Make work meaningful by not putting the organisation first

We’ve had IQ, then EQ and now, according to McKinsey, we have MQ – meaning quotient. MQ refers to the peak performance experience involving high stakes; excitement; a challenge; and something that the individual feels matters, will make a diference and hasn’t been done before. McKinsey states that employees working in a high-IQ, high -EQ and high-MQ environment are five times more productive at their peak than they are on average.

My research on meaning has found that it is something intensely personal and unique to the individual. Moreoever I’m not convinced creating meaning (or attempting to measure and define it in terms of a ‘quotient’) should be the role of the organisation. Once an organisation tries to create it for others, the magic is lost and it becomes yet another management process alongside employee engagement and performance management.

What is much more effective is to facilitate a process where individuals can identify what is meaningful for them. This is not likely to be the organisation but much more likely to be family, friends, a particular ’cause’ the individual feels passionate about. And an individual will feel passionate or connected about many things at any time with the focus moving from one area to another. Work and the organisation will be there as part of the passion, but may not always hold centre stage and organisations need to feel comfortable with that concept.

Organisations can help individuals define what is meaningful for them within the work context by:

  • enabling individuals to identify ways in which they can make their society a better place
  • identifying ways in which the individual can provide a better service to a customer
  • creating a sense of belonging within a local team
  • creating a sense of empowerment (and letting them identify what’s meaningful for them is part of this!).

These four sources have been proven to give individuals a sense of meaning so long as they are introduced in a sensitive way and are not too prescriptive.

In what other ways can we help individuals discover what is meaningful in their work? And does it matter if we find that our employees predominantly seek meaning outside of work?