If you have read some of my other articles you may see that I have great interest in find out exactly how we can make work meaningful for team members [which in turn makes a retail organization stronger and more productive]. I have a strong belief that providing the tools that our retail industry employees need and want will help drive results in our businesses and leverage job satisfaction to determine future leaders in our industry. One of the things I have covered in the past is that employees truly wish to be connected to the business. They want to understand the “why” behind some of the business drivers. It’s no coincidence that employees that work in an environment where the actions are aligned with the company vision and values, are more engaged. These are the guiding principles of the business and when the executives in the team hold these in esteem and live them, it gives the company a greater sense of real purpose. Confidence that we are working with purpose and meaning creates engagement and enthusiasm and a desire to be a part of it from the employee’s perspective.

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” – Studs Terkel, American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. Food for thought, right? Ask yourself, as retail leaders:

  • What are you doing to encourage daily meaning for your team members?
  • How are you encouraging and leading recognition on our team and in the organization?
  • How are you delivering astonishment to your team and allowing them to pass that onto the customer?
  • Are you defining and modeling the behavior that supports commitment to growth and a career in retail?

“The mission/purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.” is one of the points of the Gallup’s 12 drivers of employee engagement. The answer to these questions is, likely, the difference between an employee being present for a paycheck or an employee that wants to support their employer through great work, high-productivity, collaboration, and contribution.

The Job Diagnostics Survey defined the experienced meaningfulness of the work as “the degree to which the employee experiences the job as one which is generally meaningful, valuable, and worthwhile”. According to this report on “Measuring Satisfaction and Meaning”, The JDS measures a few items to assess experienced meaningfulness of work through the following questions:

  • Most of the things I have to do on this job seem useless or trivial
  • The work I do on this job is very meaningful to me
  • My job activities are significant to me
  • I do not achieve important outcomes from the work I do in this job
  • The work I do is connected to what I think is important in life
  • I believe others experience joy as a result of my work [great retail assessment question]

Meaningful work was defined as “finding a purpose in work that is greater than the extrinsic outcomes of the work.”

On an individual level, people who understand their job’s broader purpose are happier, more engaged, and more innovative and willing to offer solutions to challenges and obstacles in the business. And, from an organizational perspective, when employees see how their roles fit with the company’s vision and values, turnover is reduced and productivity rises. People work harder, use their initiative, and make sensible decisions for their employers and customers.

From HBR, “When people find meaning in the work, they also feel a sense of ownership. The work means something to them personally. And as Keller describes, when people take ownership of the work, they are more committed to it, more intrinsically motivated, more engaged. And that makes for better performance on all dimensions.”

Unfortunately, too many retail organizations don’t even attempt to make work meaningful for their people. Managers in these companies seem to think that a paycheck [or the fact that they “signed up for it”] is reason enough for them to perform at their best. But extrinsic motivation only goes so far. It doesn’t lead people to be highly engaged, creative or want to contribute to the organizational goals.

So how can we support our teams to find purpose and meaning in their work?

1. Frequently communicate your Mission to your team. Make it a living, breathing behavior daily. Not simply lip-service or the proverbial poster on the wall and/or laminated wallet cards:

Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
Starbucks Coffee

Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

Whole Foods

These statements give people a sense of what/how they contribute, on a daily basis, to the lives of their customers, communities, and even a grander scale.

2. Focus on aggregate and individual results as they relate to organizational goals. Recognize both. Use successes to drive additional successes (storytelling, recognition, and sharing of accomplishment).

3. Leverage their strengths – both what are easily identified and those that are not. Through open communication, find out where the employees want to be in their careers, what skills they possess that they feel could contribute to the mission statement, their happiness at work.

4. Build a positive work environment [read this most brilliant article for more detail] & [this one is pretty helpful as well!]. Everyone wants to make a contribution, even down to the most part-time employees. Let them. Help them to do so. Recognize it when they do so.

5. Provide feedback and continuous guidance to your team. They may know it, but be quick [and consistent] to articulate to them [publicly and privately] how their contributions improve the culture, the customer experience, their coworkers experience, etc.. Recognize and reward it when their efforts are aligned with the company mission.

The organization must actually support employees’ ability to achieve meaningful goals. In the best companies, where employees are engaged and performance shines, leaders at all levels respect employees and consistently strive to give them the autonomy, help, resources, and time they need to do great work. [Source: HBR]

Do the employees have a responsibility to find meaning and purpose in their work? Sure…absolutely they do. But they work for your retail organization. You will set the standard for them if their jobs and performance have a purpose and a value. The organization will benefit if their employees find purpose and meaning in their work through a stronger brand, elevated talent and commitment to their roles, improved customer experience, and ultimately $$ – therefore, the organization needs to ensure that there are opportunities to measure and open up dialog around these two important components to their business.