In an earlier blog I quoted an article by Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden which highlighted the very personalised aspect of meaning and purpose at work. Each individual experienced meaning in a different and often intangible way – what was meaningful for one person was not necessarily so for another. This raises the question as to what role, if any, an organisation has to play in raising meaning at work. However what Bailey and Madden found was that rather than raising meaning at work, organisations have a critical role to play in not destroying it.
Whereas meaningfulness was something individuals tended to discover for themselves, meaninglessness at work was generally a function of how people were treated by their managers.
Seven factors within the control of managers emerged as destroyers of meaningfulness:
- disconnecting people from their values;
- taking employees for granted;
- giving people pointless work to do;
- treating people unfairly;
- overriding individuals’ better judgment;
- disconnecting people from supportive relationships; and
- putting people at risk of physical or emotional harm.
As a coach and OD consultant my experience suggests that managers need to give themselves permission to raise topics such as ‘what’s important to you?’, ‘what gets you up in the morning?’. Asking such questions helps build understanding: for an individual about what’s important but also for managers who now understand which aspects of work will be taken up with relish, which might need a little bit more ‘selling’. In other words it helps with motivating individuals and with freedom to flex roles, might even provide critical data about how best to craft a role around an individual’s values. And that will deliver greater engagement, job satisfaction and better working relationships.
Opening up such a discussion feels uncomfortable and yet having clarity about what’s important and which aspects of an employee’s work are most closely aligned with these values is the starting point in helping people work in a value aligned way.