My first corporate job was an entry-level computer programmer position. A month after landing the job, I had a chance to de-brief with my boss on his interview and selection process. As a new entrant into the IT world, I knew that my programming skills and qualifications were probably not as solid as the other candidates vying for the position. Still, I got the job.

My boss told me that despite my weaker resume, he chose me over 20 other candidates. He said I stood out because the questions I asked in the interview process were very different from those asked by other candidates. I recall those interviews clearly. I asked my potential new boss to explain how the Information Technology group fit in the overall organization. I asked where and to whom IT reported. I wanted to know the strategic importance of IT to the company’s infrastructure–after all this was an oil company, not a technology company. I spent considerably less time in the interview asking about the specifics of the job itself. What I needed to determine for myself was whether the job was going to provide me a feeling of significance. After all, I was looking at IT as a starting point for my career, not a destination.

I actually took the job because the answers my future boss gave me stood out as well. First of all, I was encouraged that IT reported up to a leader that was well-respected and ultimately to the CFO. My boss was a new MBA and his way of thinking was broader than the usual technical managers I had come across. He spoke about strategy and politics of countries in which the company operated. We talked about negative press, of corporate raiders and the company’s rich 100-year history. Through the interview process, I also determined that the company was lagging behind its competition in technology so the early years of my career were a time of great security, activity and opportunity.

As the technology infrastructure stabilized, the company began to shift its thinking and large functions with IT began to be outsourced. Because my role was never relegated to purely day-to-day programming work, I wasn’t stuck in a dead-end job or pushed out with the various outsourcing initiatives. Instead, significance in the workplace empowered me to build deep relationships within the company. When the time was right, I had several opportunities to move from IT to other areas within the company. I chose corporate real estate and I’ve been in the corporate real estate field in one form or another ever since.

Fast forward 20 years and three companies. I’m now in the position of interviewing new internal candidates and helping our corporate clients design their work environments. What’s striking is that today’s workers spend close to 40% of their waking hours working and most people still desire to achieve significance in the workplace. The difference is that today’s younger generation is more apt to tell you they need it and they will leave if they aren’t getting it. The question is whether corporations are providing it. Here are a few ways you can tell if you’re providing significance in your workplace.

There is a fit between people and their work.A popular saying goes “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Significance in the workplace means employees will get out of bed every morning to come to work and the motivating factor is not the paycheck, or the fear of losing their job. The motivating factor is that their work gives them satisfaction. And if their work gives them satisfaction in this context, they will naturally achieve a work/life balance that will prevent burnout and apathy.

The job is not the career.Imagine concentric circles surrounding an employee. An employee’s job is the center circle. Obviously, the work needs to get done. But surrounding circles include assignments and opportunities to improve the job, grow the overall business, develop people and cultures, build infrastructure, etc. The more the employee is involved in the concentric circles surrounding their job, the more significance the employee will feel.

The work environment says: innovate.Finally, the work environment must be liberating. Employees must have the freedom to generate new ideas, to move within the office physically and positionally and to build and create. If you are having trouble retaining employees, find an expert who can help you design the physical and set your employees free. It’s the only way to keep them around.

Vik Bangia is managing director, strategic services for the corporate solutions group of United Properties in Minneapolis. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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