Do you have an underperforming team member or are you an underperformer? As an individual being in this space or managing a team member to perform can be a challenging task. If the remuneration is satisfactory, people tend to underperform due to lack of meaning in their work which can affect how they feel and consequently their actions.
What the Science Says
Meaning at work is considered a key motivator for performance (1) supported by a survey which concluded people would prefer to take a pay cut to have greater meaning at work (2). It has been defined as “a means of making meaning, and the desire to contribute to a greater good (3).” It is also seen as having four constructs: purpose, value, efficacy, and self-worth (4), suggesting meaning, and feelings of connectedness, effectiveness and capability may be important.
Whilst meaning itself is subjective to the individual, Psychologist Michael Steger proposes there is a framework suggesting lack of meaning stems from 5 areas (5):
- Underutilising strengths within a role.
- Not seeing personal values as connecting with the organisation’s values.
- Seeing work as separate and unrelated to life in general.
- A lack of understanding of the part played in achieving the organisation’s mission.
- No opportunity to serve a greater good.
Impact on the Individual and Organisation
These elements can be explored by an individual however they must take responsibility in any change. Successful change, however, can only occur with the support of the organisation. If organisations and individuals attempt this meaning-making at work, it could result in:
- Improved resilience (6)
- Greater intrinsic motivation (7)
- More frequent flow experiences (absorbed in the task) (8)
- Personal development (9)
- Growth in knowledge and skill (10)
- Improve employee retention rates (11)
Whist the individual may perform, grow, and even flourish under such conditions, the organisation reaps benefits too. This can show up in innovative thinking and above and beyond the role actions which can retain and attract customers, but also attract and retain employees, serving as a cost avoidance strategy.
What to do Next
If you are a team manager or leader, observe your team and discuss the five areas suggested by Steger. Have a conversation with the individual allowing them to tell their story of how they feel at work. It is a powerful mechanism in that it allows them to voice and process what is going on. They may be unaware of their underperformance.
If you are an individual struggling with motivation and performance, go through Steger’s five stages and see if you can identify any gaps. Explore each and mind-map where the lack of motivation could stem from and any subsequent action you could take. Share your findings with your line manager and discuss how the organisation might be able to support you.
In both cases, you may want to think about engaging the services of a career or personal development coach who can guide you through the stages and help identify where underperformance is coming from. Additionally, a coach can assist in the formulation of a development plan for increased motivation. For more information visit www.thepotentialityproject.com
Main Image by Image by Gerd Altman from Pixabay
(1) O’Brien, G. E. (1992). Changing meanings of work. In J. F. Hartley & G. M. Stephenson (Eds.), Employment relations: The psychology of influence and control at work (pp. 44–66). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
(2) Kelly Services (2010). Kelly global workforce report 2009. Retrieved June 18, 2010 from https:// issuu.com/michaelkirsten/docs/kelly_global_workforce_index_2009
(3) Steger, M. F., Dik, B. J., and Duffy, R. D. (2012). “Measuring meaningful work: The Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI).” Journal of Career Assessment, 20, 322–37.
(4) Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. Guilford press.
(5) Steger, M. F. (2017). Creating meaning and purpose at work. The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths‐Based Approaches at Work, 60-81.
(6) Harter, J. K., Schmidt, F. L., & Keyes, C. L. (2003). Well-being in the workplace and its relationship to business outcomes: A review of the Gallup studies.
(7) Steger, M. F., Dik, B. J., and Duffy, R. D. (2012). “Measuring meaningful work: The Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI).” Journal of Career Assessment, 20, 322–37.
(8) Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. Basic books.
(9) Waterman, A. S. (1993). Two conceptions of happiness: Contrasts of personal expressiveness (eudaimonia) and hedonic enjoyment. Journal of personality and social psychology, 64(4), 678.
(10) Steger, M. F. (2017). Creating meaning and purpose at work. The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Positivity and Strengths‐Based Approaches at Work, 60-81.
(11) Rosso, B. D., Dekas, K. H., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2010). On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review. Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 91–127.