Meaningful work can help retain 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.

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