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Work with meaning - Meaningful Work

22/06/2021 2021/06

What has long been the subject of studies and research in the academic world now seems to be finding its way more and more into the everyday working lives of companies and their employees. Work - this should no longer be just performance in exchange for money, but rather something that has a meaning and that, in the best case, enables personal development and growth.

In times of a shortage of skilled workers and demographic change, this idea seems more relevant than ever. Applicants enter the application process with clear expectations and goals. One euro more or less is no longer the only factor here. As experts for HR services, we are noticing more and more frequently that vacation days, home office options, working environment and culture are becoming increasingly important in order to be considered an attractive employer.

From willingness and ability - needs and opportunities

With regard to meaningful work concepts, three levels need to be considered. First: What do members of an organization want? As an employee in a company, you always have expectations about how your everyday work is structured. In the meantime, these expectations are often based on something that could be described as a need for meaningfulness. Whether it is appreciative communication, a functioning error culture or simply the definition of a common goal that one would like to achieve as a team. All of this helps not only to work through the daily activities, but also to recognize why one does something and, above all, with what purpose. If this goal is then also realistically achievable and contributes to progress personally, as an organization and in collaboration with external partners, this can already be a big step towards meaningful work.

However, there is no general secret recipe. Because every organization is different. The decisive factors from the employees' point of view are generally, the design of the work environment, the benefit of the activity for society and a subjective level of experience. This makes it clear that meaningful work cannot be transferred across the board as a concept from one company to another. The individual members of the organization come into play at the latest when it comes to subjective experience.

This leads to the second level of conceptualization of meaningful work: Who elaborates it? In many other areas of a company's strategic orientation, the focus quickly shifts to the management level. However, when considering meaningful work, the focus should be much more on the entire organization and its inner workings. Do you work in a traditional company in a rural area or in a hip start-up in Berlin Mitte? The needs of employees are likely to differ significantly in some cases. That's why it's important to bring them along and actively involve them in work design - to create project teams that are diverse and reflect the entire spectrum of the company. Surveys of all colleagues can also help to get a picture of what is wanted and needed. 

From willingness and ability - needs and opportunities
With regard to meaningful work concepts, there are three levels to consider. © Tom Unger
With regard to meaningful work concepts, there are three levels to consider. © Tom Unger

ARTS - Meaningful in theory and practice

We at ARTS are not exempt from this either. Regardless of all the knowledge we have already gained, this year we are supporting a student research team from Chemnitz University of Technology as a practical partner. The aim of their project is to determine what needs employees have here at ARTS and how these can be taken into account in everyday work.

At this point, the third level of the concept becomes apparent: What are companies capable of achieving? Depending on regional, industry-related or financial factors, not all companies can take the same measures. There are limitations, which ensure that the needs of the employees must be matched with the possibilities of the company. The aim here is to create as large an overlap as possible.

Numerous studies prove that this is worthwhile. Those who are more satisfied deliver better work results. Those who are dissatisfied leave the company sooner or later. And also in general: awareness of the meaning of a job is growing. However, decision-makers in companies should not be afraid of this. Many measures can be developed quickly and implemented cost-effectively. 

Many things also start directly with ourselves. Open communication, admitting and allowing mistakes, consideration for others. We should not let this get lost in the (sometimes stressful) daily work routine. It is often more important than the quiet room or the fruit basket at the reception. Because regardless of the corporate context and opportunities: Whether work can also be fun or not, that also depends on the togetherness. 

Meaningful - not a snapshot

So how do you proceed if meaningful work is to play a role in the company? First of all, it is important to establish what already exists. What is being done from the employer side to do more than "work to make money." Then it is necessary to determine what should be. What do employees want? What is often forgotten here: This also includes managers and board members. After all, if work is to be meaningful, it must be meaningful for everyone. Finally, what can be done is recorded. The actual-target-can comparison can then result in a classic catalog of measures. This can include both interpersonal and objective factors. The important thing is that this analysis should not remain a snapshot. When employees leave the company and new ones join, their needs may be completely different. 

Therefore, readjustments and corrections are expressly permitted. In agile work environments, work concepts cannot be static either. However, this is certainly the second step. The first is to realize now that meaningful work can advance companies and affects us all. We would be happy to support you in planning and conception at this point. And as always, the best time to act is now!

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