Meaningful work

I’ve marked Switch and Shift (The Human Side to Business)    as one of my “dailies” for more than a year. I like the diverse perspectives, bench of thoughtful contributors and usefulness. It says things as they are and by and large, focus on the whole person. In my professional and personal life I often come back to the content of a blog I read in April about meaningful work. It is relevant beyond the traditional workplace.

I’m a program director of corporate citizenship, and responsible for helping to build a company that makes decisions through a thoughtful and honest lens, balancing and recognizing the economic, social and environmental implications of any decision that the company makes. I’m a change agent, responsible for working with a lot of people to inspire, push and negotiate actions that will serve the company and society in ways that align the business’ purpose and vision. In a service organization, similar to other organizations, employees are at the heart of the company’s success. (Arguably, this is more so in a service company because they’re the main asset). Therefore a lot of the thought and focus of my work comes down to what attracts and retains people. There’s a lot that a company can do to provide compelling experiences. I believe providing a meaningful experiences is the most powerful way a company delivers a valued experience to employees which influences their decision to stay or leave. Whether something is meaningful is a personal matter e.g. it depends on whether it aligns with a person’s goals and values.  If a company gets it right, it’s on a path to a strong partnership with employees and will in return reap the benefits of satisfaction, loyalty and results.

So, what is meaningful work? From experience, three characteristics that stand out are:

  • Fulfilled Basic Needs. The extrinsic factors need to be satisfied. Salary needs to be a non-issue, otherwise it becomes a distraction.
  • Energizing work that speaks to their sweet spot and the organization’s mission: What makes an employee tick matters a lot. Leveraging their strengths, supporting their strengths and passions inspire action, produce results and feeds their spirit.
  • Autonomy: Autonomy to imagine, explore, make decisions, have their voice heard breeds empowerment and motivation, with a close relationship with a managers, autonomy can feed the spirit, deliver results and accountability. The key is to be clear on bandwidth and guardrails and ensure everyone understands them.
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