‘Most of us have jobs that are too small for our spirit. Jobs are not big enough for people.’
Meaningfulness looms larger than ever, ranking more consistently above promotions, income, job security and hours in the list of employee wants. Work is a search not simply for daily bread anymore. Yet all too often, we feel that our work doesn’t matter.
We know that people struggle to find meaning when they lack autonomy, variety, challenge, performance feedback, and the chance to understand the full business or work on a whole product or service from start to finish. As important as these factors are, though, there’s another that matters more.
A sense of service to others. Making a lasting, positive impact on other people. We want to make a change!
Despite not adhering to the criteria above, the roles of midwives, neurosurgeons, and fire officers (for example) fulfill that need in their workers to significantly change people’s lives.
So how do we take this forward in the workplace?
- Connect directly with end users to review past, present and potential impact.In many professional roles we’re simply too distant from the end users of our products and services to appreciate the value they hold. Leaders at Facebook invite software developers to hear from users who have found long-lost friends and family members thanks to the site.
- Craft your job. Take initiative to alter your own role.Add, emphasise, revise, delegate, or minimise tasks and interactions in pursuit of greater meaning. Volunteer for training roles or step up and go looking for that end user connection. When salespeople and administrators at Google developed new skills to support more significant changes, the happiness and performance gains of the team, (rated by managers and coworkers), lasted for at least six months.
- Take care to observe.There is a fine line between accelerated meaning and manageability. Be careful not to place yourself or others at risk of burning out.
‘Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself’ be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself, by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love, the more human he is’. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning