We recently wrote about how declining employee productivity is one telling symptom of a lack of a human approach to work right now—specifically, a lack of adequate recognition and appreciation in the workplace.
This post continues that conversation by addressing a related and just as thorny problem people leaders are facing: Employees are feeling disconnected at work, and are questioning whether what they do matters.
All of this leads to a widening gap between the work that they put in and the meaningful work they crave, putting a damper on employee engagement.
Employers have the power to connect employees to meaningful work and make every job feel impactful and fulfilling—regardless of what the typical tasks are.
Harness this power, and it’ll pay off greatly: When compared to development opportunities, job variety, feedback, autonomy, and supervisor support—meaning is the number one predictor of employee engagement.
So how do you get there? We’ve done the research for you and will share a step-by-step approach to starting a conversation with employees, stopping the revolving door, and connecting them to meaningful work, no matter their job title.
In this post, you’ll:
Learn more about the external and internal factors that influence an employee’s motivation, sense of success, and contributions.
Get fresh insights and the latest trends around meaningful work—and how employers and human resource leaders can help employees know the impact they have at work, even when times are tough.
5 reasons your employees may not be feeling connected at work.
Based on conversations with HR and people leaders, here’s what we’ve seen work in our clients’ organizations (and our own):
Whether running a suite of employee support and culture-building programs, or just getting started with one or two initiatives, make sure you’re able to show up consistently. Automate systems where you can, embed new program touch points into existing (effective) company touch points, and—most importantly—do what you say you’re going to do.
Key takeaway for HR leaders: Simple systems support consistency; consistency creates a sense of security; and that sense of security gives us a foothold when everything else is out of whack.
A critical companion to consistency, clear communication supports a culture of trust and resilience. Too often, organizations funnel resources into external communication (communicating thoughtfully with customers and communities) but neglect internal communication. Strong internal communication can alleviate employees’ doubts and fears.
Key takeaway for HR leaders: Help employees understand key business decisions, set their own expectations, and feel like they’re in the loop. This, like consistency, creates a sense of stability and a work environment which allows people to show up and perform.
Values are a great mechanism to tie your efforts to a greater, unifying purpose. When you rally around core values in a real way, you can keep your programs aligned and focused and you can remind employees why they choose to work at your organization.
Key takeaway for HR leaders: When it comes to culture-building programs and efforts, connect the dots wherever possible so you’re developing a recognition and appreciation ecosystem rather than fractured initiatives. For example, where do your core company values show up? (Hint: They should, ideally, show up in many places, across many cultural programs.)
Build an employee recognition program that sets your company apart with The Blueboard Method.
2. Even if they haven’t been laid off, they’ve watched it happen to their friends and team members.
Layoffs have truly affected everyone, even those who have managed to keep their jobs. Those who remain at organizations are dealing with feelings of guilt, resentment, and decreased morale.
According to a 2022 BizReport survey, 71% percent of employees who remain after a layoff say their work motivation has since decreased, and 61% say they’re now overworked and less likely to recommend their organization. Recent data from Blueboard and Wakefield Research shows that 57% of American employees don't feel completely secure in their jobs right now. When you’ve placed your trust and given your best to an organization, only to watch others who’ve done the same lose their jobs, motivation is hard to muster, let alone putting forth extra effort.
3. Employees feel their efforts go unnoticed.
Going the extra mile for someone without so much as a thank you is always disheartening, but when it’s a continual habit built into the culture of an organization, it wreaks havoc on retention.
Blueboard and Wakefield Research conducted an original survey of 400 U.S. employees that found that 67% don't always feel appreciated at work. And what's more, among those who think their company lacks a strong culture of appreciation, 64% of them report not feeling totally secure in their job.
Beyond job satisfaction, feeling under-appreciated can deeply impact even the most high-performing employees’ day-to-day work, sense of belonging, and ability to see a future for their professional development at your organization.
4. They’re exhausted by inefficiencies.
We all know the feeling: We’re clear on the task and trying to get the job done, but keep running into blockers that are outside of our control. The frustration that arises from extra time spent on unnecessary tasks can drain us of energy.
“In nearly every company I work with, I see the same underlying problems,” efficiency expert Nick Sonnenberg writes for Fast Company. “People aren’t drowning in work because there aren’t enough hours in the day or their manager expects too much of them—they’re drowning because they aren’t operating efficiently as a team.”
“As a team” is the operative phrase here. These inefficiencies are exacerbated by employees’ general feelings of disconnection from teammates (and, by the lack of appreciation in workplace culture mentioned earlier).
