Leadership: Making Work Meaningful for your Employees

Learn How to Keep Your Employees Motivated

Do your employees have meaningful jobs? A recent Los Angeles Times article reported on several studies that looked at the concept of “meaning” in work.

In one study, subjects were paid to build Lego models. They were paid the most for the first model, then a decreasing amount for each model after that. Half the subjects got to watch their models accumulate on the table, while the other half had their models torn apart as soon as each was finished. Subjects could choose to stop whenever they decided.

The first group—who could see the fruits of their labors—was willing to keep working even when their pay was cut in half. However, those whose task was made “meaningless” by having their work destroyed required 40 percent higher pay to keep going.

Another study found a similar result: When subjects put in an effort but either weren’t allowed to complete their tasks or got no result from them, they weren’t nearly as happy as if their efforts had been completed or had positive results.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan of the University of Rochester have researched motivation for years and developed what they dubbed the self-determination theory. Successful workplaces, the theory says, encourage feelings of autonomy, competence and partnership among employees. Of course, the opposite is also true: Businesses that don’t foster such feelings will be less successful.

As entrepreneurs, we wear lots of hats and may do lots of things that are less than meaningful during the course of a day (sending faxes, waiting in an airport, comparing insurance quotes, dealing with telemarketers and shredding documents are a few less-than-meaningful things I did this week). But I think we can all agree that on the whole, our work is meaningful because we get to choose and direct what we do. In fact, if entrepreneurship weren’t meaningful, we’d all be employees.

But many entrepreneurs—and especially women entrepreneurs—are reluctant to delegate key tasks in our businesses. So we burden our staff with busywork, keeping all the “good stuff” to ourselves. Employees don’t get a chance to experience meaningful work, and we don’t get a break from our massive workloads. 

If your workplace isn’t meaningful to your workers, you’re selling them—and your business—short. Think about delegation from this perspective, and it may take on a whole new meaning.

Need help letting go? A mentor from SCORE can advise you. Find one at the SCORE website.

Rieva Lesonsky
<p> Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship. She was formerly Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine and has written several books about small business and entrepreneurship. <br /> <a href="http://www.growbizmedia.com/" target="_blank" title="GrowBizMedia">GrowBizMedia.com</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/rieva" target="_blank" title="Rieva on Twitter">@rieva</a> | <a href="https://www.score.org/author/Rieva-Lesonsky/all-posts" title="blogs by Rieva">More from Rieva</a></p>


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