When employees experience meaningful moments, connections form, creating a mini-culture that flows into and impacts the larger workplace community. But how and where do these connections occur? And what’s the business value of focusing on relationships?
This article will guide you through research-backed tips and strategies to help you cultivate satisfaction, connections, growth, and positive experiences within your workforce.
We survey more than 700 employees globally to find answers to these questions and give employers a roadmap to more meaningful moments of connection.
What did we learn? Close to 40% of employees don’t feel seen and valued as significant contributors to their organization. Another 20% don’t trust their co-workers.
But it’s not all bleak. Based on our research, we offer 10 tips for stitching those meaningful moments of connection back together and building a thriving culture.
Human beings are wired to be social. We are driven by deep motivations to stay connected with friends and family. We are naturally curious about what is going on in other people’s minds. And our identities are largely formed by the values lent to us by the groups we call our own.
The workplace is no different. Employees’ identities in the workplace are influenced to a great degree by the values they share with their co-workers and leaders. Their connections with others in the workplace form the bedrock of purpose and meaning.
To understand what meaningful moments at work look like, it’s crucial to examine the dynamics and quality of employees’ relationships with their peers and leaders. Meaningful moments in the workplace are defined by emotionally charged events in employees’ professional lives. Most often, these events are shared experiences with colleagues or managers. So, in a sense, meaningful moments at work are underscored by human connection.
We survey over 700 people across the globe and found that regardless of who you are or where you live, we all want our work to matter. But it’s the connections that matter most.
In this article, we will define “meaningful moments at work,” and guide you through research-backed tips and strategies to help you cultivate satisfaction, connections, growth, and positive experiences within your workforce
Ask many business leaders what makes employees happy, and the answer will be along the lines of salary, perks, and benefits. Some leaders will lean into a more holistic view of employee life, and some among them will understand the business advantage that gives them.
Following the pandemic, employees are looking for meaningful work that gives them a sense of purpose. According to recent research by PwC, finding a fulfilling job is the top reason an employee would consider a change in their work environment. Other factors include feeling they can be their authentic self at work, fair financial rewards, being cared for by their team, and being heard by their manager. In addition, meaningful work has the biggest impact on job satisfaction.
How do you define meaningful work? What helps employees find meaning at work?
As it turns out, the magic is in the moments. Meaningful work is an amalgamation of various significant moments across an employee’s journey at work. Meaningful moments are experiences that employees share with their co-workers, managers, and leaders in the workplace.
Employees are looking for meaningful work that gives them a sense of purpose.
Why: This report aims to define the most meaningful moments at work for employees, explore the role human connection plays in these moments, and uncover where they occur in the employee journey.
How: People in various stages of their employee journeys were polled to identify what meaningful moments at work look like, what role human connections play in those meaningful moments, and when they occur.
What: Poll findings will help us develop a structured narrative of how employers can design interventions that lead to meaningful moments and stronger connections in their employees’ professional lives.
It’s easy to listen to a piece of music and appreciate it. A little bit harder to hum along in tune. And challenging to be a conductor – let alone composer. If that’s your goal, here’s what to listen for:
What Employees Want
Understanding the concept of meaning at work requires careful examination of what employees perceive as meaningful and how social connections impact these moments. This isn’t some fuzzy-feely thing, either. There’s business value in these moments: Research supports that employees who find their work meaningful are more productive.
But what encourages them to be more productive at work? In other words, what helps employees fulfill their work responsibilities regularly at their workplace?
What empowers you to be the most productive at the workplace?
- 43% Being supported by managers and peers
- 28% Rewards and recognition
- 14% Strong connections with co-workers and leaders
- 14% Flexible work hours
Connections clearly matter – they help to create shared meaning. Multiple notes that form a chord.
There are two aspects to meaning – personal and shared. For organizations, both are important.
Personal meaning is defined by an individual’s values, beliefs, and actions. Employees who find their work meaningful will be more engaged, productive, and happy. When people with similar or complementary values and goals come together, they develop shared meaning. Companies can promote meaning-making by cultivating relationships and shared experiences and facilitating growth.
Why Meaning Is Personal: Belongingness and Personal Values
How meaningful is your work to you?
Humans find connection and identity in their work. Findings suggest that many employees find their work meaningful to some degree.
Over 90% polled say their work is meaningful. For 64.3% of these, their work is “very meaningful” to them; for 27.4% of respondents, it is “sort of meaningful,” and for the remaining 8.3%, it is neutral. That means at least one-quarter of employees feel a bit out of tune.
