3 Things All Employees Need to Feel Satisfied with their Work

Janet Pilcher

In Brief

6-Minute Read

Finding a career that is satisfying is beneficial to not only the employee but also the employer. A study by staffing firm Robert Half evaluated the happiness levels of working professionals in North America. The study showed that happier workers perform better, have closer relationships with coworkers and take more pride in their work. So, how does one find satisfaction in their jobs?

Key Takeaways

  • To attract and retain top talent, achieve optimal productivity and ensure employees are satisfied with their work, companies must build greater meaning and purpose into the workplace.

  • When employees are aware that their work makes a difference to others, their job satisfaction rises.

  • Leaders should take the time to remind employees, faculty and key stakeholders that what they do has purpose, is worthwhile and makes a difference.

Think of a flywheel that regulates the speed of machinery. The heavy wheel might take some time to get started. However, once it gets going, it turns smoothly and efficiently. Momentum begins to takeover and the wheel turns almost effortlessly. It’s the same scenario with a symbolic flywheel powering an organization. Once the flywheel is moving, it spins effortlessly and the momentum the team builds continues to work powerfully.

9P levels of development wheel

The flywheel simply illustrates the power that purpose, passion and results have to create momentum in an organization. The flywheel helps leaders embark on a results-driven journey to organizational excellence. While doing so, leaders create an engaged workplace for employees and communities.

At the center of the flywheel are the central values: purpose, worthwhile work and making a difference. In Maximize Performance: Creating a Culture for Educational Excellence, authors Quint Studer and Janet Pilcher identify these three things as the foundation of what employees need to feel satisfied with their work. Professionals in service-oriented fields like education are driven by these core values that keep them on target.


Employees want to believe the organization has the right purpose. People most satisfied with their work find a match between their employer’s values and purpose with their own. Having alignment between the organization’s purpose and the individual’s purpose is an uplift that causes employees to feel like it’s a good place to work and have intentions to not only stay with the company but also strive in their work.

In a recent podcast episode titled the search for purpose at work, host Naina Dhingra shared that 70% of people say they define their purpose through work. She then went on to share that even more so, millennials are likely to see their work as their life calling. Employees want to feel like they have a purpose at work. People who focus on finding their purpose in their personal and professional lives are more likely to feel an enduring sense of well-being. Research shows that making work more meaningful is one of the most powerful and underutilized ways to increase productivity, engagement and performance. In a survey of 12,000 employees, 50% said they didn’t get a feeling of meaning or significance from their work. However, those who did reported 1.7 times greater job satisfaction, were 1.4 times more engaged and were more than three times as likely to remain with their current employer.

When employees are creating quarterly or annual goals, they should align the individual’s purpose to the company’s purpose so that the individual can create autonomy and make a difference.

Worthwhile work

Employees want to know they are doing worthwhile work that is meaningful. In a study by BetterUp, the research team found that nine in 10 people would be willing to swap a percentage of their lifetime earnings for more meaningful work. That’s a lot of employees who would take a pay cut to have their work matter. In the same study, BetterUp found that when managers who find jobs highly worthwhile and meaningful, turnover rates plummet to 1.5%, which is less than the national average.

“More than ever, people are on the hunt for meaning and that includes at work, where more and more of our time is spent. To attract and retain top talent, and achieve optimal productivity, companies must build greater meaning into the workplace,” says Alexi Robichaux, Co-Founder and CEO of BetterUp. “This research clearly shows that meaningful work is a win for the human condition, for companies and for society at large. Fostering meaningful work is emerging as a cornerstone of a more creative and conscious business world.”

The research also revealed insight into the sources of workplace meaning. Workers ranked personal growth, in that they can develop their inner selves, as the biggest source of workplace meaning. Other top drivers include professional growth, a shared purpose and being of service in work that helps others.

Employees will work harder and quit less if they know that their work is worthwhile. They gravitate to supportive work cultures that help them grow. During routine rounding, take this opportunity to let employees know the value of their work and the long term impacts they have on the organization and those that they serve.

Making a difference

People want to feel that they are making a difference, especially when it comes to the jobs that they do each day. They want to see the fruits of their labor. In education, teachers are able to see the impact they made on their students at the end of the year when they reflect on all that they’ve learned.

“Employees want to feel like they’re having an impact on the company [and those they serve], which means they need to see the results of their work,” says Atlanta career coach Hallie Crawford. Results are what fuel passion. Getting results motivates people to persevere and seek more results. Whether they’re teaching in a classroom or behind a desk in the district office, let employees know how their job impacts the organization and those they serve.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychology doctoral student at the University of Michigan, thought that researchers could find ways to make workers more productive and happier at the same time. He conducted several experiments and field studies to look at a variety of workers from fire fighters to telemarketers. He found that when employees feel that their work had a positive impact on others, it made a difference both to people's job satisfaction and productivity. "Most work makes a difference in someone's life in some way, or else the job wouldn't exist," Grant says. "We found that something as minor as showing people the client who benefited from the work made them care more. Just seeing that person, not even talking to him, could make them care more about what they were doing."

When people are aware that their work makes a difference to others—even in small ways—their job satisfaction rises and so does their productivity. In monthly meetings or rounding calls with your team, share results. Talk about the impact of the work being done. Show employees the difference that they’re making every single day even when they can’t see it.


Often, employees get bogged down in day-to-day tasks that they forget why they chose their profession. However, as leaders, it is important to take the time to remind employees, faculty and key stakeholders that what they do has purpose, is worthwhile and makes a difference! To keep the flywheel spinning, leaders must:
  • Think differently.
    Realize that employees have an innate need to know that they have a purpose and what they do matters.
  • Plan differently.
    Dedicate time to be intentional in connections, like rounding, to let employees know the value of their work and the impact they have on the organization and those that they serve.
  • Act differently.
    Leaders who align their purpose with the organization’s purpose will find more meaning in their work.

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