perte de sens au travail

After two years of Covid-19, many people are now talking about employee weariness, employee suffering due to the disruption of social relationships, or their feeling of isolation when teleworking… Yet, a study reveals that for nearly three out of ten employees, the pandemic coincided with a renewed interest in work, while barely one out of ten have felt a loss of meaning. Good news for companies! Because the loss of meaning at work is a calamity that has a negative impact, particularly on absenteeism and turnover. This has been demonstrated by another study, one published by Dares[1] in August 2021, with figures and explanations. [1] Dares, a French government labour market statistical and research institution (Dares – “Direction de l’animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques”)

But, what is meaning at work?

An employee is not just a rational being there to perform an abstract task in exchange for remuneration. In reality, to be satisfied with their work, they expect many other things: recognition, developing social relationships and friendships, benefiting from good working conditions, making a contribution to an overall project, etc. The need for meaning at work is one of those confusing notions, often used without anyone really knowing what they mean. The authors of the Dares study therefore begin by defining the expression, giving it three essential dimensions: a feeling of social usefulness, a capacity for development and finally ethical coherence. In concrete terms, an employee must feel that their work serves a purpose in society or around them, that it means they can develop, or simply be satisfied that they are doing a ‘good job’, and that it does not conflict with their values or morals. If this is the case, then there is no loss of meaning at work.

The financial consequences

On the basis of this definition, the authors drew up questionnaires on pride, the feeling of usefulness, making personal progression, developing one’s skills, expressing one’s creativity, or the fact of being at odds with one’s convictions or not, etc. A score for meaning at work was then derived from these questions. Variations appeared, depending on employment status, profession or socio-professional category. But what is most interesting is that the authors questioned employees twice in three years, in order to take a close look at what might be the consequences of losing meaning at work. For example, the 20% of employees who had suffered from loss of meaning in their work were more likely than others (between +30% and +40%) to have left their jobs in the following three years. The researchers confirm that losing meaning is the factor that most influences job mobility (notably more than work load or other psychosocial risk factors). Amongst the 20% of employees who had experienced the greatest decline in their work meaning score over three years, absenteeism increased by 3.7 days per year over the period. Once again, whilst changes in absenteeism derive from work load and social support, these factors appear to be less decisive than loss of meaning.

Has Covid come to the rescue?

According to a study by CEET[1], between 1 October 2020 and 30 April 2021, 29% of employees said they felt their work had become more interesting, compared with only 10% who complained that it had lost meaning. Among the big winners were retail staff and personal service workers – the so-called ‘core’ occupations that gained exceptional visibility and recognition during Covid. Without waiting for the next pandemic, employers have every interest in taking meaning at work into account. It is not just a prime indicator for anticipating absenteeism and turnover problems, but is also a key to improving the quality of life at work and management. Crucial issues! [1] CEET, the Employment and Labour Research Centre at the higher education institution CNAM (Conservatoire national des Arts et Métiers)

Employee loss of meaning at work is indeed loss of value for the company.

Damien Vieillard-Baron

President of Gerep