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How to imbue work with meaning

Sisyphus tells of a king in Greek mythology who offended the gods. His punishment is to roll a rock down a steep slope into Hades, only to see it land back where he begins the process all over again. From the employees I’ve interviewed over the years, the ancient Greek version of Hell seems like everyday life to many of them: seemingly endless, meaningless work.

Although leaders cannot change the tasks in their organizations, they can help reorient employees’ attitudes toward their duties by imbuing work with greater meaning and purpose. The tasks are the same; But their perceived importance rises. Thus, we have a highly engaged team and team members who feel connected to their work on a personal level.

Schon Beechler, now a professor at INSEAD, talks about the hourly job she had early in her working life. The job was at a plastics factory where she worked on an injection mold. The foreman realized that this agile employee had mastered the machine and was becoming bored and disengaged. He took personal responsibility for his employee’s engagement, and this changed Beachler’s view of a potentially monotonous job.

She says: “One afternoon he assigned me to a machine at the back of the factory making plastic red lenses inserted into stoplights. He said in a calm voice, ‘You know, this job is really important. When you do a good job, the plastic in this lens properly reflects the light behind it so that drivers can see the red signal when they pull up to a stoplight. Doing good quality work on this machine will help save people’s lives. I hope you have enough experience with other machines to trust you. “

Beachler says her supervisor’s trust meant the world to her, and she promised to do her best. Her expression of personal work purpose helped transform a dull job into one of meaning, she said, “My work completely lacked energy, focus and commitment, all I could see was another monotonous job.”

Now, that’s all well and good if your mission is to save lives with your product, but what if your larger corporate mission and values ​​are out of line with what’s possible on your team? I once visited with the customer service team at a large financial services company where employees identified the company’s archaic system for managing workflow as a pain point. Despite the company’s value of emphasizing “speed,” none of the team members could keep up with the demand. However, the team scored more points Quality About his work.

Employees told me how much they appreciated their team leader, who was effective in alleviating anxiety about speed expectations. She trained her workers to accept what the system was like while other parts of the company faced the same problems. And she focused on her teammates accuracy. He helped them establish workable timelines and motivated his people to deliver accurate results. At the end of each week they celebrated quality successes.

She didn’t try to relieve feelings of stress over the speed issue with positive thinking. That often makes things worse. Instead, they restructured their work to emphasize an objective they could realistically master: the quality of the work they were doing. He was able to explain how each person was making valuable contributions, and how their efforts made all the difference in the engagement and retention of his employees.

Think about the best managers you’ve had. Chances are, not only did they help you clearly understand your team’s mission, but you can provide value as an individual to benefit your career. That type of manager helps align employee goals and team goals. That interconnection is leadership; And when that happens, it’s remarkable.

Gary, a young man I met during the training session, said that he had recently left the organization where he had worked for a decade. “I’m sure we had a mission and codified values, but in all my time I can’t remember a single word I said about them. Everything was passive. It’s like not knowing if your girlfriend is a vegetarian … or a republican. You’re bound to make mistakes.”

He was happy to compare that experience with his current job. “My supervisors are passionate about our mission and values. It helps in handling the big decisions, but also the day-to-day details. Most importantly, he (his boss) lives up to his word and praises us when we do the same. mission Where are you going and values Take you there. “Most leaders need to see ‘mission and values ​​as verbs, not nouns,'” he said.

If you want to encourage employees to commit to your team and organization, if you want them to take more ownership and feel safe to take risks, then imbue work with more meaning. This is the first step in developing a truly powerful work culture.

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