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Finding Meaning and Fulfillment at Work (Part II)

Your Manager's Role


4-Part Mini-Series: Work Fulfillment

As managers, you spend a lot of your time and effort hiring “the best and the brightest.” After all, “people are your most important asset.” People want to come work for your company because you are an “employer of choice.”

So, you hire and onboard top talent. You have high expectations for their performance - they will bring your team to new heights. Naturally, you expect they will be engaged and stay at your organization for a long time (however you define long).

Whose “Job” is it?

Will your newly hired employees perform at their highest levels, remain engaged and stay at your organization for a long time? And, whose responsibility is it for ensuring they find meaning and fulfillment at work - your organization’s? your managers’? your employees’? These are the questions asked in this 3-part series, titled “Whose Job is it Anyway”.

The Impact of Fulfillment: First, let’s consider the impact of ‘fulfillment’ at work. As written in Part I of this 3-part series . . .

Employees Feel Greater Fulfillment at Work When They Believe that . . .

  • Their work makes full use of their strengths

  • They are valued

  • Their contributions are meaningful

  • They make an impact

Greater Feelings of Fulfillment at Work Drive Employees’

  • Level of performance

  • Degree of engagement (discretionary effort)

  • Length of stay at organization

Surely, the impact on your organization is great, regardless of whose responsibility it is. Facebook found that two-thirds of those surveyed who said they have meaningful work reported they are less likely to leave their organization within 6 months. These employees were also more likely to stay with their organizations for about 7 more months than those who did not have meaningful work.

Facebook's research found that two-thirds of those surveyed who said they have meaningful work, reported they are less likely to leave their organization within 6 months. They were also more likely to stay with their organization for about 7 months more than those who did not have meaningful work. In addition, those with meaningful work were found to spend 1 more hour working each week and take 2 less paid leave days each year. Do the math for your organization to see how much your organization would save!

It’s Not Just Your Organization’s Role: While an organization’s culture and processes play an important role in supporting its employees’ journeys towards fulfillment, it is not just your organization’s job. Your managers interact directly with their employees and, therefore, should be able to have the most immediate impact on their level of fulfillment. Your employees are “in the trenches,” performing their jobs (i.e., demonstrating their strengths) each and every day. They have gained knowledge about what is going on in those trenches and may have valuable input, unique perspectives and meaningful feedback to contribute. Why would managers not take advantage of this opportunity that stands right before them? After all, it would benefit the team’s overall contribution, while also nurturing your employees’ feelings of fulfillment. Ensuring that your employees believe their strengths are being utilized, that they are valued, and that they are making meaningful contributions are, in large part, the job of your managers.

What Can You Do as a Manager?

As managers, you define what you want your employees to achieve (their goals), which are aligned with the objectives of your team, department and organization. Both the professional relationships you build with your employees and the type of work environment you create will affect the degree of fulfillment felt by your employees. And, because we now know that the factors that foster fulfillment impact productivity, engagement and retention, it is easy to understand how directly managers can and should participate in supporting their employees’ search for meaning and fulfillment at work. It will benefit them, and it will benefit you!

Consider some of the following ways you can play your part in fostering your employees’ journey towards fulfillment:

Get to know your employees. Find out what motivates them. Do they feel valued? What does meaningful work look like to them, and do they believe they are receiving it? These are all good pieces of information for you to have, as you then know your starting point. This does not mean you can or will be able to give them everything they need to feel fulfilled. They may already have more of it than they even realize! In fact, all they may need is a better understanding of the context in which they work, such as how what they’re doing fits into the bigger picture of where the business is headed strategically. Conversations like this help build you build strong relationships with your employees. They will work to better align you with your employees, and provide you with a new baseline upon which to determine how best to support them in their quest for more meaning and fulfillment. You’d surely rather know before they quit when there is still time to address the issue(s), rather than after they quit when it’s too late.

Include a ‘Fulfillment’ Conversation in your Performance Review Discussions. Some organizations integrate work into the performance review process a conversation about how their employees are feeling overall about. In the past, I’ve woven it into a quarterly review process, naming it “Career and Wellbeing,” as it provided space for an open dialogue about the employees’ level of motivation and fulfillment, along with discussions of short and longer-term career goals and aspirations. In some respects, the conversation resembled a ‘stay’ conversation. Surprisingly, managers and leaders spent more time on this portion of the performance review than they themselves had anticipated, and reported that their working relationship strengthened as a result.

Even if a ‘fulfillment conversation’ is not a formal part of your organizations’ performance review process, there is nothing stopping you from initiating this conversation on your own when you conduct performance review discussions. A ‘fulfillment’ conversation could serve as a nice segue into the development discussion.

