Active disengagement costs US companies between $450 and $550 billion annually.

Does active disengagement at your company contribute to that shockingly high number? I’ve got bad news – it does. Every company does its share. Because we all have actively disengaged employees. Trust me, it’s just as disappointing to me.

Maybe just as disappointing is the number of engaged workers. Check out this statistic from Gallup:

“About one in eight workers…are psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations…The bulk of employees worldwide…lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organizational goals or outcomes.”

One in eight workers.

Only one in eight workers are committed to their jobs on a level that surpasses making a paycheck. Thus, the real problem we need to solve: commitment. Commitment to the company, the work, the mission, and the team.

What drives commitment? Meaning.

David Brooks, New York Times columnist, and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, argue that meaning is the driver of commitment. Think about it like this:

Do you do your job because you need the money? Or because you believe it’s meaningful?

The truth is this is never a binary decision: because it’s never work OR meaning. But if you regularly feel your work is meaningful you’re lucky. Most people don’t feel that way. That’s why only 29% of people are engaged at work. The other 71% work mostly because they have to. They leave their passions for their “free” time. Meanwhile, they spend a third of their days (or more) at their jobs.

It’s no wonder we see less and less “above and beyond” behavior at work… only one in eight people are really committed, and nearly 1/3 would fall into the active disengagement category. They would rather watch the village burn (after they leave the village, of course).

What can leaders do to create more meaning at work?

As a leader, you have the power to reduce active disengagement. You have more opportunity than anyone to make work meaningful for your team. Help them understand just how important their work is, how it directly improves the lives of others (coworkers, customers, or the rest of the world). Also, openly admire their craftsmanship and the quality of their work. Then appreciate their work.

Also talk to your teammates about what gives them meaning in their life outside of work. What are their passions? Is there a way to incorporate more of that into their work day? Even if you have to shift some things around—make room for meaningful work.

Here are three tips on how to increase meaning at work.

The first two are from the Brooks brothers (okay they’re not really brothers). The third one comes from the Approachability Playbook:

  1. Attach work to ideals. David Brooks says he finds the pressure to churn out columns all the time “perpetually unsatisfying” (we know a thing or two about that around here). He finds satisfaction by remembering the big motivators. The “why” he writes the articles. Make sure your team knows why they do what they do. And this is especially true for the team members behind the scenes (I’m looking at you Meghan Jones – who does the initial draft of most of our articles, including the one you’re reading here).
  2. Recognize meaningful moments. I love this one because it is so simple. “The meaning of jobs comes from moments.” The hardest part is for you to remember to recognize those moments yourself. And then express it. Press pause on meaningful moments. Take a little extra time in the break room to appreciate the latest achievement or thank a teammate for pitching in on a tough project. Celebrate a milestone or landing that new client. Focus on meaning, not tasks. Do it as often as you can.
  3. Have meaningful conversations. These meaningful conversations don’t come easy to everyone. That’s why leaders love our crib sheet for meaningful conversations, the Three Questions Tool in our Approachable Leadership Toolkit. If you regularly talk to teammates about what they need, what gets in their way, and about their next goal, you will add daily meaning to their work.

Can you make a difference?

Everyone wants to feel they’re making a difference. After all, they want to feel valued. As their leader, you have many ways to express their value, to learn about what’s important to them. And to tie their work to the bigger mission of the company. Do it.

How often do you talk to coworkers about the meaning of their work? How often do you focus on it in your own work? These conversations don’t just make people feel good – they deliver real business results (like reducing active disengagement). Remember recent research shows employees of Approachable Leaders are 88% more likely to go “above and beyond” at work. Let us know what you think in the comments.