Unleashing the full capacity of your people

Define the Purpose of Work for Each Employee

Employees exploring purpose

I found myself unexpectedly engaged with a paid placement on the New York Times website from MetLife last week. They were selling their HR benefits services, but the videos they featured actually shared a lot of truths about today’s workplace that we see in our own work with organizational teams.

Watch the second and third videos featured. They are worth investing a few minutes just to remind yourself how leaders need to approach their people and work environments today.

In the second video Barry Schwartz, a social psychologist, summarizes what your followers (and you) most care about at work, and how you can leverage those needs to deepen employee engagement.

“They care about being engaged with their task…about being in control of their work…about being respected by their fellow workers and by their supervisor.” Most important: “They care about feeling that, at the end of the day, somebody’s life has been improved.”

As Schwartz points out, caring about how your employees feel about the purpose of their work is new, especially to Baby Boomers who were raised within hierarchical organizational structures that assumed “you give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” Deeper meaning and intrinsic motivations did not figure in the boss-subordinate relationship thirty years ago. That said, we know that the more successful bosses in any generation usually stumbled upon more engaging leadership mindsets that triggered deeper employee engagement, but recognizing such interpersonal approaches was not taught, nor formally encouraged.

These approaches are now taught, and encouraged, because Millennials (and like-minded members of older generations) are pushing for more meaning at work. They need to connect an overarching purpose to their rote daily tasks. They want to have input on how those tasks could be jiggered or replaced to better achieve the mission.

“How can (we) infuse the jobs of this organization at every level with a sense of (its) purpose. And how can (we) make sure that this sense of purpose is a regular part of everybody’s workday every day,” asks Schwartz.

Build better team culturesAs we emphasize in every interaction with our own clients, highly engaged employees who understand how their role supports and abets the organization’s mission are a significant competitive advantage. More ideas circulate for consideration, more staid processes are overhauled or eliminated, more people get rewarded and promoted into the right jobs for the right reasons. All these virtuous outcomes impact the bottom line, and make life better for everyone involved.

“People bring different strengths, viewpoints and motivations to a team that make for a better whole,” says Courtney Martin, the author featured in the third video. “Discovering what drives employees is essential for the success of any business, and those motivations may be changing” in response to the changing of the generational guard.

“In this rapidly evolving workforce,” Martin concludes, “the businesses that thrive are going to be the ones that honor the deeper motivations for people showing up at work. It’s not just good for workers, it means success for the organization as a whole.”

Spot on. We have seen this dynamic play out time after time over the last five years, and have adapted our own human development solutions to capitalize on it. We have the results to prove it, too. Ask us about those case studies, and how you could replicate their successes.


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