If you could pick between more money or more meaning at work, which would you go with?

A recent survey from the Harvard Business Review of 2,000 workers found something surprising. Fully 9 out of 10 people said they’d take more-meaningful work over money any day.

At first, this may seem surprising. But it’s actually in the best interest of businesses, too. 

A Cornell University study analyzed job satisfaction-to-productivity ratios, and found meaningful work generates an extra $9,078 per employee—per year!

If your company has 50 employees, what would an extra $435,900 in annual revenue do for you? That’s an easy question to answer.

Meaningful work is a force-multiplier in the marketplace. So, who are the employees who find their work the most meaningful? More importantly, how can leaders create cultures that fuel meaning?

Enhancing Meaning Through Work-Life Integration

First, though, what exactly do we mean by “meaningful”? It can seem like a catch-all buzzword that means everything (and nothing) all at once. For some, meaningful work could mean stimulating work. For others, it could center on positive social impact.

While meaningful work is highly personal, a study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review gives us a clearer way to understand it. The research showed, “Work that is meaningful … is understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences.”

In other words, when things we value in our personal lives weave together with our working lives, we find meaning in our work. In my experience with my own team, this holds true. For example, because our team get to choose companies to work with that inspire them, and build a schedule that works for their life, there’s meaning and constant learning. Working with world-class executives from companies like Apple, Facebook, Zendesk, Asana, and Google who are constantly scaling, it’s paramount we bring our A-game.

World-Class Work and Flexibility

A perfect example is Stacy Baker, a talented business support specialist on our team. Her background is in corporate architecture, construction, and engineering environments. However, when her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), her life situation changed drastically.

Both location and flexibility became very important to them, as her husband is a disabled military veteran and they needed to live near his doctors and medical facilities. Because we’re a fully remote company where our team members get to set their own hours, Stacy has been able to devote time to her husband she couldn’t before, while still having her own rewarding career.

In speaking with her about this, she said, “Since the diagnosis, my husband’s health has declined, and it’s been good mentally for him for me to be home.” 

Every day, they have lunch together; something they were previously unable to do. Now, says Stacy, “I have the freedom and flexibility to take my husband to doctor’s appointments, and I still get to work with world-class interior designers, doing something I love.”

Not only is an organizational structure focused on work-life integration serving our team, but it inspires high-retention and best-in-class work. 

Investments, Not Expenses

When we embrace that there is more to our employees’ lives than work, and make room for it, everyone wins. 

In a study published by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 91 percent of HR professionals agreed that “flexible work arrangements positively influence employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention.”

The SHRM study also argued that things like work-life flexibility should be considered as a valuable strategy to enhance productivity rather than just an employee benefit. 

As business leaders, we should consider increasing meaningfulness at work an investment that pays dividends—culturally and financially—rather than an expense.

One of the simplest places to start is by adding flexibility to the mix.

Add Flexible Working to the Mix

Flexible work was put to the test in a recent Stanford study. For nine months, researchers compared the productivity of flexible working with a traditional 9-to-5 schedule. And the results?

Flexible workers achieved more, were sick less, and were happier (just to name a few). 

According to a University of Minnesota study, a flexible working arrangement even promoted more sleep, higher energy levels, and better quality work. 

Even better, absenteeism decreases because workers can tend to important life-moments outside of the office without missing a beat.

In fact, I believe in this so much we allow our team to set their own hours in conjunction with the clients they support. Working time should be based on optimal productivity and employee needs within parameters that work for everyone, rather than an outmoded 9-to-5 schedule.

The Meaning Factor

Expanding meaning in our employees’ work pays dividends in the quality of work we do and ultimately client satisfaction. This means a more positive culture, higher employee retention, and less burnout.

One of the quickest paths to facilitating work-life integration is through flexibility. What’s important to our employees should also be important to us.