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Posted by on Jan 9, 2013 in Culture, Engagement, Featured, Inspirational, Leadership, Return On Morale, Strengths, Talent | 15 comments

The Value of Meaningful Work

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Meaning and meaningful work are not common words in the workplace lexicon. Unfortunately management practices have carefully neutered such needs in a diligent pursuit of efficiency, cost-cutting, and scalability of operations.

 

Viewing work as an extension of one’s passion is the shift management must grasp

 

Don’t get me wrong the above items are essential. They are vital to business success. What needs to be added, however, is a fervent practice of stoking the fires of employee passion to help uncover business needs like efficiencies, new ideas for cost-cutting, and plans to scale operations.

 

No longer can management believe they hold the answers to the company’s vexing problems and then direct staff to execute on their solutions

 

In today’s workplaces viewing work as an extension of one’s passion is the shift management must grasp, adopt, and adapt to if the business is to thrive in the 21st century.

An important characteristic of this switch is the increased involvement of employees in major organizational decisions. No longer can management believe they hold the answers to the company’s vexing problems and then direct staff to execute on their solutions. The short sightedness of this belief will limit a company’s growth and chase talent out the door.

Today’s workforce is looking for a company that gives autonomy to its employees in the work and how its done, variety in work assignments, challenging work assignments, workload balance that stretches an employees’ skills, regular feedback, and meaningful work⁠. If these are not part of a company’s culture, company’s will struggle to keep talent from leaving.

There is a difference between being in business solely to generate wealth and being in business with a significant purpose that also generates wealth – Dov Siedman

Dov Siedman’s quote gets to the importance of meaningful work: when purpose is clear profits will grow. Purpose is vital input to help employees find meaning at work.

 

For meaning to be possible within a team or even throughout an organization, managers must dare to step out of the fray

 

Meaning at work is when employees can see how their work benefits customers, society, and themselves. It is the connection from me (the employee) to the company’s mission that must be purposefully cultivated. This is a shared responsibility between the manager and employee.

For meaning to be possible within a team or even throughout an organization, managers must dare to step out of the fray and purposefully chart a path to unleashing employee passions connected to their strengths and applied to business needs.

Managers must thoughtfully and consistently help employees see how their work connects to the company’s mission and vision. It’s unacceptable today for employees to not understand how they are part of an important effort to deliver value that ultimately is enjoyed by the company’s customer. If this is lost, so too is the purpose behind the work any employee does. The company’s purpose then is watered down to be meaningless and merely noise in a crowded market place. No employee at any level is paid to achieve such banal results.

 

Art by  Pascal Campion

 

Shawn Murphy

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and Co-CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post.

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  • Lynne

    Very true. I am a teacher and am worried that many teachers no longer see their roles as meaningful. Too many are being asked to “teach” with someone else’s agenda. When this happens, we remove the ownership of success from the teacher and students. Internal motivation for success is being squelched. Teachers in classrooms are no longer respected as professionals with degrees.

    Give a teacher her autonomy and passion and watch our children soar!

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Hi Lynne,
      That is very worrisome. I wonder what it will take for our society to place greater emphasis on rebuilding systems that support teachers who are shaping the future leaders of our country.
      I must say, though, that I have tremendous respect for teachers as professionals.

      Thank you for all your hard work. Even in the face of mixed signals of importance.

      Shawn

  • Dean Branton

    A great article, spoken from the heart.

    It’s always been my steadfast view that leaders must create a ‘reason to believe’ for their employees. They must speak with passion and believe their own words. Words and deeds must align. And it is incumbent on the leader(s) to ensure that everyone knows how their role contributes to the organisation’s goals and vision. Leaders must ‘join up the dots’ and provide a clear line of sight so that employees can see how they are contributing to the organisation’s success and prosperity. It is a great motivator and unlocks discretionary effort – something we can all choose to give, given the right stimuli.

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Dean,
      Absolutely it is a choice. I believe more managers will be more willing to explore what it takes to help meaningful work become part of its team culture. I believe this as more and more managers face the reality that something must be done to keep talented employees from leaving. This is daily conversations I have with managers I coach and with those I work alongside in our client work. It’s a daunting choice to make, especially if other managers aren’t doing it.

      Shawn

  • Peter Steimle

    Managers have never had so much demanded of them.

    “Managers must…purposefully chart a path to unleashing employee passions connected to their strengths and applied to business needs.”

