Surprise! It takes more than free drinks, a gym and pool tables to drive employee morale.

By Menaka Shroff (Head of Marketing, BetterWorks)

I promise it’s not gourmet food, video games or free workouts. It’s not off-sites or happy hours. And while nice, a big paycheck coupled with good health care and maternity leave benefits aren’t typically why either.

The reason employees are motivated and engaged (or aren’t) at the office has little to do with perks and everything to do with whether they feel their work is meaningful.

At home, we’re pulled in lots of directions but we know our work has purpose. Families are fed. Kids are nurtured. Spouses are loved.

At work, we sometimes struggle to understand how our part fits into the bigger vision. And each time we feel uncertain about the worth of what we’re doing, we disengage a bit more.

Teresa Amabile and Thomas Kramer asked employees to journal their feelings at work and discovered the “Progress Principle.” People who consistently take steps forward – even small steps – on meaningful projects, are more creative, productive, and engaged, and they have better relationships. This, in turn, has a positive influence on their work performance.

If you’re an executive, how do you know everyone in your company of 100, 1,000 or 10,000 employees is working on something meaningful? The answer is you can’t be sure unless you have the culture and tools in place to know.

Here are five things businesses can do now to improve morale, engagement and company culture.

1. Increase Work Visibility

Google requires all of its employees to set Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). All goals – from top management to individual contributors – are then published and viewable by everyone else in the company.

When projects from every male and female, every executive and low-level engineer, marketer, financial professional are easily accessible and someone feels accountable, morale rises. Visibility is key to ensuring all employees know what to work on and can feel good about accomplishing it.

2. Recognize Progress, Not Just the Destination

New products can take months, even years, to produce, which is why it’s just as important to celebrate achieving major milestones as it is the final product. Along the way, employees can be sure what they’re doing still matters. And if priorities shift, they can quickly move to other meaningful tasks.

I was once assigned to lead a 12-month pricing/packaging project. Because it was the first time the company undertook a project of this magnitude, I needed to establish lots of processes before setting a single price or designing a package.

After just three months, our COO publicly recognized my team and me for the processes we put in place to ensure successful execution. To us, that recognition was a victory. It motivated us to work even harder to accomplish our end goal.

3. Connect Teams and Goals More Explicitly

A culture of collaboration breeds a positive work environment. When objectives are connected—up, down, and across teams—there is more motivation for employees to do their part to ensure success.

Stack ranking inhibits collaboration because employees work in competition against one another. Set direction in spreadsheets or truly set and connect tasks in an enterprise goals platform.

With better collaboration, corporate cultures evolve from exclusive (e.g., engineering or sales driven) to inclusive (e.g., customer-driven).

4. Train Coaches, Not Managers

Effective coaches empower teams to achieve extraordinary results. Employees with high-scoring managers report greater satisfaction in innovation, work-life balance and career development.

In a prior company, our CEO outlined a goal that seemed nearly impossible but we all knew we’d achieve it because he trusted his hires and he coached us. Coaches enhance self-motivation and feelings of purpose, which encourage individuals to push their ideas up through organizations.

5. Encourage Diverse Thinking

An individual’s identity, experience and perspective stimulates new ways of thinking and companies that encourage respectful idea sharing have higher morale. Different opinions drive better solutions and results.

A recent Credit Suisse report revealed companies with more women board members and executives perform better (e.g., higher stock, equity returns, and valuations). When industry disruption is constant, nothing is more important than developing new ideas fast and those more often come from diverse thinking.

Companies can continue to offer perks, but aligning employees in meaningful work will deliver greater results. By supporting employees, leaders will have a better pulse on morale while fostering a culture where everyone feels as though they belong and their work and opinions matter.

What makes you feel valued as a professional?

Photo credit: Yuralaits Albert via Shutterstock.