SIMPLE TRUTH #1: People want to do purposeful work

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There was a time when there were generally two kinds of jobs – those where people’s lives were on the line everyday (law enforcement, fire/rescue, the armed forces, etc.); and office jobs where people sat at a desk all day and whose only potential safety threats were minor hazards like tripping in the hallway and paper cuts.

Over the last two decades, heart wrenching events like the terrorist attacks on 9/11, 2001 and, countless workplace violence examples since then – where disgruntled workers opened fire at their workplace – have SIGNIFICANTLY changed the realities of work.  Having a desk job in an office has never been the same since.  Flying on business travel has never been the same either.  As a result of those tragic events, people realized they can die doing their jobs – regardless of the kind of work they do. And, on a massive scale, human beings are now regularly assessing their career pursuits and whether their jobs reflect their true talents and passions.  You can say that people are now VERY aware that their time spent doing their jobs needs to be worth their while. They don’t want to perish doing work they don’t like to do or their hearts aren’t in to.

I am not sure how many business leaders understand that while those awful events were catalysts for increased human awareness – they subsequently became an impetus for employees expecting more from their employers.  I am not talking about whether companies give benefits to employees who serve in the military or whether employees get time off to balance their work and personal lives.  I am talking about something bigger and deeper than that.

SIMPLE TRUTH #1: People want to do purposeful work.  They want to know that when they come to work each day they are making a difference in some way.  Employees now expect their leaders to connect their daily work to the bigger picture and purpose of their company.  The spirit of their expectations is: “show me how I fit here” and “tell me what I can do to help – so my work matters.”

If you ever followed Herb Kelleher, now retired CEO of Southwest Airlines, you’d recall that he was a leader that ‘GOT IT’ as far as people go.  He got this very simple point about purposeful work and, by making connections between every job and company strategy, he enabled it to have huge financial success.  Although his wacky personality and leadership methods seemed radical in the early 2000’s, Herb proved he was an innovative leader.  He made sure that every person in his company knew why their job existed, how their behaviors affected the company’s income and how each and every employee could make a positive difference to the bottom line.  From the top corporate roles, to the flight crews, down to the baggage handlers and ground crew, he evangelized that no position was more important than another because each was important in its own rite in order for the entire company to be successful.

Every job in your organization needs to have a reason for existing.  I’ve worked in small companies where job descriptions didn’t exist and when I asked the employees what their job is – they couldn’t articulate it. Yet you pay them to do it. Hmmm. What do they show up to do each day, if they don’t know why their job exists? or the expectations the leaders have of them? Every employee you hire to do a job (contractors, too!) needs to know the reason the job/work exists and understand their job’s importance to the team, department and overall company.  You need to connect people and purpose like Herb did.  By making this important connection to every position in your company, you are supporting people’s need to do purposeful work which, in turn, increases engagement.  If you don’t, you can’t expect the employees doing the work to be engaged – it’s that simple. People Matter in Business.

Cindy Goyette, SPHR – Maximizing Human Capital, Inc. 2013

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