Helping People Find Meaning In Their Work

“Most people in the world, myself included, struggle with the meaning of life. As leaders, the least we can do is help people find meaning in their work.”
Xavier Frapaise, biopharmaceutical executive

When you’re running a business, you want your employees to feel good about being there. You want your employees to have a certain sense of “job satisfaction.” After all, dissatisfied employees tend to be complainers who bring down the morale and productivity of everyone else in the organization.

Unfortunately, in today’s challenging economy, “job satisfaction” is no longer good enough. All you get with “job satisfaction” is people who are reasonably content, but their state of content or discontent is rather fickle. One day they’re content because a new policy gives them greater work-hour flexibility, but another day they’re discontent because a favorite supervisor left the company.

Worse yet, “job satisfaction” does not necessarily translate into the motivation that turns workers into peak performers. For that, you need employee commitment … but the right kind of commitment.

=> 1. Beware of “need to” commitment.

It’s the kind of commitment a person gives when he “needs” his job. He needs the paycheck and benefits … the so-called “golden handcuffs” that hold him captive to the job.

It’s also the kind of commitment a person gives when it would cost too much to leave the job and go elsewhere. After all, the person may not have any easily transferrable job skills, or there may not be any other jobs out there.

While all these factors contribute to retention, they do not contribute to motivation. Studies show that people who remain with your organization primarily because of money or a lack of alternatives have poorer job performance, lower supervisor ratings, less compliance, and fewer chances of promotion. And when you dig deeper, their records reflect more absences and tardiness.

And that’s easy enough to understand. Just think about a time when you felt “trapped” in a job … when you kept on enduring an unpleasant job situation … not because you wanted to, but because you had no other choice. Chances are … you weren’t the happiest employee or the best employee … by a long shot.

What we need today is an entirely different kind of commitment. Look for and …

=> 2. Develop “want to” commitment.

It’s the kind of commitment that comes about when a person has an emotional attachment to the organization. That emotional attachment could come from her enjoyment of coworker relationships, her belief in the organization’s goals and values, or her own role in achieving those goals and living out those values.

When you find and/or develop “want to” commitment, the results are impressive. Study after study has shown that these are the very people who appear on the company’s list of top performers … year after year. These are the people who wholeheartedly put forth great effort, going the extra mile, doing their best to serve the company and its customers.

And unlike the “need-to-be-committed folks,” who are passively loyal, these “want-to-be-committed” employees are willingly and actively engaged in making a quantifiable and qualitative difference.

That being the case, how do you turn an average employee into a committed employee? I go into great detail answering that question on the second day of my “Journey To The Extraordinary” program. But for starters, you’ve got to …

=> 3. Build extraordinary relationships with your employees.

David Oreck knows that. When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast of the United States, it also hit Oreck’s renowned vacuum cleaner company … both the manufacturing site in Long Beach, Mississippi and the headquarters in New Orleans.

The day after the hurricane, Oreck assembled members of his executive team for damage assessment and crisis management. The report wasn’t good. Just about everyone in the company was homeless thanks to Katrina.

But without knowing what the next move should be, Oreck and his team decided that their first priority was to act in the best interest of the only thing left of the company: their employees.

The team relocated about 150 employees to Texas, so they could keep the administrative side of the business operating again. Meanwhile, they had generators, fuel, and trailers delivered to the Mississippi plant where temporary housing was set up for workers. By meeting the basic needs of their staff, the team aimed to slowly but steadily bring Oreck’s business back to an operational level. Employees received everything from food to counseling and medical care from their management team.

When word spread that Oreck was back in business … the first business in New Orleans to do so … hundreds of Oreck employees made their way back to their jobs and some semblance of life. Since then, the company has helped find permanent housing for many of those who returned.

David Oreck knows that his company wouldn’t be in business today were it not for the loyalty and “want-to” commitment of his workers. He knows his bottom line is his relationships with his hundreds of employees.

So how do you build similar, extraordinary relationships that build “want-to” commitment in your coworkers? Again, that’s the focus of the second day in my “Journey To The Extraordinary” program. In short, you …

=> 4. Build extraordinary relationships on four foundations.

Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider describe these four foundations in the “Harvard Education Letter” when they discuss “relational trust.” They say you’ve got to have a workplace filled with…

**Respect: Coworkers acknowledge one another’s ideas. They interact with civility and courtesy. And they treat everyone with dignity, whether or not they agree or disagree with one another.

**Competence: Coworkers believe in each other’s abilities. And coworkers believe in one another’s willingness to effectively fulfill all of his responsibilities.

**Personal regard: Coworkers care about each other both personally and professionally. And coworkers are willing to go beyond their formal roles and responsibilities to help one another.

**Integrity: Coworkers trust each other to put the interests of the customers first, especially when tough decisions have to be made. And coworkers keep their word.

When these four foundations are in good shape, you create a magnetic force that attracts talent, brings out talent, and retains talent. You build extraordinary relationships and an extraordinary workplace where “want-to” commitment is visible everywhere.

Action:  Do an inventory. How many of your employees are motivated by “need-to” commitment and how many are motivated by “want-to” commitment? And then create a plan for getting more “want-to” commitment.