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More Than a Paycheck: Research Shows Businesses Need to Create Meaningful Jobs to Motivate Employees

Columbia Business School Article Adds “Work Meaning” as Critical Component to Equation for Calculating Work Productivity

In the current “always on” work culture where employees are tethered to their jobs through their smartphones, a Columbia Business School study argues that employees need more than paychecks to stay at a company and continue to produce high quality work. While jobs – and the income they generate – are a necessary part of daily life, the researchers write in the Journal of Economic Perspectives that financial compensation is not the only factor that incentivizes employees. For many employees, work may represent a source of meaning and businesses must start factoring the economic implications of this emotional connection into their planning.

In the article – Nonmonetary Incentives and the Implications of Work as a Source of Meaning  – Stephan Meier, James P. Gorman Professor of Business at Columbia Business School and co-author Lea Cassar of the University of Cologne, argue that finding meaning in work is a key driver for motivating people to not just show up to work, but to be engaged in their duties. The authors call for an update to the way economists measure worker satisfaction, adding a component based on “work meaning.” Businesses, they say, should invest in job meaning if they want to attract high-performing workers who can help grow the bottom line.

“In today’s highly mobile economy where workers can quickly move on to new companies, managers and supervisors who want to motivate and retain workers need to create jobs that offer more to employees than just a salary,” said Columbia Business School Professor Stephan Meier.“Income is one part of a much larger relationship that today’s employees have with their jobs. When choosing a job, newer generations of employees – at all income levels – also factor in what they are doing, who they are working for, and how they are doing it.”

Surveying empirical research in economics on the nonmonetary aspects of work and relating it to literature in psychology, the researchers outline four key components that underly meaningful work: company mission, autonomy in decision-making, a feeling of competence on the job, and feelings of relatedness, which they define as the ability to identify with the members and goals of the organization. The authors then argue that economists must update the equation for measuring a worker’s job satisfaction, which traditionally is a function of benefit (income) minus cost (loss of opportunity to do more pleasurable activity, like leisure). The equation, the authors argue, should include a component for meaning, which could be a positive or a negative value.

Read the full report Nonmonetary Incentives and the Implications of Work as a Source of Meaning.

Source: Columbia Business School

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