Recognize Achievements in a Meaningful Way. Some organizations create a culture of recognition. Even without an organization-wide recognition culture or program, as a manager, make it a part of your job to understand how each of your employees like to be recognized for a job well done – public vs. private, formal vs. informal. Everyone is not motivated in the same way. If you recognize your employees in a way that is meaningful to them, they are more likely to continue their great work and stay engaged. Find out what’s important to them, and then recognize them!

Provide Meaningful Professional Development Opportunities. Research shows that when interviewing for jobs, the most important factor to millennials is the degree to which organizations provide learning and development opportunities. Some organizations build a learning culture to better attract, engage and retain top talent. However, a survey by Gallup reported that only 39% of respondents said they received development in the 30 days prior to completing the survey, and less than 50% indicated they received development during the year prior to taking the survey. Finally, for those who did have a learning and development experience, only one-third indicated it was worth their time.

As managers, you are able to shape the development of each of your employees. Work closely with each of them to carefully identify the most effective forms of learning experiences for each of their development areas. There are many ways to develop (e.g., formal vs informal, internal vs external, classroom vs. online vs. experiential (projects, teams)) and many factors to consider (e.g., time commitment, cost) when creating development action plans. Be creative. By focusing on your employees’ development, you will have a huge impact on your employees’ level of fulfillment and, therefore, on how well they perform their jobs, how committed they are and how long they stay with your organization.

Have Recurring One-on-One Meetings. No doubt, this is something you have heard over and over. One-on-one meetings with each of your employees shouldn’t be a chore or a check-the-box activity. Managers who have one-on-one meetings often use them solely for status updates, focusing on tasks, deadlines, goals, and revenues. While these updates are important, there are other things that are equally, if not more, important. (There are also other tools you can use for providing status updates.) Take advantage of the opportunity to congratulate your employees on how they successfully demonstrated their strengths and/or made a meaningful contribution. Ask your employees if they are facing any challenges and how you can help. Ask them how they are doing overall. You may find out some things you didn’t already know.

Schedule a weekly recurring meeting with each of your team members. You can always cancel if neither of you has anything new to discuss. I recommend face-to-face meetings, using video technology (e.g., Skype, Zoom) if you are not co-located. Building working relationships takes time, effort and face-to-face interactions. Keep the video on.

Conduct Regular Team Meetings. Team meetings allow for a more strategic and holistic conversation with your employees, allowing them to understand how their contributions are meaningful and make a difference. Connections can be made across the team members’ projects, to the overall objectives of the team, as well as to the strategic goals of the organization. This will not only enhance the impact your team can make, but may also result in greater fulfillment for your employees. Building a community within your team can yield a more fulfilling work environment in and of itself.

Reinforce Knowledge Sharing. Show your employees you value the knowledge they bring to the table. After all, you hired them for a reason (e.g., to fill a void in an area of expertise that neither you nor anyone on your team had themselves.) Even without that, they often have more knowledge than you because they are “in the trenches,” closer to the source or situation, so they have an invaluable, first-hand perspective to offer. Invite your knowledge experts to present their ideas, solutions and feedback when discussing this situation. Encourage them to conduct a lunch and learn or teach the rest of your team something relevant during your next team meeting. Position them on cross-functional teams where their expertise will be needed. Continue to find opportunities to leverage their knowledge to enhance the quality of the products and/or services you offer. This will benefit your knowledge experts by making them feel valued and believe that the work they do is meaningful, which will, in turn, benefit your team, the department and organization. It’s a win-win!

Start Now!

If you believe that greater fulfillment leads to greater productivity, engagement and retention, what is the downside of doing (at least trying) some of the actions mentioned above?

Remember, “employees are your most valued asset.” Candidates are clearly defining what an “employer of choice” means to them. If you want to continue hiring the “best and the brightest,” consider what you will do to foster meaningful and fulfilling work for your employees.



  • Get to know your employees

- Ask them what motivates them, what work they find meaningful, and whether they feel fulfilled.

- Do it before they quit!

  • Include a ‘fulfillment’ conversation in your Performance Review Discussions

- Ask your employees how they are feeling about work - whether they believe that their strengths are being used and that they’re making a meaningful contribution.

- Ask how you can help support them.

  • Recognize your employees in a way that is meaningful to them

  • Provide opportunities for your employees to learn and develop

- Identify the most effective learning experiences and co-create creative, meaningful action plans.

- Monitor execution and discuss progress.

  • Schedule recurring, face-to-face, one-on-one meetings

- Reinforce how they successfully demonstrated their strengths and/or made a meaningful contribution since the last meeting

- Ask how they are feeling overall

  • Conduct regular team meetings

- Ensure employees’ understanding of the connection between their own work to each other’s, to the larger team’s objectives and to strategic goals of the organization

  • Enable your employees’ knowledge to be shared with others


We want to hear from you!

As a manager, what is one creative thing you are doing

to ensure your employees have meaningful work?

We want to hear your ideas!!

Just click "Reply" to let us know!

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