Making Work Meaningful: Inspire. Engage. Ignite.

3 Minute Read

For years, company leaders have had the belief that employees can be motivated by more money. If they’re not happy with their jobs, just give them a raise! But studies have shown that this method of motivation doesn’t always work. It’s about making work meaningful for your employees. Think about it. What makes you get out of bed and come to work every day? What drives you to stay late working on a project with your team?

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and speaker, says the answer is that we care about reaching the end. We care about the fight and the challenge of getting there. We care about making our lives meaningful. And that means that you, as a leader, should also be making work meaningful for those you lead.

Odds are that before becoming a leader, your efforts were likely centered on growing yourself. As a result, your focus was to become the best at what you do; gaining knowledge and skills, seeking challenges and opportunities, and discovering how to succeed. But now that you’re a leader, your success is more dependent upon the efforts of others. Your focus must now shift to motivating and growing those you lead. It’s easy to eliminate motivation, especially if we aren’t specifically focused on making work meaningful…so easy that it happens in companies every day.

It’s easy to eliminate motivation, especially if we aren’t specifically focused on making work meaningful…so easy that it happens in companies every day.


In the video, Ariely details many experiments he’s conducted that demonstrate exactly how important it is to make work meaningful for those you lead. His efforts show a direct correlation between productivity and doing meaningful work. He tells us that “ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their efforts in front of their eyes.” It is our responsibility to empower and motivate our team. And even small meaning makes a difference. We have to focus on making work meaningful. Here are a couple of reminders to help you along the way.

Involve your team.

They want to know the company’s goals. More so, they need to know how their work contributes to those goals. They want to know they’re making a difference. And the more you involve them, the more creativity you’ll see. Stop letting efficiency become more important than meaning.


Employees want regular updates on the progress of the business. If something they’re involved in is cancelled, they want to know as soon as you know. Then, they want to be appreciated for any work that they already put in. Ariely shows through his experiments that the act of breaking something in front of an employee’s eyes is basically crushing the joy that your employees once experienced.

Set challenging goals.

In the video, Ariely asks the question, “Why do people climb mountains?” If challenge didn’t motivate people, no one would ever climb a mountain again. Part of what helped you succeed was conquering challenges and learning new things. Provide your team with the same opportunity. And then celebrate with them. Celebrate every challenge they conquer.

Remember, it’s easy to forget the importance of motivation given all the things you have to do in a single day. In reality, though, it’s probably the most important thing you do. You must lead by example. If you expect your team to stay motivated and enthusiastic about work, you have to do the same. Your team looks to you for direction and guidance. So we challenge you to reflect on the last few interactions you’ve had with your team members. What have you done to motivate your team lately?

Originally published November 2013. Updated October 2019.


Watch more tips on how to motivate and engage your team here.

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