involvement (a.k.a. commitment). These designs include skill variety, task identity, autonomy, feedback, job enlargement, job enrichment AND TASK SIGNIFICANCE. Task significance means the job is meaningful. Thus, as an employer if you want your employees to be more committed, to provide a better product or better service, then help them understand how their job is meaningful. Where do they fit into the scheme of the success of the company? If you don’t help them understand this you run the risk of losing them to something they find more meaningful.

If you are an employee who does not find your work meaningful then you have a couple of choices. You can figure out what is meaningful to you and seek out work in that field. Or you can try to determine what is meaningful in the job you do. Back to our Olive Garden example. You can ask the question, “Is waiting on tables really all that meaningful?” Well, they keep a leather bound book of letters from customers who relate what a wonderful dining experience they had on a special occasion in their lives and how grateful they are to Olive Garden for providing that experience and they read those letters at meetings with employees. They point out that making people smile, making people happy, making people pleased is meaningful. And I agree. So find out what makes your work meaningful and you will also be a happier, more satisfied, more committed person.

For employers, what have you done at your place of business to ensure staff that their work is meaningful? For employees, is meaningful work important to you, or are you just trying to pay the bills?

5 comments Add your comment

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MAPULE MTHETHWA

September 9th, 2009
10:38 pm

How can HR menangers help to retain staff.

Cherise Hemmings

August 11th, 2009
8:37 pm

Meaningful work is important to talented employees especially those who possess tacit knowledge (non-verbalized, intuitive, and unarticulated). These employees should be challenged daily to not only remain committed to their job, team, organization, and community of practice but to contribute new ideas, knowledge, concepts, and theories.

What are the attributes of meaningful work? Does in include task identify, autonomy, work/job design, high-performance, intrinsic rewards, etc…?

Cathy Missildine-Martin

July 23rd, 2009
2:21 pm

Thanks Mike for keeping my list going. I agree, commitment to your work is definitely #5. I also agree that companies are relying heavy on top talent right now. So, the connection to meaningful work is so hard to do. How do you think managers and HR professionals can commuicate to employees the value of their job in the overall scheme?