    This used to be derided as “babysitting,” but if managers don’t do it, their employees may use increasingly efficient tools to find job postings that MATCH their qualifications and interests on many levels.

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Hi Peter, indeed the workplace has changed. I believe employees have as much responsibility (some research shows employees believe they have more over management) to find meaning in their work. It’s definitely a two way street.
      In fact, if it’s left to managers to chart a path it will fail. The collaborative and cooperative nature of the relationship necessary to unleash employee passion is key to avoid the babysitting you accurately mentioned.

      Shawn

  • Tom

    Ernesto Sirolli has some similar thoughts about coming to the table and trying to solve peoples’ problems, which many managers see as their domain. Jerry Weinberg has written about the fallacy of that, too, over the years. Here is a link to Sirolli’s humorous, entertaining, and enlightening Ted Talk” http://www.ted.com/talks/ernesto_sirolli_want_to_help_someone_shut_up_and_listen.html.

    Good blog post, Shawn.

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Hi Tom,
      I appreciate the link. I’ll check it out. Certainly arguments are made effectively against meaningful work. What is the fallacy Jerry writes about?
      Shawn

      • Tom

        Shawn, My comment about Jerry is really an extension of his thoughts in his book Becoming a Technical Leader. His parable at the beginning of it about the lady who quietly solves the technical problem while others openly and dominantly hash about it reveals that when managers exhibit similar behavior, they tend to exclude the ideas and input from others who might have a better solution. Quotes from the book:

        Leaders that don’t care about people don’t have anyone to lead, unless their followers don’t have a choice.

        Leaders have twice as many areas to criticize – both content and process.

        When we use the organic (people empowered based) problem solving approach, which is inclusively humanistic and collaborative, we tend to reach more effective solutions that if we use the linear (role based) approach. But, managers are often expected to use and support the linear model – indeed, they are often rewarded for doing so or punished for not doing so. I can attest to that first hand.

  • http://www.vyrtunet.com Barb M

    Well said! Do you know of any companies putting this into action? I’ve read lots of articles like this but have not seen action.

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Hi Barb,
      There are companies who are coming at meaning indirectly: Google, Morning Star (tomatoes), ING Direct Canada. Meaningful work is an outcome of other cultural elements, including some of the items in this post.
      Shawn

  • Lisa Kuhn Phillips

    Great post.
    Meaning is everything, and connecting with a purpose that serves others is the ultimate give. It’s the “why” factor. And that’s a powerful purpose for any human being to experience. Might I also suggest this read from The Atlantic? It also covers the popular “happiness” pill, when the real meaning to a life (without pill popping) lived is about….meaning. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/#.UPNBfPISmXc.email

    • http://www.switchandshift.com Shawn Murphy

      Hi Lisa,
      I’ll check out the article. Thanks for the tip. And thank you for commenting.
      With the amount of literature popping up these days, I can only hope that we’ll see this become more of a focus for managers.

      Shawn

  • http://www.ethos8.com Petra Chequer

    What a great post. This is so in sink with my beliefs and the strategic leadership and innovation work I do. As an extension of my strategic coaching for http://www.ethos8.com I am using a tool that totally harnesses the power of social collaboration yet with a clearly defined business purpose. It engages employees, vendors and consumers in the process depending on who you want to invite into your community. What is critically important for todays executive leaders is that it provides them with innovative ideas and actionable data to make solid business decisions that ultimately drive the growth of their company.

  • http://www.landesassociates.com Les Landes

    Shawn,

    I really enjoyed your article about meanginful work on a number of different levels. First, it resonates with Freud’s assertion that the two most important drivers of human happines and fulfillment are “love” and “work.” Second, your premise is also supported by the work of Ken Kovach from George Mason University who did extensive research with tens of thousands of employees on what the extra effort drivers were for them. “Interesting work” was the number one item. He also asked managers what they thought employees would say is the number one driver of extra effort, and you can guess what they said – good wages – which was number 5 on the employees’ list. So most managers don’t grasp the point you’re making. Your ideas also resonate strongly with a number of key points I’ve covered in my newly released business fable – “Getting to the Heart of Employee Engagement: The Power and Purpose of Imagination and Free Will in the Workplace.” You can find it on our webiste http://www.landesassociates.com. If you’re inclined to read it, I’d love to talk with you about how the ideas relate to the work you’re doing. My best, Les

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