- “My work is meaningful”: 90%
- “I feel valued”: 40%
- “I can learn, grow, and thrive”: 60%
Do you feel seen and valued by leaders as a significant contributor to your organization?
When employees feel seen and heard, they feel valued within the organization. While a majority of employees (45%) say they feel seen and valued as significant contributors, a close 40% do not feel the same way. Almost 14% of employees are not sure about this.
- 45% “I feel valued”
- 40% “I don’t feel valued”
- 14% “I’m not sure”
These numbers are concerning for employee outcomes like engagement and retention. Often managers and leaders are unaware of how to support their employees. The report’s last section discusses some tips to help managers and leaders support their teams more effectively.
Are you given enough incentives and opportunities to help you learn, grow, and thrive?
Lack of learning and growth opportunities was one of the top reasons employees quit during the Great Resignation. Feeling that you are on stage doing solo after solo with no support starts to feel flat. Incentives and learning opportunities help employees chart their own career paths — an excellent opportunity to find meaning in work.
- “I can learn, grow, and thrive”: 60%
- “I don’t have opportunities to grow”: 29%
- “I’m unsure”: 12%
Sixty percent of employees agree that they have enough incentives and opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive, while 29% of people feel otherwise, and 11.7% are unsure.
Incentives and learning opportunities are an excellent way to find meaning in work.
Meaning Is Shared: Fostering Workplace Connections
For all the meaning employees may find in their work, interpersonal connections at the workplace are the differentiating factor for employee outcomes like performance, satisfaction, and retention. Almost 95% of employees report that they are more productive when they feel connected to their colleagues, and employees who felt connected were more than 4x as likely to say they were very satisfied with their jobs and half as likely to leave within the next 12 months.
How important are strong connections with co-workers and leaders for you?
The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the significance of workplace connections and relationships. Remote and hybrid work structures have businesses on their toes to devise novel ideas to encourage camaraderie and teamwork. With these work trends here to stay, leaders worry that younger workers will miss out on the “largest career-learning cycle” in their work life due to remote and hybrid work.
But for a majority of the respondents (93%), strong connections with co-workers and leaders are important. Looking closely, 76% of employees term strong workplace connections as “very important”.
Do you feel you can trust and collaborate with your co-workers in your work environment?
Trust between co-workers allows for enhanced cohesion, communication, and collaboration within the organization. A trusting work environment increases engagement while reducing interpersonal friction.
Most employees (65%) feel they can trust and collaborate with their co-workers. However, nearly 20% feel otherwise, and almost 15% of the individuals are not sure if they can trust their co-workers.
While the majority responded favorably, companies should scrutinize the organizational culture and identify factors impeding trust.
Does your organization’s purpose align with your beliefs?
Since the pandemic, employees have become more “belief-driven” — prioritizing personal values and social impact and seeking better personalorganizational value fit. It’s a welcome change for many, and shows real business ROI. Employees who feel more aligned with company values are more likely to stay on the job.
- 80% “My beliefs are aligned with the company values”
- 8.6% “I feel a dissonance between my beliefs and the company purpose”
- 10.9% “I’m not sure”
Employees who feel more aligned with company values are more likely to stay on the job.
Our findings show 80% of the employees feel that their organization’s purpose is aligned with their own beliefs. While 8.6% of employees feel a dissonance between personal beliefs and organizational purpose, 10.9% are unsure.
Value misalignment has real business costs when it comes to hiring as well as retention. Glassdoor conducted a survey of 5,000 adults in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany. They discovered over 50% of respondents felt a company’s culture was “more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.” An even greater majority, 79%, said they’d examine a company’s mission and purpose prior to even applying.
Do you feel a sense of connection or belonging in your organization?
A sense of belongingness is defined as the experience of being seen, heard, and welcomed as you are. According to a recent Ipsos study, most Americans believe that a sense of belonging is about being treated fairly and respectfully and that belonging leads to higher productivity at work.
You can think of a sense of belonging as feeling confident that you can bring your authentic self to work. Along with recognition for accomplishments, employees rank being able to be themselves as critical to their happiness at work. Let them whistle while they work, in other words. Allowing this can have positive effects.
A major study published by Daniel M. Cable of the London Business School, Harvard Professor Francesca Gino, and UNC’s Brad Staats, compared personal identity with organizational identity in employment relationships. According to the results, customers were more satisfied with employees who have been given freedom to work in their own way; i.e. the employee-centric orientation.