When employees feel demoralized, disconnected, and undervalued, they’re more likely to keep their heads down, keep to themselves, and focus only on getting their required tasks done. Some strategic work, like re-evaluating and optimizing processes, requires mental bandwidth that’s not supported in this case (and, employees might not feel empowered or compelled to point out a problem and identify a solution if they’re not confident their feedback will be addressed and action will be taken). Taken together, these factors can lead to inefficient processes for the whole organization.
If you’re looking to tighten up your processes, Sonnenberg outlines three key areas of inefficiency that can negatively impact an employee’s ability to do their best work as a starting point for process improvement assessments:
Having to dig for information across multiple, disparate channels of communication
Using emails to feel productive, which only adds unnecessary work for you and your colleagues
A lack of process documentation that leaves others out of the loop
By asking the right questions, backed by a timeline for follow up, you can address any inefficiencies and build trust with employees.
5. Your sales employees need special support during this time.
At a time when cost of living is high and experts are warning of a recession—everyone is tightening their budgets. So to be tasked with selling anything in this economy is a tall order.
And while it’s true that every department is feeling the push to do more with less right now (HR included), unlike many other departments, sales teams have quotas. The added pressure of meeting an inflexible number—or else, face consequences—is getting to your sales team. Plus, they’re often using tactics that no longer work in this complicated economy, and they need their sales leaders to step up and provide the coaching and resources they need to adapt.
One example: With the uptick in virtual selling since 2020, salespeople are still trying to adapt from face-to-face to online tactics that are effective. The RAIN Group Center for Sales Research found that 91% of sellers are having a hard time keeping buyers engaged virtually and 88% of them are struggling to develop relationships with buyers online.
Now that you know some of the most pressing challenges your people are facing, how can you get the conversation started to help them feel seen and heard, acknowledge their contributions and why they matter to their immediate team and the wider company, and better meet their needs during this trying time?
4 employee questions HR leaders need to be prepared to answer to connect people to meaningful work (and inspire them to stay).
From personal relationships to work tasks, everything in life frustrates us from time to time. But what pushes employees over the edge and leads them to turn in their resignation?
To figure that out, let’s start from the beginning: What are the questions employees should be asking before deciding whether to stay or leave? And more importantly, how can you address these questions—not only with words, but with actions?
Gartner’s recent “Future of Work Reinvented” report found that employees working in environments that are human-centric (meaning authentic, empathetic, and adaptive) are 3.2x more likely to have a high intent to stay.
So to help you create a workplace that is more authentic, empathetic, and adaptive, here are the top questions you need to be able to answer to keep your employees engaged and happy.
1. What career development opportunities do you have mapped out for my role?
When the Pew Research Center surveyed U.S. workers who left a job in 2021, two reasons tied for first place: low pay and lack of advancement opportunities. " Though the survey was two years ago, in the second year of the pandemic, these reasons remain relevant as ever. As mentioned earlier, even if paychecks are bigger, they’re still not enough to make up for the unusually high inflation.
Plus, in a global survey of more than 1,300 people, the 2023 Future of Working and Learning Report found that "lack of career advancement and development opportunities" is among the top five reasons employees quit. The onus falls on managers to chart a clear professional growth path for direct reports and check in regularly on how they’re progressing.
What HR leaders and organizations can offer in response: Work with people managers to chart a clear path and check in regularly with direct reports.
How can you do that? Some ideas:
Ensure managers have regular one-on-ones to discuss each employee’s goals.
Track progress on those goals with a performance management platform, such as Culture Amp or 15Five.
Try a rotation program where employees can spend a few months in a different role or department to build new skills.
2. What kind of reassurance can you give me around layoffs?
It’s time to address the elephant in the room: Employees want to know the likelihood of layoffs, how you’d handle them, and more importantly, they want reassurance that, regardless of what happens, they’d be taken care of and treated fairly.
How is the business doing? If it comes to layoffs, for the employees that you let go, will you help them find another job? Will you provide references? If you’re considering cutting staff, don’t leave your employees out of the process—this affects them, after all.
What HR leaders and organizations can offer in response: Be transparent about the process, and treat people fairly.
“Ask for their input and participation in how you can solve challenges and struggles together,” Beth Grous, chief people officer at Generate Biomedicines, tells HRD. “Companies that operate high on the empathy scale likely have higher employee engagement, higher productivity, happier and more satisfied employees and probably a better business output.”
3. What impact am I having on this organization, on the world?
Speaking of layoffs, after they happen, helping people find meaning at work becomes more important than ever.
As Susan Peppercorn, an executive career transition coach, writes for Harvard Business Review: “Another strategy for helping your remaining employees shift their focus from guilt back to their jobs is to reorient them toward individual and group purpose. People find meaning when they see a clear connection between what they value and what they spend time doing.”
What HR leaders and organizations can offer in response: Tie organizational values directly to employees’ work, show them the outcomes, and illustrate why they matter.
