November 3rd, 2011 12:31 EST
Doing Work That is Meaningless is Like Pushing Water Uphill
Shift: Meaningful Work is the New Bottom Line
Doing work that is meaningless is like pushing water uphill.
When it is time for you to shift into another realm of meaningfulness, you will become dissatisfied being satisfied. I was visiting with a friend of mine and after 17 years in the same industry, she said "I would prefer to become a barista at Starbucks instead of working this job. Don`t get me wrong, I like the people I work with, but not the work that I do. Don`t be surprised if you call me and I am no longer here." I told her I wasn`t surprised because when I saw her the last time she gave me the screen saver face. You know that fake corporate look when you ask someone how they are doing and they automatically say...FINE!
I see it almost every day. There are people who have checked in physically, but have checked out mentally in their work. They are working from the outside in instead of from the inside out. Working from the outside in is to be in compliance of what is required of you. Working from the inside out is being emotionally committed to infuse everything you do with your spirit.
Professor Teresa Amabile at Harvard School of Business and Independent researcher Steven Kramer did a ten-year study of the 12,000 electronic diary entries from 238 professionals in seven different companies. They discovered that one third of the entries showed that the individuals were unhappy, unmotivated or both. Their research shows that inner work life has a profound impact on workers` creativity, productivity, commitment and connectivity. When they peeled back the onion to better understand what drives brilliance, they discovered it was meaningful work.
What is meaningful work? It`s being inspired to go above and beyond in what you are doing. It`s having your head, heart, and hands engaged in an intellectual jigsaw puzzle to solve a problem and create a solution. It`s working for a leader who understands how to convey the spirit of the mission in addition to the mechanics of the mission. It`s an individual who wants to take personal ownership for the brand and become it. What is the name of the company you work for? Say it out loud right now...yes, right now. Now say, I am .... (name of the company, place of business, or your name if you are in transition or retired).
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School said in a recent Harvard Business Review, "Great companies identify something larger than transactions or business portfolios to provide purpose and meaning. Meaning making is a central function of leaders, and purpose gives coherence to the organization." I believe that meaning making is understanding what makes employees tick and employees being in an environment to make a brilliant difference.
Here`s the new bottom line as I see it...
Corporations and businesses must reconnect men and women to the meaning of making widgets, selling products, or providing services instead of just making widgets.
This is not a dress rehearsal. You don`t get a do over. If you don`t like what you are doing from 9-5, 3-11, or 11-7, then you are missing the meaning of life. Create an exit strategy and find meaning and happiness somewhere else. You are taking up room for someone else that could be 100% engaged. If you like what you do, but no longer like who you work for, then do yourself a favor and create plan to shift gears.
If you are a manager, do you really know how to release the brilliance of your direct reports or motivate them? If not, then ask them the following question in the spirit of the movie Jerry Maguire - Help me Help You - "what can I do to help you release your brilliance?"
If you are an employee, remember that no corporation or place of business is the ultimate utopia. You are responsible for your own meaningful happiness. Find it. No one can give it to you. It will not drop out of the sky like an apple. You will have to roll your sleeves up, open your mind, step out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself.
This sums up the importance of meaningful work...
"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: `If you live each day like it was your last, someday you`ll certainly be right.` It made an impression on me and, since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know that I need to change something." Steve Jobs.
I refuse to push water uphill. What about you?
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Simon T. Bailey