Catherine Bailey (University of Sussex) and Adrian Madden (University of Greenwich) interviewed 135 people in the United Kingdom, people from different occupations, and talked with them about meaning at work. Meaningfulness was not related to management style but was determined by individual employees and what they saw as meaningful. Surprisingly Bailey and Madden found that “a key leadership challenge” was not creating workplace meaning but rather not destroying the sense of meaning employees had developed. They identified actions or inactions associated with leaders who “trample” the development of meaningful workplaces. Bailey and Madden called these “deadly sins.” Here are their top five ranked with “most grievous" first.
- Disconnect people from their values. Employer and employee not seeing eye-to-eye on what is most important, i.e., reducing costs vs. insuring quality, increasing profits vs. helping clients.
- Take your employees for granted. Lack of recognition, lack of meaningful feedback, not feeling appreciated for hard work and long hours.
- Give people pointless work to do. People know their jobs and what they should be doing -- but some work of no meaningful value arises because of others' poor planning or poor decisions.
- Treat people unfairly.
- Override people’s better judgment. People not being listened to, not given a voice on work they know, work-related opinions not valued.
1. We give meaning to our experiences. If we perceive our work is of value and appreciated, it will be more meaningful. Leaders can affect meaningfulness in the workplace even though meaning is created by the individual. Bailey and Madden point out that it is much easier for leaders to crush meaning than to nourish it. This is an important finding.
2. Look at the list above. Which have you seen or experienced? If you are a leader, do you mistakenly do any of these frequently? What can you do differently?
3. My guess is that organizational climate or culture may be such that some of these actions or inactions are ingrained. Leadership is not easy. Ultimately the leader must care about those being led. Where that holds true, these deadly sins will not exist and the potential for employee engagement in the workplace will be higher.
Bailey, C., & Madden, A. (2016). What makes work meaningful -- or meaningless. MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(4), 53-61.
Photograph by Pui Shan Chan February 2009.
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© John Ballard, PhD, 2017. All rights reserved.
Author of Decoding the Workplace, BEST CAREER BOOK Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
"Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations is as informed and informative a read as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. . . Decoding the Workplace should be considered critically important reading for anyone working in a corporate environment." —Midwest Book Review