How to improve employee retention – Part 4 – Mattering at work

25th October 2023

This article is part of a series of articles on how to improve employee wellbeing and employee retention. The structure is based on the The US Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well‑Being, and each week we are looking at each “essential” in the framework. 

The full list of articles is:

  1. An introduction to the US Surgeon General’s framework
  2. Protection From Harm
  3. Connection & Community
  4. Work-Life Harmony
  5. Mattering at Work – you’re reading it 🙂
  6. Opportunity for Growth – coming soon

This week, we are exploring “Mattering at work” and the research that shows that, in order to feel happy at work, employees need to feel that their work has purpose. 

In this article we’ll explore the following three areas:

  • Connecting individual work with a purpose or organisational mission
  • Building a culture of gratitude and recognition
  • Engaging workers in workplace decisions

1. Connecting individual work with a purpose or organisational mission

“A shared purpose, or a collective sense of working toward a common goal, assigns further meaning to work, generates pride, and fuels motivation, all while reducing stress1. Knowing why you are doing a task, however small, gives meaning to it and gives your work a purpose.

But how can a company give meaning to all their employees’ work? Surely some work is so menial that it has no purpose. 

Every task is being done for a reason, and it is communicating that reason that is key. Always give your team context, if they understand why they are doing something they will be much more engaged. 

Think of these different instructions:

  1. Add this button on the website. 
  2. We want to increase subscribers to our blog, can you add a sign up button on the website. 


  1. Come to the office tomorrow
  2. We’ve noticed that our team is not connecting as much as before. Can you come to the office to have breakfast with the team to get to know the new team members? 

By giving context, you give the work a purpose. This will increase engagement and ultimately happiness.

However, if you’re still struggling to explain why someone needs to do something, a really useful exercise is to create a “definition of success”. This is how you envisage what success looks like.

This is not the requirements, e.g., build an app with x functionality and x design, it is more nuanced than that, it may be – “Success is me presenting this app on stage to 1000 people on July 1 and the audience cheering me at the end”. It’s a way of understanding what is important to the client. By understanding why this work is important, it really helps employees feel part of something bigger.

2. Building a culture of gratitude and recognition

If you look at all the studies into how to improve personal happiness, they’ll tell you that you need to be grateful for what you have. On the other hand, when people feel appreciated, recognized, and engaged by their supervisors and coworkers, their sense of value and meaning increases2

So, by creating a culture of recognition you get a double benefit. The people who give recognition will get the happiness boost from being grateful and the people receiving the recognition will feel valued.

There are lots of ways to build recognition into your culture, from creating channels in Slack to publicly recognising your employee of the month. However, just creating a tool for staff to recognise the achievements of others will not be enough, as individuals often find it difficult to publicly show gratitude. It will need to be promoted and modelled by management until recognition becomes normalised within the company.

Research has shown that if someone receives recognition they are more likely to recognise and appreciate someone else, so once giving recognition becomes part of the culture it is likely to self propagate.

3. Engaging workers in workplace decisions

The final piece in the jigsaw to give employees purpose in their work, is to involve them in company decisions that may affect them.

Nobody likes to have new workplace policies thrust upon them without having first had a say in it. Employers need to firstly engage their employees in any decision making process. Secondly, they need to listen to what they say and objectively evaluate it, and thirdly, if they decide not to use the idea, to inform the employee why. It is often this third step which is neglected but it is a key part of helping employees feel that they have a say.

Measure happiness

Finally, employee engagement needs to be regularly measured and, if possible, regularly discussed with every individual. We measure happiness every week and all employees have a weekly 1:1 with their line manager. We attribute this one action with much of our success in employee retention as it gives our team a voice and an opportunity to tell us how they are feeling. We use the employee engagement software 15five but other simpler systems such as Friday Pulse are equally effective.

If you are struggling with employee retention in your IT team and want to share your experiences and get some practical advice, feel free to get in touch. It’s our mission to share our knowledge, and we love to help – just email our CEO at [email protected].

Alternatively, if you are looking to augment your existing team or outsource some of your development, contact us at [email protected], or just book an appointment with our account manager, Sarah, at Calendly.

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    1. Valcour, M. (2014, April 28). The power of dignity in the workplace. Harvard
      Business Review. Retrieved from The Harvard Business Review ↩︎
    2. O’Flaherty, S., Sanders, M. T., & Whillans, A. (2021, March 29). Research: A little recognition can provide a big morale boost. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from the Harvard Business Review ↩︎