A previous article of mine “Meaning or Money” drew some interesting and rather fierce criticism. This is great, because I do not write articles with the view that I have the only correct understanding. I write them with an opinion and hope to be challenged if that opinion is not correct or if there are views to add to it. The comments were from the point of view of the individual in the job, and one needs to keep in mind that the article was written as management advice for leading a team. However, these points deserve consideration and comment.
Two of the comments were:
- I don’t need to find meaning in my day job. I find meaning in my life after work.
- Most people feel a lack of meaning in their lives not from something missing within them but rather from the nature of the “system” in which they function.
So I have given some thought to these two points and wish to offer some additional comments up for debate.
To point number 1. I would be hard pressed to agree that human beings would prefer to stay in a role that offered no meaning, rather than gravitate towards a position that offered them some meaning and appreciation. Yes, one can derive meaning to their life outside of the workplace. However, keep in mind that we spend almost 70% of our waking hours in this “job”. To derive meaning only in the remaining 30% seems like a waste. The role you are in at work might not be stimulating, or solving a major world problem, however there are many ways one can improve on the meaning in your daily environment. We need to take control of our own environment and what it means to us, instead of waiting for our managers to create the meaning for us. Examples of this are:
- Become a mentor for people starting out in the company
- Look for ways to share your knowledge
- Gain a better understanding of the role you play and how it fits into the companies big picture
- Form an interest group at work for furthering the area of expertise you are in
- Investigate ways to do things better in your role and make suggestions
- Chat to your manager and ask to be more involved in the business.
Regarding point number 2. which blames the system for a lack of meaning. I feel that we need to acknowledge that business systems do not exist without the individuals that drive them. Therefore, the only way to affect change within these systems, is to change the individuals themselves. My aim in offering these thoughts is to do exactly that. To get people, especially managers, thinking about how they manage their teams. For them to give consideration to the way they treat their staff, and to realise that putting in the extra effort is a win-win scenario. Your staff will be happier, and as a result, more motivated, which will lead to better company profits. Definitely a win-win scenario. So rather than accepting the system for what it is, give thought as to how you can do your bit to change the way it works.
A research project by Dan Airely examined the difference in work output between three groups of people. All groups had to complete some work on a form and hand it in and then complete additional forms in return for payment. Group 1 wrote their name on the form, and were thanked for the work. Group 2 handed in anonymous forms, and group 3 had their forms shredded in front of them as they handed them in. The results showed that group 2 and 3 displayed significantly less motivation for the work and suffered from decreased work output.
This research emphasizes my points above and highlights three key aspects to meaning.
- A feeling of contribution
These points fall within the control of the manager. However, if you are working for an organization where these are not being addressed then you have the ability to ask for these aspects to change, or change your situation.
The key point is that no one has to accept the status quo in a situation. Whether you are a manager or an employee, we all can do more for others and for ourselves. Don’t wait for others to do it for you. Create your life.
I have a job that I hate. I hate it a lot, it’s repetitive, monotonous. It really is meaningless to do the same task over and over again. It doesn’t mean you can’t find some sort of happiness in the office though. There are other people there to socialise with, for instance. I don’t think any happiness lies with trying to create change with managers, not in my job at least.
I find there are usually measures in place for making suggestions and changes, but most managers will not listen if it doesn’t suit them anyway. So where is the control then? The system is there in place and has been for years, it isn’t going to change an awful lot in terms of how employees are treated.
“I feel that we need to acknowledge that business systems do not exist without the individuals that drive them.”
I feel that many business minded people do not have this attitude, in fact far the opposite. They feel trapped by the common 9-5 working hours and belittle the people that are in that game by giving the message they’re better than that, when their businesses would not exist without those ‘little people.’
As for acknowledgement, ownership and contribution, it isn’t for everyone. When you do such a tedious job as I do, I know I for one want to forget about it as soon as I can. It doesn’t really make me feel good to know I’ve done a great job for some company that is doing me over. There are too many variables though. You citing one study or me complaining about my own experience isn’t really saying much.
I feel I’m pretty stuck in my situation right now, so the only thing I can do is accept that and change my perspective. I’ve come across several people now who are more business minded, and I’ve sometimes wondered how I could one day start something. Of course, I have no clue where I would start and that is the major thing that stops me – I don’t even know where to find out how to do anything. Certainly can’t ever learn anything from others that have done so, they’re far too busy.
But what would put me off going into that world most is that their motivation never seems to be about making things better, rather more for the amount of cash they will be rolling in. When that is the final goal they will shun anyone around them that doesn’t fit into their plans/isn’t a potential customer to continue working for it. Are they really that happy?
Anyway, discovered your blog here after seeing a comment about mappiness on twitter. Interesting articles, even if I take a critical stance on anything like this.
Thanks for your comments. I understand your frustration and my suggestion is to start to give thought and intention to move to something that is more meaningful to you. This may require you building up some new skills. This process on it’s own sometimes helps to shift us into a new space and changes our feelings in our current position, often making it more bearable to endure the current position due to the knowledge that you are making progress to change.
I hope you succeed in finding a career that is more meaningful to you.