How to Make Meaning That Matters at Work

November 14, 2023

When you step into your workplace, the significance of your actions and their impact on the wider world is not just a matter of personal fulfillment but also an important component of your professional efficacy. Research indicates that employees who perceive their work as meaningful exhibit increased levels of happiness, productivity, and resilience in the face of challenges. This concept of ‘mattering’ is pivotal for both workers and the organizations they are part of.

The study published in the “Journal of Vocational Behavior,” showed that employees who find their work meaningful are more likely to be engaged and satisfied with their jobs. This is significant because engagement is a key predictor of productivity and turnover intention (Steger, M. F., et al., 2012). So when you understand how your daily tasks contribute to a larger purpose, you not only feel valued but are more inclined to invest your best efforts into the job. This is also known as a “sense of belonging”.

The ability to integrate your daily tasks into a kind of narrative where your contributions are seen as significant can profoundly influence your well-being. A narrative of mattering helps you to see the impact of your labor, not as disjointed tasks, but as vital pieces of a larger puzzle. According to research in “The Academy of Management Review,” such narratives can foster a sense of identity and purpose, which are essential for psychological well-being (Rosso, B. D., et al., 2010).

Leadership plays a critical role in cultivating a culture where ‘mattering’ is at the forefront. By integrating these concepts into feedback processes with employees and company culture, leaders can magnify their impact. For instance, a study in the “Leadership Quarterly” suggests that transformational leadership, which includes providing inspirational motivation, is positively related to the meaning employees find in their work (Shamir, B., et al., 1993). Therefore, as a leader, when you articulate how individual roles are integral to the company’s mission, you enable employees to connect their tasks to a grand vision.

Practical steps to create meaning include:

  1. Recognition and Connection: Recognize contributions explicitly and show how they connect to the organization’s goals. This practice is supported by a study in “Organizational Dynamics,” which found that recognition programs aligned with company values can increase employee engagement (Gallup, 2016). It takes very little time to provide recognition. Connecting many times is more important than connecting for a lot of time.
  2. Autonomy and Agency: Offer employees autonomy in their roles, allowing them to find personal resonance with their work. The “Journal of Management” asserts that job autonomy is a significant predictor of job satisfaction (Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R., 1976). Granting autonomy is also a sign of trust and can improve the relationship between employees and leaders.
  3. Feedback and Growth: Provide feedback that not only focuses on areas of improvement but also on how the work contributes to a larger impact, aligning with research from the “Personnel Psychology” journal indicating that such feedback can enhance work engagement (Zhou, Y., et al., 2015). One important point about feedback is to make sure that it is precise.  General statements of success are less impactful than specific accomplishments and steps towards that success, which allow the employees to see what was involved in the outcome.

Making meaning in the workplace is not a passive experience; it is an active, ongoing process that requires thoughtful leadership and a company culture attuned to the human need for purpose. The research is clear: when you perceive your work as mattering, the benefits extend beyond personal well-being, fostering a thriving and resilient workforce.


  • Steger, M. F., et al. (2012). The Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI): Assessing the presence of and search for meaning in life. Journal of Vocational Behavior.
  • Rosso, B. D., et al. (2010). On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review. The Academy of Management Review.
  • Shamir, B., et al. (1993). The motivational effects of charismatic leadership: A self-concept based theory. Leadership Quarterly.
  • Gallup. (2016). How Employee Recognition Programmes Improve Retention. Organizational Dynamics.
  • Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Journal of Management.
  • Zhou, Y., et al. (2015). When is feedback more important? The role of perceived organizational support in the feedback-performance relationship. Personnel Psychology.


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