How Flexibility Can Help Make Work More Meaningful

Something many people experienced during the early days of the pandemic was the opportunity – or the urge – to reassess life as we know it.

For some, this led them to question their working identity and imagine a new one. For others, it allowed them to visualise the next stage in their career. And others started to reflect on the things that mattered to them – from making more time for life outside work to ensuring that work itself was purposeful. For everyone, it led to a new, highly personal definition of the meaning of work.

This introspection has both advantages and disadvantages for employers. The disadvantages stem from the fact that most types of work have typically been designed for productivity rather than purpose – not to mention meaningfulness. The advantage is that that by designing work to be more meaningful to employees, you increase their happiness and reduce the likelihood of stress and burnout.

So, how can employers make work more meaningful, especially if every employee has a different definition of what meaning is? The answer lies in flexibility. According to HSM Advisory founder, Lynda Gratton, giving people flexibility and autonomy over their work allows them to shape it in a way that supports their vision for a fuller life.

There are many ways of doing this – including classic approaches to flexible working. Here are three we recommend:

1. Discretionary time – where possible, give employees control over their time so that they have the freedom to be where they want to be – without experiencing conflict with where they need to be.

2. Job shaping – empower people to take the lead in crafting jobs that allow them to pursue what’s important to them.

3. Creating connections – organisations are great at bringing people together into collaborative teams – but what about encouraging networks of people to gather around shared interests and passions? Creating communities where people can swap ideas and experiences increases their sense of purpose – and can even lead to innovation.

What are the benefits of this approach? By creating a culture where employees can engage with what is important to them, you are also creating an environment that has purpose and value at its heart.

For a more in-depth exploration of this topic, read Founder of HSm Advisory, Lynda Gratton’s latest article for MIT Sloan Management Review, Flexibility is Key to Integrating Meaning and Work.