Speaking to audiences across industries about meaningful work, I am often approached by people who insist that meaningful work makes sense for professionals like doctors and teachers but not for [insert underappreciated industry here]. There is some truth to this – some studies suggest that stigmas regarding one’s profession might sour their view of their profession. I have seen this first hand within the food service and retail industries.
However, at the end of the day it is possible to find meaning in any industry. In fact meaning-making is part of the human experience – as humans, we are in constant search for meaning. Every business provides some kind of service or product designed to have some form of positive impact on the world. The secret: Its not about creating meaningful work – its about recognizing it! Unfortunately, it is so easy to lose sight of the organization’s greater “Why,” and instead, to get lost in the paperwork.
The other day, I was sitting in my kitchen, drinking my morning coffee when I heard the familiar sound of the garbage truck making its way down our street. It wasn’t even 7am and we generally don’t see the trash truck until way past 9AM. I went running out the front door and dragged our garbage can to the street just as the garbage crew pulled up to my house. I asked the sanitation worker as he jumped off the truck: “Woah, am I late getting this out here or did you change schedules?” The man replied with palpable pride in his voice: “No sir, you have a new crew now. Unlike the old crew we pick up the trash on time, every time!” In response to this his coworker, grabbing trash cans on the other side of the street, pounded the side of the garbage truck and crowed: “5AM go time, every day, baby!!” Before my eyes, the “garbage men,” individuals literally paid to pick up trash, were holding a mini pep rally in front of my house. These gentlemen clearly saw through the messier part of their job and were tapped into some greater pride in what they did and how they did it.
This level of pride and enthusiasm is possible in every industry and in every organization. If you are looking to create this level of engagement in your office, here are a few pointers:
• Limit bureaucracy – People thrive off of autonomy and require agency in order to perceive their work as meaningful.
•Provide opportunities for growth – Life is not about stagnation, it is about growth. Growth can be in the form of moving up the corporate ladder, it can also be in the form of constant learning and new challenges.
• Build community – We are social creatures and like the sanitation workers in the story above, we thrive off of community and love to be a part of a team.
• Remind people why they are there – Organizations got this half right when they started putting their mission, vision, and core values on the wall. Those things are important but people know when they are being manipulated and they know when their employer ‘walks the walk.’ So, how do you accomplish this piece? Check out our next blog where we will explore this concept further.