Creating Meaning at work and why that matters

Andrew Badham 2018-11-09 15:39:08

It’s certainly not a new idea that people have a desire to work for more than just their paycheques, that they need some motivation to pursue beyond the prospect of a raise. Of course, quantifying just how much people are willing to pursue meaning over salary is no easy task; nevertheless, a team from Better Up decided to take on the challenge. What they found was surprising. The average respondent was willing to part with 23% of their future earnings for more guaranteed meaning on a day-to-day basis. That’s not an insignificant figure. People are clearly willing to invest a lot in their sense of purpose.

It’s unsurprising then that people are willing to take lower paying jobs in industries like teaching, health care or social development. Of course, meaning doesn’t have to be limited to interpersonal endeavours at all. Martin Seligman, arguably the father of positive psychology, defined meaning as “using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are.”

By that definition, an engineer could see meaning in the construction of roads and infrastructure, if he has the bigger picture of his influence in mind. Even that has a certain innate grandeur. What about an office clerk, or a cashier, or a receptionist? It’s a little harder to see the meaning in what you do if what you do seems mundane, repetitive, or inconsequential. But of course, every half-decent manager knows that all the cogs in a system contribute to the end product. It’s just that, sometimes, those cogs don’t see how they contribute.

If you find yourself or your colleagues in that unenviable position of feeling meaningless, there are some steps you can take. The first is to help them see the value in what they do. I know that seems obvious and profoundly cliché, but many people struggle to see it. When I ask my students what value they provide, they reply with answers like, “sales” or “processing tickets”. That’s not value, that’s an activity. It often takes time and perseverance to help people see that their activities are important to someone for some reason. In other words, help them see the big picture.

Similarly, you can include them in creating the big picture. Staff at every level of an organisation have unique insights into their own small spheres of influence. If those members of staff are able to share those insights with management for the greater strategic vision of the company, they are more likely to feel like they are meaningful to the company. Hopefully, those insights will not only make for an inclusive workspace but make for a more profitable business as well.

Speaking of profitable business, you might be wondering why having purposeful employees is good for the bottom line. The most apparent benefit is employee retention. If your employees feel like they’re part of something bigger, they’ll be less tempted by a new pasture which is only greener by a slightly higher salary. Moreover, employees who feel they are meaningful to the company are more likely to feel the company is meaningful to them. In other words, they’re more likely to put in effort that goes beyond meeting their KPIs.

So, whether it’s for yourself, your colleagues or even your friends, there is tremendous value in seeing the why in what we do. And remember, meaning is a self-created narrative; you get to choose what is meaningful to you and you get to pick anything you like. So try picking something you find useful and what for the dividends to be paid out



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