There are many things an employee craves in the workplace, but it can all be boiled down to one major thing: meaning. Even if they don't know it, they're happiest when they're absorbed in doing meaningful work. They're in the zone and become so focused on making progress that they don't even realize how much time has gone by.

Meaningful work results in focus and engagement. But only 13 percent of employees say they're actively engaged at work.

Your employees' happiness and engagement matter to your company. Why? Because it affects productivity (so yeah, dollars--lots of them) and directly impacts their desire to contribute, as well as how long they'll stay at your company. The numbers around engagement and turnover don't lie, and it's incredibly expensive when employees walk. We see figures associated with losing your people--like two times an employee's annual salary or more--and some studies don't consider the more intangible but high costs, like employee morale, opportunity costs and future productivity loss.

The good news is that employees want a meaningful work experience, which directly aligns and impacts the overall success of your company. There are a few ways that employees crave meaning, and making sure they get them could make a huge difference to your company.

  1. The gift of truth. Employees crave the truth. They want you to tell them what you expect of them and why. They want to know what they're doing wrong so they can become better. They want to know what they're measured by and how they can add value. They want to know what they're doing wrong and where they can improve. Nobody wants to tell a coworker that they're bad at something; sometimes it's easier just to ignore it and move on. But the drag on performance and negative ripples created by ignoring the uncomfortable issue is totally unnecessary. It's your job to share the gift of truth, and when done in the right way, it's liberating to everyone involved.
  2. Being trusted and valued. Employees need your trust to be able to take chances and try new things. At BambooHR, our door is always open and ideas come from all employees. Their thoughts, feelings and opinions are valued. Trust grows, and innovation thrives. And frankly, work is more fun. Sixty-nine percent of employees would work harder if they were better recognized. Feeling valued and trusted sure help employees accept your "gift of truth" as well. Yes, sometimes it takes time and may be inconvenient to us, but please don't just pretend to listen and don't act. The proof is in your actions.
  3. Freedom to do meaningful work. People crave meaningful work that is challenging and influencing. It's our job and in our best interest to make that happen. We must provide the right tools, processes, environment and direction to accomplish great work. Then we stand back and give them the freedom, and trust, to work within (mostly) broadly defined boundaries, depending on role. We are all happiest--and yes, data proves it--when we do challenging work that stretches us.
  4. The chance to grow. Career development, anyone? Employees have goals, desires and a vision of what they want to become. What is our role in how they get there? How does that align with our company mission, vision and goals? Can the employees see it and feel it? In our BambooHR study, we found that the No. 1 reason employees leave their jobs is the lack of opportunity to grow in their careers. This has been a hot topic for the "Millennial Generation," but it's not a new subject. It's natural to be more engaged as an employee when we know where we're going.
  5. A great culture. Tony Hsieh said, "At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff--like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers--will happen naturally on its own." Toxic cultures suck, and they're expensive. Get rid of the rotten apples, or teach them to not be rotten. All of us deserve to work in an environment that isn't the social equivalent of junior high--with petty backbiting, office politics and bad bosses. Culture is everything: shared values, goals and the desire to do great things for customers and other employees. Creating a great culture and a great company is a combination of real, authentic treatment of others; recognizing and valuing employees; and providing challenging work.

Giving employees what they crave reduces so much limiting friction and frees people to do great work. But actually doing it is as much an art as a science, but science proves that culture, engagement and results will all move in the right direction when we give employees the things they crave.