Money vs. Meaning: Do You Measure What Matters Most to Employees?

A recent Gallup poll with large companies found that 87% -- yes, that’s 87% -- of people were disengaged in their work.  

Do you find that hard to believe? I promise you that if I took a survey of CEOs, each would say, “Well that may be the national average, but it’s not the case in my company!”  It may not be, but I would challenge any CEO to explore how many people at their organization actually are disengaged.  

With year-end compensation reviews and bonus setting, we focus heavily on financial motivation. Yet top employees rarely stay “just for the money.” Recent studies show that the team they work with and the meaning of their work is even more important.

Laszlo Bock, SVP of Google’s People Operations was quoted recently saying, “People want to do more than just make a buck. People want to do something that means something.”

If a company can set up an annual review to evaluate monetary compensation, why not spend equal time on meaning compensation? Getting this right could make a big impact on engagement and identify how best to bring out the best in each and every employee.

I’d like to see companies spend as much time on the “meaning meter” for their teams as they do developing ratings systems for compensation. As you think about how to increase the “meaning meter” at your organization in 2016, consider these four areas.  

  1. The Values You Demonstrate
    Take the lead in your own life by showing that work is both about money and meaning.  Mark Zuckerberg recently announced he will donate 99% of his forty-five billion dollar fortune to social causes - while he is still at work every day building as he says, “a world that is connected to each other.”  Are you committed to the genius of the both/and - making both a great profit and making a great difference in the lives of others? 
  2. A Purpose That Inspires
    Accept the challenge to anchor your company in a clear purpose that inspires people.  Commit to making progress against a purpose statement that is specific and measurable.  The purpose statement makes it clear to your people why you are doing the work you do - and why you must make the profit to be a sustainable company for the long term. And all employees should understand how their work contributes to that purpose.
  3. Reach Out to the Larger Community
    Give employees an opportunity to participate in fulfilling the purpose not only at work, but also in the communities where you live and work.  This involves some sort of community engagement tied to your business.  Corporate philanthropy is changing.  It is no longer the CEO and a few other key people deciding where to give money.  The CEO instead is designing a system that allows others to get involved and experience the joy of giving anchored to a corporate purpose.  You might identify three charities you want to support as a company and then set up “donation links” where employees can donate both dollars and time to specific causes.  A new start-up called Co-Tribute is dedicated to supporting corporations in engaging employees around such social causes.   
  4. Reconsider Your Engagement Measures – And Actions
    Set 2016 goals to increase engagement in your own company.  What is your benchmark for January 2016?  How many people are deeply engaged and committed to their work and the company’s purpose?  Do you measure this accurately?  What progress would you like to make in 2016? What are some simple steps you need to take to move in the right direction?  Set up an employee engagement group dedicated to moving the ball forward and make the agenda a key part of the senior management’s priorities for 2016.  Set aside time to listen, learn, and take corrective action.  Be prepared for tough conversations and model what it means to be fully engaged in creating a work environment that motivates through both money and meaning.  

Meaning at work is the new mantra for a connected, knowledge-based economy.  Employee satisfaction is an old industrial era term.  Employee engagement moves us in the right direction.  You cannot compete if your employees are merely satisfied.  People are motivated to be a part of something big, something that matters, and something where they truly feel they make a difference.  If employees don’t love their work and the people they work with, your company is one step away from stumbling.