The good news is that in our survey the majority of respondents (72.9%) agreed they feel connected and belong in their organization. Nearly 16% said they do not feel a sense of belonging, while 10.5% of employees are unsure about it. The bad news is that a significant number is at best disengaged, if not already on their way out the door.
- “I feel connected and belong”: 73%
- “I don’t feel a sense of belonging”: 16%
- “I’m unsure”: 10%
For individuals who prioritize workplace relationships, factors like trust, collaboration, and belongingness go hand in hand. Knowing you can rely on your peers to get the job done right and on time allows you to focus on your role in the workplace.
Belongingness is a prerequisite for high performance. If employees don’t feel a sense of belongingness, they are more likely to feel insecure about their place within the organization and experience hesitation to bring their authentic selves at work. And that insecurity chips away at their creativity, ability, and willingness to collaborate.
If workers feel like they belong, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. A recent study from Harvard Business Review found “high belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.”
If employees don’t feel a sense of belongingness, they are more likely to feel insecure about their place within the organization.
How to Create Meaningful Moments of Connection
Prioritizing meaning helps organizations create workplaces that connect employee and organizational values and purpose.
Let’s look at some ways to cultivate meaningful moments at work.
How Managers and Leaders Can Support Employees
Researchers and talent leaders have likened the modern workforce with tribes: groups of people who feel emotionally connected and share a common objective that is good for the community. In a lot of ways, organizations today mirror a similar mindset. Where they differ is purpose.
While tribes of the past were formed due to homogeneity, or sameness, tribes today are often based on overlapping interests or purpose. Thanks to technology, people can today be part of multiple tribes — be involved with different activities or groups they share purpose with. For instance, you could be an accountant by day but help with the local history conservation group over the weekend.
So, how can managers support their employees and tap into their tribal senses of identity and meaning?
What does support mean to them?
Asking employees how they want to be supported allows managers to assess if their actions align with the employees’ needs. Every employee feels motivated and supported in different ways. Ask employees:
- In what ways do you feel supported and motivated?
- How do you prefer to receive feedback?
- What do you need to thrive at work?
- Is your manager’s response addressing your needs?
At the same time, it might help managers to reflect on these questions:
- How are you showing up for your employees?
- Are your responses aligned to your employees’ needs?
- What are some actions that depict support the best?
- What needs to be changed to support your teams better?
When asked for commentary on what gives them meaning in the workplace, respondents pointed to being recognized for their accomplishments. As one told us: “It’s good to get a raise, but it’s an amazing feeling when your manager talks about your work in front of other people.”
Communicate feedback often
Supportive managers frequently interact with their teams to listen to grievances, communicate feedback, and provide guidance. Reflecting on how to support your employees better is of no use if it is never put into practice. Lack of transparency is among the top three reasons employees feel disconnected at work.
The reality is: Employees want feedback. According to recent research, people consistently underestimate others’ desire to receive feedback and refrain from sharing constructive feedback. Providing timely and constructive feedback benefits everyone in the workplace. Just remember that constructive feedback should come from a place of caring — be mindful of the employee’s feelings and mind space.
“I don’t mind hearing bad news or how I could have done things better. That just helps me get better at my job. What I don’t like is when I think my work is solid all year only to discover that my boss wasn’t happy with it during my annual review,” said one survey respondent.
Gallup’s survey suggests that timely feedback is effective, and employees who receive feedback regularly are more engaged. In addition, managers can use feedback to create a development-focused culture.
Constructive feedback should come from a place of caring — be mindful of the employee’s feelings.
Look Beyond Work
No two people feel the same way about causes and purpose. While we may all be working towards a shared goal, we also have interests and passions outside the world of work.
Successful leaders will understand that everyone brings their own unique identities to work — and it will mean offering a flexible structure that allows employees to bring interests outside of work into the company.
Often, supporting employees means adopting a holistic perspective of an individual and acknowledging things that are important to them outside of work, from competing in triathlons to social causes they feel strongly about. Recent trends suggest that employees want to bring their multidimensional selves to work and are happy to look for organizations that value them.
Having a candid conversation with your employees will provide you with a much better understanding of their work as well as aspirational identities. This helps you identify growth opportunities for them and collaborate for larger organizational goals.
Successful leaders understand that everyone brings their own unique identities to work.
PRIORITIZE Employee Well-being
Employee burnout is a rising concern for businesses worldwide. In a survey by McKinsey, almost half of the employees reported being at least somewhat burned out.
To foster a healthy culture, many organizations have turned to health perks and free mental health support for employees. Gamification and incentivization of healthy habits has proven to be effective for organizations. In addition to conventional well-being support, it is important that leaders also look at financial well-being.
