Research indicates that most leaders believe one of three things will motivate the troops: perks, promotions, or pay.
For what it's worth, I've had bosses who think a SKITA is the way to go (Swift Kick In....).
The problem with perks is that they soon become expectations and have more power to disappoint than motivate.
The excitement of a promotion is often quickly replaced by a more demanding and draining new norm.
And studies show that whether you make $30,000 a year or $3 million, you're equally likely to be unfulfilled.
It turns out that meaning is what sustains motivation over the long haul.
But there are three myths about finding meaning at work that are holding your employees back from pursuing it. Break down these myths to build motivation levels back up:
1. You have to quit your job to go find meaning
Don't confuse finding meaning in your work with following your passion, which often can mean quitting your accounting job and going to teach English in the jungle.
You don't have to quit your job to find more meaning in what you do.
You can engage in what Yale Professor Amy Wrzesniewski calls job crafting, where you take the degrees of freedom in your job and reshape the tasks you do and the way you interact with others to feed what gives you meaning.
This is how an administrative assistant expands his/her job by taking on the task of organizing the annual town hall meeting--and thus feeding a passion for meeting planning.
Or you can go bigger than that, and define your purpose and desired legacy for the job you do.
Those are just a few ideas for finding more meaning in your work. More on that in a moment.
2. Doctors and firemen find meaning in work, not me
Sean Aiken didn't really know what he wanted to do when he graduated from college, so he tried 52 different jobs in 52 weeks. What he discovered corroborates 15 years of research I've been conducting on meaning at work.
Across all the jobs he tried (and he tried many relatively meaningless occupations on the surface), he found that the happiest employees had found meaning in their work, regardless of any stigmas attached to the job.
I've interviewed janitors at hospitals who see their role not as cleaning trash but delivering a healthy, clean environment for patient welfare. I've met parking lot attendants who turn their jobs into hidden delights for people in their day--a smile, a joke, a good-natured ribbing, all to produce an unexpected bright spot in someone's day.
It turns out that the job we do isn't as important as our relationship with it.
3. Finding meaning at work is ethereal
In my research, I've discovered very specific conditions in which you can foster meaning in and at work (in the work you do and at the place you do the work).
These include doing work that matters (rich with purpose and a sense of legacy), learning and growing on the job, working with autonomy and influence, and working in a caring, authentic, teamwork based environment that builds a social identity and a sense of belonging.
You can help facilitate all of this by helping employees identify and articulate their legacy, by making their growth a priority, by liberally granting autonomy, and by role-modeling authenticity and visible caring.
So be a myth-buster and tap into the amazing motivational power of helping your employees find more meaning in what they do and where they do it.