To truly delight your teams and drive home their individual impact, take it a step further, and show them the outcomes of their work. Faced with deadlines and deliverables, few employees actually have insight into the impact of their work. A software engineer ships code, but doesn’t necessarily get to see the end user delight in using the app. A content marketer publishes a blog post, but might not know how the ideas and content is resonating in sales conversations or have visibility into the LinkedIn comments about how helpful the article was.
But you can change that. Create processes and opportunities within your organization that surface the connections between cross-functional team efforts and tie the outcomes back to individual work. Whether it’s in team-specific meetings or all-hands, follow the steps from someone’s deliverable to the outcome it created for the customer or your organization. That way, there’s an obvious throughline from one’s work to their impact.
4. How is this organization living out its stated values, and where do I play a part in it?
When employees receive the chance to choose an experiential gift—like an at-home watercolor painting class or a wine-tasting trip—specifically for the way they lived out a company value, they can see the impact they’re having in a tangible, meaningful way. It’s positive reinforcement that cultivates connection to those values, helping your people feel fulfilled and in alignment. Plus, when an employee reminisces about that full-bodied Bordeaux they sipped in a vineyard, they’ll tie those good feelings with the entity that made it happen: their employer! That positive association is an added benefit to your company.
What HR leaders and organizations can offer in response: Consistently communicate organizational values, the behaviors that embody them, and make them felt by connecting individual employee behaviors to company values.
One way to consider doing this: create a recognition program tied to your company values. How does this work?
Choose a recurring schedule (quarterly or annually).
Establish a central committee (usually HR and/or leadership team).
Accept formal nominations.
Notify chosen employees of their awards.
To make it even simpler, you can use an employee recognition platform like Blueboard, which integrates automatic reward activity notifications with apps like Slack and allows peer-to-peer values-based kudos—keeping your company values and rewards program top of mind for all.
Talking about her organization’s journey to a “one size fits nobody” employee experience, Blueboard client and Global VP of People & Culture at Jumio Megan Barbier shares: “Blueboard rewards are personalized, flexible, and I don't have to guess if somebody prefers a spa day over a cooking class with their friends. These are elements that help enforce the diversity and inclusion that we build into our culture at Jumio and that people can choose. And there's variety. It's not binary, where you get the pink basket or the blue basket. You get to pick skydiving, or guitar lessons or the backyard butterfly experience.”
3 questions HR leaders should be prepared to answer specifically for sales teams.
Because of the unique nature of sales teams, it’s worth calling out a special section for them. The inherent competitive nature of quota-holding roles coupled with the uncertain economy, means sales teams are struggling to be heard and get the resources they need right now.
“During the past two years, sales professionals have faced budget and hiring freezes along with multiple bouts of layoffs across industries — especially in tech. It’s less than ideal that the average sales turnover rate is 35%, compared to a 13% average turnover rate for all other roles. Why the disparity? Salespeople work high-pressure jobs and often get little to no recognition.” – Kevin Yip, Co-founder and president at Blueboard, from a Crunchbase article
1. In a tough economy, how can we measure success and progress beyond quotas?
“It’s nearly impossible to sell when you are worried about your quota,” writes Paul Petrone, a senior content marketing manager at LinkedIn. “Buyers can always feel that desperation coming off you. But it’s also hard not to worry about your own quota in times of economic uncertainty.”
To combat this, Petrone cites a technique from sales leadership expert Lisa Earle McLeod: Shift the focus from the quota to the value you can create for customers. Of course, this can only happen if sales team leaders buy into it, too, placing less pressure on sales numbers and more emphasis on exploring and clearly communicating the ROI for customers.
In a Q&A on what organizations need to get buy-in for new programs, Blueboard client Megan Barbier, Global VP of People & Culture at Jumio, and Blueboard co-founder and president Kevin Yip discussed how to set sales teams up for success and what makes a valuable, mutually beneficial vendor partnership.
One of Megan’s main pieces of advice: lean into the emotional impact to build the ROI and business case.
On this topic, Megan shared the key qualities she looks for in a good vendor partner that could help sales teams focus more on customer ROI, which boils down to these two questions:
“Crack an egg of knowledge”: Do they teach me something new? “Be different. Come to the table with something shocking and real,” says Barbier. “Maybe it is a pain point, something uncomfortable—go there, relentlessly. Put something out there that's new that gets me to stop as I sift through 70 different emails vying for my money, time, and budget.”
Do they anticipate my needs before I’m even aware of them? “My very best partners are proactive,” Barbier shares. “They're coming to me before I know there's a problem. They're way ahead of it—not coming to me at the 11th hour saying, ‘here's what needs to happen.’ They're looking out ahead in the landscape and they're making you feel like you are the only client out there.”
