Giving your employees meaning with your whole brand
I was going to start this article by saying that meaningfulness has been a hot topic in recent years. Although this is true, with more than 50% of ‘meaning at work’ research being conducted since 2009 (Steger, 2017), it would still do the topic a disservice. In fact, meaning has been a source of intrigue for sociologists, economists and organisational scholars in recent times, and philosophers and theologians for centuries before that (Rosso et al, 2010). This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that our time spent at work constitutes the majority of our waking lives (Michaelson et al, 2014), almost 100,000 hours (Pryce-Jones, 2010). Research suggests that meaningful work could be as important as pay and security (Pratt et al, 2003), or more so (O’Brien, 1992). Indeed, Steger (2017), points out that every dollar spent by an organisation on employee wellbeing, gives a return of three to five dollars. It seems that meaningful work could now be the logical focus of organisations trying to gain a competitive edge (Dik et al, 2013).
So, how do we make work meaningful and where does your brand come in? There are many theories and models, but we’ll identify some core themes that appear regularly and explore them in the context of a whole brand.
People are more motivated and find more meaning when they have some control over their environment and future. Developing a culture that encourages autonomy by promoting flexibility, innovation and communication can significantly improve the motivation and performance of your people.
The antithesis of autonomy is the tyranny of freedom, whereby too much choice and the inability to make decisions demotivates people. A strong brand, communicated well and role-modeled by leaders, will allow you to make the goal clear for your employees, but keep the path to get there open to interpretation, safe in the knowledge that your brand will give clear guidance on decision and actions along the way.
For employees to find meaning in what they do, it must be connected to a broader purpose, the bigger picture. As the apocryphal tale goes, a traveler stumbles across three bricklayers and asked what they were doing. The first said “I’m laying bricks”, the second said “I’m building a wall” and the third said, “I’m building a cathedral”. The first has a job, the second, a career, and the third, true meaning. A more contemporary version was relayed by JFK, who supposedly asked the janitor mopping the floor at NASA what his job was, to which he responded: “I’m sending a man to the moon”! This bigger picture is your brand core. Communicate your vision, mission and values clearly to your people, and be sure to point out how the work they do is contributing to bringing it to life.
The assumption that everyone understands your brand core and the vision, mission and values associated with it is a common mistake, particularly given they are usually presented in high-level, ambiguous terms that are open to interpretation. By communicating these in pragmatic and actionable terms, ensuring brand assets bring them to life and having leaders who role model them, you will make sure your people are crystal clear on how to bring your brand core to life, and motivated to do so.
All leaders must authentically demonstrate behaviours that align with your brand core. Employees will be looking to their leaders as role models, if they see behaviours that are incongruent, the whole thing will be seen as inauthentic and will not only fail to fulfil its potential, but will likely become a source of demotivation and disillusion for your people.
We believe that a whole brand involves having effective, clearly understood branding that employees are proud of, telling compelling stories that are aligned to it, ensuring leaders act in a way that is congruent with it and developing a culture where people are clear on how they can act and behave in order to have a positive impact on it.
If done in the right way, this will provide autonomy, connection, clarity and authenticity for your employees, helping them find meaning in their work and, if the research is to be believed, motivating them more than pay increases or bonuses, and giving you a competitive edge in an ever more challenging business landscape.
Dik, B. J., Byrne, Z. S., & Steger, M. F. (2013). Purpose and meaning in the workplace. Washington, DC: APA Books
Michaelson, C., Pratt, M. J., Grant, M. A., & Dunnm C. P. (2014). Meaningful Work: Connecting Business Ethics and Organization Studies. Journal of Business Ethics, 121, pp. 70-90
O’Brien, G. E. (1992). Changing meanings of work. In J. F. Hartley & G. M. Stephenson (Eds.), Employment relations: The psychology of influence and control at work (pp. 44–66). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Pratt, M. G., & Ashforth, B. E. (2003). Fostering meaningfulness in working and at work. In K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton & R. E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive organizational scholarship (pp. 309-327). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Pryce-Jones, J. (2010). Happiness at Work Maximizing Your Psychological Capital For Success. Jessica Pryce-Jones
Rosso, B. D., Dekas, K. H., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review. Research in organizational behavior, 30, pp. 91-127
Steger, M. F. (2017). Creating Meaning and Purpose at Work. In L. G. Oades, M. F. Steger, A. Delle Fave, & J. Passmore (Eds). The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths-Based Approaches at Work, (pp. 60-81), John Wiley & Sons Ltd.