As we settle into the New Year, many of us will have taken time to reflect about how we can improve our lives ready to set our direction for 2018. With employees now spending more time at work than ever before, this means some will inevitably look to the workplace to see how they can make time in the office become more purposeful. For the brave hearted, this can mean a dramatic change of lifestyle – we’ve all heard of people who have resigned to do voluntary work or retrain for a completely new career direction. But for many employees such a lifestyle jump is not feasible – either because such a change feels overwhelming, or because they simply need to bring in a salary to pay the mortgage and feed the children, and so need to maintain the status quo.
TODAY’S EMPLOYEES WANT MORE
The latter group represent a challenge for the leaders and management of today, because unless these employees find purpose in their working day, they may still turn up and take their pay cheque, but will become disengaged and less productive. The days of autocratic leadership styles are for the most part long gone, as educated and media savvy employees have become more likely to ask “why” of their employers. And with Millennials now forming the largest living generation in the workforce, there has been a huge shift from wanting money alone, to making work “count”.
PURPOSE AFFECTS WELLBEING AT WORK
According to the Harvard Business Review, this is not something we should ignore if we want a happy, healthy and productive workforce because “Having a sense of purpose in our life is critical to well-being. In fact, in a longitudinal study researchers found that people who demonstrate a sense of purpose in their lives have a 15% lower risk of death.”
The problem is that our own sense of individual purpose is rarely aligned with top level corporate objectives. Even when we buy-into an organisation’s wider social commitments, it can still be difficult to get a sense of satisfaction and purpose in the day to day grind of work.
The key is to bring purpose back into this “grind”, by finding ways to increase motivation and sense of worth at work. We may not all have the resource for drastic life changes, but it is within us all to reframe our working day for the better.
TIPS FOR FINDING PURPOSE AT WORK
1. Gain Awareness: to understand what makes each employee tick. There are many personality and communication models that can help with this. Once you fully understand individuals you can assign roles according to the different strengths and preferences within a team.
2. Dial up the best bits: Everyone has parts of the job they thrive on (that they’d like to more of) and parts they leave to the bottom of the list (that they’d like to do less of). Being aware of each individual’s wish list means you can try to re-allocate tasks within the team, or at least increase the parts they enjoy.
3. Support side projects: It is becoming more common now to see side projects supported at work. Allowing employees to work on something that is outside of their usual role provides motivation and breaks up the day to day role. For some it may be more study, for others it could be about being involved in organisation committees for social events.
4. Review job titles: Sometimes the way an employee perceives their role can be detrimental to their sense of contribution and thereby affect performance. But a bit of cognitive re-framing can make a difference. A 2016 CNN article pointed to research around some hospital staff who chose their job titles. The work was the same for everyone involving tasks such as cleaning bed pans, but those who liked their work more were those who saw their role as critical in healing patients and assigned themselves titles such as “caregivers”.
5. Allow legacy creators: Making a change to leave something better than when you started can provide great purpose. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a big game changer – for example someone could champion the alteration of a process at work that improves the working day for others around them. Therefore, a business should foster a culture that encourages challenge and change to allow this to happen.
WHAT NEXT FOR BUSINESS?
Part of the leadership role is to tune into employees and understand what makes everyone tick, so that the right tasks can be fit to each person, rather than fitting people to jobs that don’t motivate them. If businesses can help to add purpose to every individual’s role, employee productivity and longevity can only improve.
If you would like to discuss how you could to add more purpose to your team, please get in touch.