Puppeteer Jim Henson once said, “Life is meant to be fun, joyous and fulfilling. May each of yours be that.” Work is a big part of our lives — consuming more than 40 hours a week — and it has a significant influence on our overall well-being and happiness. Unfortunately, only 13% of employees feel engaged at work. Our work lives have a lot of room for improvement.

How to Create Fulfilling Work

Building a meaningful and fulfilling work experience for each employee can go a long way toward boosting their engagement, retention and satisfaction. Indeed, nearly 80% of employees would rather have more meaning in their work than receive a 20% pay raise.

According to author Malcolm Gladwell, meaningful work can be split into three categories:

  1. Autonomy: Having control over our own choices.
  2. Complexity: Continuously being challenged and growing new skills.
  3. Recognition: A direct connection between effort and reward, from peer and social recognition to financial or career growth.

By introducing all three into your work and learning strategies, you can ensure your employees feel fulfilled.

Boosting Autonomy

As forward-thinking companies like Patagonia and Shake Shack have discovered, if you want your employees to achieve their potential, you must give them freedom. At Patagonia, this is greater control over work-life balance. Employees are free to head out for “Let My People Go Surfing” time, with a choice of what they do during those hours. Flexitime empowers them to choose the best times to complete their work, fitting it around family, learning, sabbaticals and more.

Meanwhile, at Shake Shack, a commitment to “invest in and take care of our teams” has translated into four-day workweeks, giving employees more freedom to fit work around their school runs, daycare and personal development.

These are just a couple ways to improve autonomy in the workplace. Ultimately, autonomy hinges on giving employees enough control over their work lives, so they can do their best work. This will differ from organization to organization, from employee to employee. Broadly, you could also consider offering employees stretch assignments, secondments or the ability to work side gigs that align with their interests and career goals. Providing learning opportunities that are based on employees’ skills and aspirations can also provide them with greater control over their daily work and career journey. Another option is offering volunteering, mentoring and peer-teaching opportunities so employees can explore their purpose at work.

Getting Complex

Complexity helps us grow and discover our passions. It can be relatively easy to introduce in the workplace, in the form of continuous upskilling and personalized learning, and career opportunities. By encouraging employees to upskill during the workweek, you ensure that they are always improving their skills, learning new ones and challenging themselves.

The key is finding a balance between challenging your employees and stressing them out. Nobody wants their employees to be up all night worrying. Having open communication is essential, so the right level of complexity can be set.

Recognizing Work Well Done

Effort without reward is draining and demotivating. Building a direct relationship between effort and recognition will show employees that hard work pays off and encourages them to keep going, especially during difficult times.

Recognition can take many forms. There’s peer recognition during team/company meetings, using dedicated software or even peer-sponsored rewards. Managers can recognize excellent efforts during meetings, through formal recognition processes, and during feedback sessions. Indeed, offering regular feedback is a great way to establish informal recognition opportunities.

Of course, for recognition to happen in the first place, you need a way to track performance. Gather feedback (and collate and store it) from managers, peers and other leaders. Set up regular performance meetings where you collaborate on career goals, key performance indicators (KPI), progress and obstacles. Track learning activities and skill development, and measure this against individual goals and the company’s needs. All of this will give you the insight you need to reward those who are going above and beyond for your organization.

Supporting Your Best Asset

Creating a fulfilling employee experience isn’t just doing something nice, but it will tangibly impact your bottom line. Your employees are your best asset. To succeed, they need to be at their best, and they will only reach their potential when what they are working on goes beyond a paycheck or chore. Their work must hold greater meaning for them, from fulfilling a personal goal and building a purposeful career, to engaging in a passion project or learning something new and exciting. Build meaningful work for your employees, and you’ll see your workforce and company thrive.