COVID-19 and the resulting economic volatility has taken a toll on everyone, and providing employees with resources and education that help plan a financially secure future is as important as encouraging them to get physically healthy. Hardship advances, extended paid leaves, and other monetary benefits are some popular ways leading organizations are supporting employees.
CREATING Connections Across Teams
For leaders and managers, it is vital to create an environment where employees feel supported and heard. However, a report found that half of managers were struggling to provide enough human connection for their teams.
Organizations looking to empower their leaders to forge stronger connections with employees must offer resources like coaching, leadership development, and tools like instant messengers and collaboration software. In addition, codifying communication norms — meetings that should be in-person, calls with videos on or off, situations where the team must co-locate to celebrate success, etc. — goes a long way in humanizing workplace relationships.
Developing Shared Purpose and Goals
Shared goals and purpose can be defined as the collective mission of the employees and the organization. Having shared goals allows employees, managers, and leaders to coordinate their efforts toward mutual benefit. Strong shared goals and purpose promote cooperation and collaboration, while the lack thereof leads to chaos. When employees have common experiences governed by similar struggles, shared identity, and mutual respect, they can develop shared goals.
As with any other group, a shared sense of identity, goals, and purpose leads to improved higher engagement and improved organizational outcomes. McKinsey’s research study from the pandemic revealed that people who were “living their purpose” at work reported five times higher well-being levels than those who weren’t. The former group was also four times more likely to show higher engagement. The same study also found that 70% of the employees said that work defines their sense of purpose, indicating that leaders can help employees “find their purpose and live it.”
While employees and employers assess for goal alignment during the hiring stage, shared goals can be created through mutual interactions over time. So how do organizations do that?
DEMONSTRATE Organizational Purpose
The organizational purpose is the north star — motivating, leading, and empowering the company toward its highest potential and goals. It is what binds the entire organization together. Clearly defining a purpose can push the company forward.
One of the most important ways to demonstrate organizational purpose is via leaders. According to Ernst & Young, purpose begins at the top. So, actively involved leadership is a powerful way to convey the organizational purpose across all levels.
ALIGN People to Purpose
As identified by Ernst & Young, engaging employees in your purpose journey is the second pillar in activating the organizational purpose. Helping employees identify what is meaningful for them and then connecting it to organizational purpose helps demonstrate purpose at all levels of the organization.
Since personal purpose is so intrinsically connected to the organization, helping people stay true to their purpose is crucial to the process. McKinsey highlights “purpose blockers” and “purpose activators” that can help employees realize their purpose. Micromanaging at work is a purpose blocker, while allowing employees to work independently is a purpose activator.
Moreover, the pandemic caused employees to reflect and evaluate their priorities, including their expectations from work. Gartner reported that 65% said the pandemic had made them rethink the place work should have in their life, while 56% said it made them want to contribute more to society.
Based on these insights, providing opportunities where they can live their purpose will bring them closer to organizational purpose.
CULTURE of Authenticity
As a business, you can come up with many plans and strategies to promote “purpose” and “meaning” for employees. Yet, relying on half-baked efforts like “Dial for Dollars” competitions aimed at achieving numbers and “Free Dress Fridays” to convey an employee-friendly work environment can only take you so far. People will recognize a lack of authenticity — it will sound discordant. Avoid making this an “HR project.” Executives need to be seen as deeply involved and excited about the mission.
When talking about purpose and meaning, authenticity is a central tenet. Authentically creating shared goals and purpose often involves practicing what you preach. Inauthenticity will cause employees to feel disconnected, furthering the silos between organizational and individual goals and values.
Meaningful connection at work comprises many smaller moments, like fruitful interactions with one’s colleagues, contributing to the organization’s goals, or feeling valued at work. We believe that shared experiences and human connection determine meaningful moments in the workplace. Individuals across stages in their employee journey were polled to identify the most meaningful moments in their professional life and where they occur in their journey.
Support from managers and peers and recognition and reward for performance were the top factors that empower employees to be productive.
Findings from this survey are somewhat promising, in that many employees report that they feel seen and valued by leaders and have incentives and opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. In addition, these employees find their work “very meaningful,” feel a sense of belongingness and connection to the organization, and think their organization has a purpose aligned with their beliefs.
That said, a significant number aren’t feeling the music as much. In a tight labor market, the costs of not addressing that gap are very real.
The businesses that will thrive in the midst of economic uncertainty are prioritizing meaningful connection. They create safe spaces for employees to share, learn, and grow, building organizational resilience and productivity.