Achieve ‘Meaning’ at Work

Re}-energize Your Workforce and Enhance Workplace Productivity by helping your teams Achieve ‘Meaning’ at Work.


There is untapped potential in every workplace that can only be unlocked through discretionary employee effort. Even with the best technology, products or organizational processes extraordinary workplace productivity may remain elusive as it is the people behind the technology, products or processes who go the extra mile to make a difference.

Discretionary employee effort is the missing element in the quest towards peak performance and what most organizations need to get the ultimate and distinct competitive edge.

So What is “Meaning” in a Workplace Setting?

‘Meaning’ at work relates to a mental state that enables the employee to operate at peak performance. The core elements of Meaning Quotient “MQ” include motivation, a sense of excitement and an enthusiasm for challenge. Thus the employees with a high meaning quotient, is motivated, focuses on what matters; is eager to make a difference and willing to try out new ways of doing things. This phenomenon is observed across jobs, industries and positions.

There are three core ingredients necessary to drive meaning at work include a high Intelligence Quotient (“IQ”), Emotional Quotient (“EQ”) and Meaning Quotient (“MQ”), as the cherry on top.

These elements influence or limit the realization of discretionary employee effort – the willingness to offer more than the bare minimum and go the extra mile without any expectations of reward or recognition.

Without capturing meaning at work, employees shirk, slack or at best go through the motions to give the bare minimum effort. This is partly why stereotypes that label employees as having a dislike for work or lacking motivation pass as true.  

First, to operate at peak performance, an employee must of necessity clearly understand his role, its broad objectives and be well equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary to effectively perform the job. This is referred to as the Intelligence Quotient (“IQ”) of a work environment. When the “IQ” of a work environment is low, e.g. due to a poorly defined role; the employees’ energy and effort is misdirected and masked by conflict. Second, the Emotional Quotient (“EQ”) of a work environment must be present for employees to operate at peak performance. The “EQ” of a work environment refers to the creation of a ‘safe and quiet space’ that occasion collaboration, trust and a team feeling. Low levels of “EQ” at the workplace will cause energy levels to dissipate as it is sucked up by negative workplace behaviors such as office politics, ego wars or passive aggressive behavior. Certainly peak performance is not attainable in a low “EQ” environment due to the resulting unproductivity. Yet, peak performance is not simply achieved by providing the IQ and EQ elements of a work environment. The Meaning Quotient (“MQ”), elements of a work environment must be present.

When the three elements (“IQ”, “EQ” & “MQ”) intersect, they give rise to “flow” an essential element of peak performance. This direct relationship between achieving “flow” and performing at one’s peak was identified by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly who coined the term “flow” to describe a high performance feeling akin to what musicians refer to as being in the “groove” or what sportsmen term as being in the “zone”.

The Workplace Productivity Challenge. Strategies to Build a High-MQ Environment

A high-MQ environment has a significant impact on both employee and organizational performance. As a people leader, you can position your teams to flourish by building a high-MQ environment using strategies like the ones discussed below.

Strategy #1: Invest in your Employees.

There is a higher performance level that is achieved when organizations invest in their employees as employees feel more inclined to go above and beyond for customers, co-workers and the company. However, investing in your team is more about valuing, respecting and caring for them and should not be reduced exclusively to monetary handouts.

Strategy #2: Leverage the Human Element to Create Meaning at the Workplace.

The human element is vital in creating meaning at workplace as your products, technology, or processes cannot deliver peak performance on their own. Small unexpected rewards presented to employees by management to acknowledge stellar performance or novel actions – such as living the corporate values as embedded in the organizations’ mission statement – are vital motivators. The positive feeling emanating from small unexpected rewards reverberates in the employee’ mind, lending meaning to their work, inspiring them to do more and achieve more and inspire a sense of purpose in the workplace

Strategy #3: Master the Art of Weaving and Telling your Story in a Compelling manner

 To create meaning leaders must weave and communicate stories that inspire employees to action. The most common stories include the good-to-great narrative, the change the world narrative; the turn-around narrative and the individual narrative.

The good-to-great narrative spurs employees to perform at their peak by pointing out their capacity to do more. However it is inward looking and does not position their needs at the front and center. The turn-around narrative paints a dire picture to sensitize employees that they must bring on their A-game or face severe circumstances. Whereas it may address performance issues, it fails in tugging at the employees’ heart and mind. The change-the-world narrative sensitizes the employee on the impact their work has on others e.g. how their efforts help in building a better society or enhancing the life of the customer. The individual narrative appeals to the employees on an individual level by painting a rosy picture of how high performance can improve the employees’ life through prospects of personal development, higher pay or empowerment.

The change the world and individual narratives work best as they cast the rationale of discretionary employee effort in more meaningful terms. They inspire the team to make a difference for the society, customers and co-workers.

However, there is a place for all stories. The best way to unleash MQ-related organizational energy is to tell a combination of organization-centered, client-centered and employee-centered stories.

Strategy #4: Help Employees to Set their own Direction.

Whereas the pure application of this strategy may seem impractical, employees at all levels of the business should be encouraged to write their own change story that supports the broad organizational objectives.

Emphasizing the implications of the employees’ individual roles is a powerful way to help employees understand how they fit in the overall strategy and how their work impacts on co-workers, clients, the organization and society. It is essential to let your team decide how they can make a difference by achieving the overall organizational strategy. Leaders enable the process by asking questions to guide them as they chart their own direction. For instance, if one of your organizational objective is to improve customer experience – a common objective that firms convey in their mission statements – employees may stipulate how they will improve customer experience from their corner. This inevitably creates a sense of ownership. Naturally, employees are more committed to the goals they have chosen for themselves.

‘Meaning’ at the workplace occasion an unprecedented improvement in employee engagement and progressive organizations can capture the meaning quotient of work to unlock, secure and capitalize on discretionary employee effort. The big prize for them is that motivation increases, individual productivity rises and higher performance benchmarks become attainable effectively improving the bottom line. How is your organization tapping into this potential?