2. If I ask for more support and resources, how will you respond?
Salespeople are crying out for the tools and support to do their jobs right now. They want to know that you’ll listen to them, and then provide the necessary resources to make their jobs less stressful.
What kinds of resources? Start with a product roadmap. You can’t put pressure on your people to sell a product whose future direction and vision they have little to no insight into. Or, if you do, you’ll end up with sales teams that make promises your product development team cannot keep—which doesn’t end well for either team. Encourage your product managers to work closely with sales to close more deals.
3. How will my efforts be recognized (beyond gift cards and things)?
Of course money matters, but your sales team wants more than cash incentives for their efforts—they want personalization, to know that they’re more than just another cog in the machine.
In fact, Blueboard was born out of this concept. Co-founder and president, Kevin Yip, was labeled a “top performer” accountant at a Fortune 500 firm. And yet, after a particularly stressful project into which he’d poured more than 400 hours of unpaid overtime, a manager gave him a $200 gift card, and as Yip tells Direct Selling News: “I felt it was incredibly impersonal. It felt like a slap in the face.”
That’s part of why we champion The 5 As framework: Cash loses its luster as soon as it’s spent (usually on something not very fun, like the electric bill), but an experiential reward of one’s choosing lends personalization and purpose to your rewards program. Plus, it has an “afterglow” effect: the recipient basks in the positive memories long after the experience is over.
How organizations can connect employees to meaningful work and help them succeed—no matter what the economy is doing.
By now, we’re all pretty tired of being at the mercy of a turbulent economy. But what’s so beautiful about connection to meaningful work is that you have control over it! You and other leaders in your organization can cultivate that connection through appreciation and recognition, and these strategies work in good times and bad.
The stakes are high. A lack of appreciation in the workplace has a price tag: 2022 Gallup research found that a 10,000-person company with a culture of recognition can save up to $16.1 million a year in employee turnover costs.
On top of the tactical advice we’ve shared throughout this post we want to leave you with a step-by-step approach you can take today to start driving connection to meaningful work with your teams. And it all starts with building a culture of appreciation your whole organization— execs, managers, and employees—can rally around.
To get started, here’s a deeper dive into The 5 As framework of appreciation we touched on earlier:
A rewards program can only motivate employees if they know it exists! The Blueboard Method focuses on experiential rewards because experiences have an innate viral quality: People love to share stories about an activity aligned with their passions.
Question to ask: How can I better communicate with employees about our organization’s recognition programs? Even better, how can I encourage reward recipients to share stories with their peers about their positive experiences?
When you acknowledge an employee, you tie their action or behavior to a positive message and behavior. You let them know, “Hey, I noticed that specific thing you did, and I appreciate it and value you.”
Question to ask: How can I set up managers to incorporate acknowledgment in their day-to-day?
When an employee expects something good to happen and when they experience something new, they get a flood of dopamine (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter). In fact, researchers at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology found that novelty actually promotes learning thanks to the activation of dopamine in the brain.
That’s why consistent, positive reinforcement through well-thought-out recognition programs works so much better than ad hoc praise. You create a culture of recognition in which your employees consistently feel positive and excited about what’s to come.
Question to ask: What can I do to build employees’ anticipation around our recognition program?
This is perhaps the place where you can have the most impact on cultivating connection to meaningful work. Instead of the typical gift card or branded mug, an activity (especially one that the recipient gets to choose!) grants employees the opportunity to spend quality time with a loved one doing something they’re passionate about—and what’s more fulfilling than that?
Question to ask: Instead of rewarding employees in ways that are convenient for us, how can we as an organization reward individuals in ways that are meaningful to them?
At Blueboard, we define afterglow as “the period of time after an employee receives recognition and/or a reward when the employee is reflecting on and basking in any positive feelings created.”
Employee rewards like cash bonuses or handwritten notes are lovely thoughts—but their afterglow is limited. It’s when you can create a positive memory around the reward that it can really shine. That’s why we recommend experiences (like a farm-to-table cooking class, a family zipline adventure, or learning to surf), for that is where memories are made.
Questions to ask: What existing internal programs are already fostering emotional connection between employees and our organization? How can I incorporate some of those characteristics into our recognition program?
By following the advice and framework we’ve shared, you can help your employees see meaning in their role, feel appreciated for their efforts, and feel connected to their work. And in doing so, you’ll drive impact on your organization’s bottom line, even if the economy isn’t cooperating.
As always, we’ve got your back! If you want a more interactive, step-by-step way of working through The 5 As framework with your people team, get the free downloadable workbook here.
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Blueboard is the first enterprise rewards and recognition platform powered by hand-curated experiences. From helping people connect with family and friends, to escaping the everyday, Blueboard employee rewards are the best way to inspire and care for your top people.
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